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Date: pre-2014
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David Pearce
negative utilitarianism, utilitronium shockwaves, veganism, physicalism, consciousness, suffering & transhumanism

[on classical versus negative utilitarianism]
A response to Toby Ord's essay
Why I Am Not A Negative Utilitarian

Toby, a few thoughts...

1) World destruction? You write, "...a thoroughgoing Negative Utilitarian would support the destruction of the world (even by violent means)". No, a thoroughgoing classical utilitarian is obliged to convert your matter and energy into pure utilitronium, erasing you, your memories and indeed human civilisation. By contrast, the negative utilitarian believes that all our ethical duties will have been discharged when we have phased out suffering. Thus a negative utilitarian can support creating a posthuman civilisation animated by gradients of intelligent bliss where all your dreams come true. By contrast, the classical utilitarian is obliged to erase such a rich posthuman civilisation with a utilitronium shockwave. In practice, I don't think it's ethically fruitful to contemplate destroying human civilisation, whether by thermonuclear Doomsday devices or utilitronium shockwaves. Until we understand the upper bounds of intelligent agency, the ultimate sphere of responsibility of posthuman superintelligence is unknown. Quite possibly, this ultimate sphere of responsibility will entail stewardship of our entire Hubble volume across multiple quasi-classical Everett branches, maybe extending even into what we naively call the past (cf. "The Two-State Vector Formalism of Quantum Mechanics: an Updated Review": In short, we need to create full-spectrum superintelligence.

2) Negative utilitarians can (and do!) argue for creating immense joy and happiness. Indeed, other things being equal, negative utilitarians are ethically bound to do so. For the thought of a painless but joyless world strikes most people as depressing. Negative utilitarians are committed to phasing out even the faintest hint of disappointment! The prospect of an insipid pain-free life without peak experiences - mere muzak and eating potatoes, so to speak - sounds bleak. If a thought or deed causes the slightest unease or distress, then other things being equal, that thought or deed is not expressive of negative utilitarianism.

3) You write, "Absolute NU is a devastatingly callous theory". No: NU, is an unsurpassably compassionate theory. You are "callous" only if you are indifferent to someone's suffering, not if you don't act to amplify the well-being of the already happy or act to create happiness de novo - although in practice, negative utilitarians should promote intelligent superhappiness too. Inducing sadness or disappointment is not NU.

[I think the force of your example depends on an untenable metaphysics of personal identity. If instead we use a more empirically supportable ontology of here-and-nows strung together in different sequences thanks to natural selection, no one is harmed by waking up happy in the morning rather than superhappy like their namesake the night before. So this is really an issue of population ethics, normally reckoned a different topic.]

Let us compare the callousness / compassion of classical utilitarianism and NU.
Since we're doing thought-experiments, imagine if a magic genie offers me super-exponential growth in my bliss at the price of exponential growth in your agony and despair. If I'm a classical utilitarian, then I am ethically bound to accept the genie's offer. Each year, your torment gets unspeakably worse as my bliss becomes ever more wonderful. Indeed, the thought I'm ethically doing the right thing increases my bliss even further! By generating so much net bliss, I'm the most saintly person who ever existed! If you knew how incredibly superhumanly wonderful I'm feeling, then you'd realise that my super-bliss easily offsets your tortured despair. Your tortured despair is a trivial pinprick in comparison to my super-exponentially growing bliss!

Of course, as a real-life negative utilitarian, I'd politely decline the genie's offer.
But if you win me over to classical utilitarianism, I'll accept.
Which is the callous choice?

Classical utilitarianism offers perhaps the best hope of cheating Hume's Guillotine and naturalising value. But does it maximise moral value? Or something else?

* * *

Only follow this link if you're not already convinced of NU:
One of the many reasons for scepticism that we're living in an "ancestor-simulation". Something similar to heaven and hell may be all too real. The most that moral agents can do is try to minimise the latter by developing posthuman superintelligence; and ultimately - I hope - forget about the existence of sub-hedonic zero states altogether.

Sadomasochism as a counterexample? I agree with Ole Martin here. In a minority of people, consensual sadomasochistic role-play can induce the release of intensely rewarding endogenous opioids. In the long run, however, I think such "mixed" states can be replaced by gradients of pure unadulterated bliss.

* * *

"You can't party with a negative utilitarian"
(Andrés Gomez Emilsson")

Andrés, a negative utilitarian can want you to be outrageously happy. And he certainly shouldn't wantonly cause you the slightest distress. In the future, I hope we can party all day and all night. But if you were drowning and the revellers on the beach were negative utilitarians, you could count on NUs to wade in and pull you out, whereas the classical utilitarians would be getting out their pocket calculators and totting up the fun forgone. Hopefully, this knowledge can make partying with negative utilitarians more enjoyable.
[OK, for expository purposes I over-simplify]

Andrés, a kindly classical utilitarian genie offers me super-exponentially increasing bliss at the price of your exponentially increasing despair. As a NU, I politely decline. If I were a CU, I'd be bound to say yes. With whom would you rather party?

[...]Yes, true, prioritarianism comes in many flavours - depending on the range of weights the prioritarian assigns in his trade-offs. But if the notional genie offers me super-exponential increase in my bliss at the price of "merely" linear (or whatever) increase in your misery, then if I were a prioritarian, wouldn't I be bound to accept?

[on utilitronium shockwaves versus gradients of bliss]
Why is the idea of life animated by gradients of intelligent bliss 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. Regardless of our answers to such questions, there is a tension between our divergent response to the prospect of cosmos-wide utilitronium and intelligent bliss. People rarely complain that e.g. orgasmic sexual ecstasy lasts too long, and that regrettably they lose their sense of personal identity while orgasm lasts. On the contrary: behavioural evidence strongly suggests that most men in particular reckon sexual bliss is too short-lived and infrequent. Indeed if such sexual bliss were available indefinitely, and if it were characterised by an intensity orders of magnitude greater than the best human orgasms, then would anyone - should anyone - wish such ecstasy to stop? Subjectively, utilitronium presumably feels more sublime than sexual bliss, or even whole-body orgasm. Granted the feasibility of such heavenly bliss, is viewing the history of life on Earth to date as a mere stepping-stones to cosmic nirvana really so outrageous?

For the foreseeable future, however, even strict classical utilitarians must work for information-sensitive gradients of intelligent bliss to raw undifferentiated pleasure. Classical hedonistic utilitarianism was originally formulated as an ethic for legislators, not biologists or computer scientists. Conceived in this light, the felicific calculus has been treated as infeasible. Yet a disguised implication of a classical utilitarian ethic in an era of mature biotechnology may be that we should be seeking to convert the world into utilitronium, generally assumed to be relatively homogeneous matter and energy optimised for raw bliss. The "shockwave" in utilitronium shockwave alludes to our hypothetical obligation to launch von Neumann probes propagating this hyper-valuable state of matter and energy at, or nearly at, the velocity of light across our Galaxy, then our Local Cluster, and then our Local Supercluster. And beyond? Well, politics is the art of the possible. The accelerating expansion of the universe would seem to make further utilitronium propagation infeasible even with utopian technologies. Such pessimism assumes our existing understanding of theoretical physics is correct; but theoretical cosmology is currently in a state of flux.

Naively, the theoretical feasibility of utilitronium shockwave is too remote to be sorry about. This question might seem a mere philosophical curiosity. But not so. Complications of uncertain outcome aside, any rate of time discounting indistinguishable from zero is ethically unacceptable for the ethical utilitarian. So on the face of it, the technical feasibility of a utilitronium shockwave makes working for its adoption ethically mandatory even if the prospect is centuries or millennia distant.

Existential Risk? 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. And can we seriously hope to be effective altruists in the absence of a serviceable model of Reality?

Should existential risk reduction be the primary goal of: a) negative utilitarians? b) classical hedonistic utilitarians? c) preference utilitarians? All, or none, of the above?
The answer is far from obvious. For example, one might naively suppose that a negative utilitarian would welcome human extinction. But only (trans)humans - or our potential superintelligent successors - are technically capable of phasing out the cruelties of the rest of the living world on Earth. And only (trans)humans - or rather our potential superintelligent successors - are technically capable of assuming stewardship of our entire Hubble volume. Conceptions of the meaning of the term "existential risk" differ. Compare David Benatar's "Better Never To Have Been" with Nick Bostrom's "Astronomical Waste". Here at least, we will use the life-affirming sense of the term. Does negative utilitarianism or classical utilitarianism represent the greater threat to intelligent life in the cosmos? Arguably, we have our long-term existential risk-assessment back-to-front. A negative utilitarian believes that once intelligent agents have phased out the biology of suffering, all our ethical duties have been discharged. But the classical utilitarian seems ethically committed to converting all accessible matter and energy - not least human and nonhuman animals - into relatively homogeneous matter optimised for maximum bliss: "utilitronium".

Ramifications? Severe curtailment of personal liberties in the name of Existential Risk Reduction is certainly conceivable. Assume, for example, that the technical knowledge of how to create and deploy readily transmissible, 100% lethal, delayed-action weaponised pathogens leaks into the public domain. Only the most Orwellian measures - a perpetual global totalitarianism - could hope to prevent their use, whether by a misanthrope or an idealist. Such measures would most likely fail. By contrast, constitutively happy people would be incapable of envisaging the development and use of such a doomsday agent. The biology of suffering in intelligent agents is a deep underlying source of existential risk - and one that can potentially be overcome.

A theoretically inelegant but pragmatically effective compromise solution might be to initiate a utilitronium shockwave that propagates outside the biosphere - or realm of posthuman civilisation. The world within our cosmological horizon could then be tiled with utilitronium with the exception of a negligible island (or archipelago) of minds animated "merely" by gradients of intelligent bliss] One advantage of this hybrid option is that most refuseniks would (presumably) be indifferent to the fate of inert matter and energy outside their lifeworld. Ask someone today whether they'd mind if some anonymous rock on the far side of the moon were converted into utilitronium and they'd most likely shrug.

In future, gradients of intelligent bliss orders of magnitude richer than today's peak experiences could well be a design feature of the post-human mind. However, I don't think intracranial self-stimulation is consistent with intelligence or critical insight. This is because it is uniformly rewarding. Intelligence depends on informational sensitivity to positive and negative stimuli - even if "negative" posthuman hedonic dips are richer and higher than the human hedonic ceiling.

In contrast to life animated by gradients of bliss, the prospect of utilitronium cannot motivate. Or rather the prospect can motivate only a rare kind of hyper-systematiser drawn to its simplicity and elegance. The dips of intelligent bliss need not be deep [...] Everyday hedonic tone could be orders of magnitude richer than anything physiologically feasible now. But will such well-being be orgasmic? Orgasmic bliss lacks - in the jargon of academic philosophy - an "intentional object". So presumably there will be selection pressure against any predisposition to enjoy 24/7 orgasms. By contrast, information-sensitive gradients of intelligent bliss can be adaptive - and hence sustainable indefinitely, allowing universe maintenance: responsible stewardship of Hubble volume.
At any rate, posthumans may regard even human "peak experiences" as indescribably dull by comparison.

* * *

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.

* * *

Quite a long countdown, I fear. But a twinkle in the eye of eternity.
Infinite Bliss? Countdown to a Utilitronium Shockwave
A talk by David Pearce

"Language is a virus from outer space"
(William S. Burroughs)
Inhale at your own risk...
Talks on Transhumanism
I've never been to Nottingham, perhaps an unlikely venue to launch a utilitronium shockwave.
The ultimate in effective altruism - or a reductio ad absurdum of classical utilitarianism? The ramifications of taking a classical utilitarian ethic seriously do need to be explored - even if we ultimately reject them. My main anxiety in debating these issues is that "normal" people may associate the practical and compelling case for phasing out the biology of suffering on Earth with wild cosmological speculations about the far future of sentience.

Thanks Astro. What (if any) is the difference between a utilitarian shockwave and a hedonium shockwave? What would be a eudaimonian shockwave? (cf. Ethicists tend not to be much interested in cosmology and vice versa. But the ultimate fate of our Hubble volume may turn on our values. (No, I didn't get the chance to explore such issues this time. In public it's more fruitful to push for gradients of intelligent bliss than utilitronium shockwaves...

Computronium is matter and energy optimised for maximum computing power. Utilitronium is matter and energy optimised for maximum utility. Such matter and energy is often assumed to be relatively homogeneous. This remains to be shown. Advocacy of life animated by gradients of intelligent bliss is IMO technically and sociologically more credible than advocacy of a utilitronium shockwave as normally understood, i.e. utilitronium = hedonium. But maybe it's misunderstood...

Alexander, yes. "Human-unfriendly" AGI is sometimes illustrated by the idea of a paperclip maximiser. A well-known quote of Eliezer Yudkowsky runs, "The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else." Is the "something else" most credibly utilitronium? The idea of a cosmos tiled with paperclips is fanciful. Yet a utilitronium-saturated forward light-cone is within the bounds of possibility. Indeed by the lights of classical utilitarianism, some kind of cosmic orgasm would appear ethically mandatory. Critics might say this outcome is a reductio ad absurdum of classical utilitarian ethics.

Wise words Sasha. Thanks. Alas abolitionist bioethics sorely needs some larger-than-life figure who can take the project forward.
When can we expect the first bar-room brawl over the wisdom of launching a utilitronium shockwave:
("Russian man shot in quarrel over Immanuel Kant’s philosophy")

[on whether digital zombies can investigate sentience]
Neurons are indeed fabulously complex information processors. Thus e.g. the different amino acid sequences and secondary, tertiary and quaternary protein folding structures internal to the neuron may well be implicated in innumerable different microqualia. But once again, I'm at a loss to know how a digital computer could investigate the first-person/third person psychophysical mapping needed to understand their relationship. Even with the master equation of a formally complete Theory of Everything, you'll need to instantiate some of its solutions to understand them. "Mary" (cf.'s_room) - or a digital computer - never will understand redness. More to the point, ignorance of the phenomenal nature of pain and pleasure entails a digital computer will never understand why anything matters at all. Insidiously, the Church-Turing thesis has promoted an impoverished conception of what constitutes a well-defined problem an intelligent agent can investigate.

[...]We are certainly acutely aware of some of our logical stumbles. But I'd argue that one is most vividly aware of an evolutionarily ancient process that works extraordinarily well - and is completely beyond any digital computer, which is "not even stupid". The classical world is an artefact of quantum minds. What one naively calls "perceiving one's surroundings" actually entails generating "bound" and cross-modally matched experiential objects in a unitary world-simulation run by a (fleetingly) unitary self - and in almost real time to boot.

* * *

Can a cognitive agent be intelligent, let alone superintelligent, and yet fail to understand, or lack any capacity to investigate, fundamental features of the natural world? If the agent in question were constitutionally ignorant of the properties of, say, matter, energy and the second law of thermodynamics, then we would say no: such an agent is profoundly ignorant, or at best an idiot savant. Yet if the cognitive agent in question is constitutionally ignorant of the properties of, say, phenomenal objects, conscious minds, or the nature of pain and pleasure, then many AI researchers are nonetheless willing to ascribe intelligence - and potentially even superintelligence. IMO this is an anthropomorphic projection on our part.

How might the apologist for digital (super)intelligence respond? Several ways, I guess. Here are just two.

First, s/he might argue that the manifold varieties of consciousness are unimportant and/or causally impotent. Intelligence, and certainly not superintelligence, does not concern itself with trivia.
But in what sense are, say, the experience of agony or despair trivial, whether subjectively to their victim, or conceived as disclosing a feature of the natural world? Compare how, in a notional zombie world otherwise physically type-identical to our world, nothing would inherently matter at all. Some of our supposed counterparts might undergo boiling in oil, but who cares: they aren't sentient. By contrast to such a fanciful zombie world, the nature of phenomenal agonies as we undergo such states isn't trivial: indeed the thought that (1) I'm in unbearable agony and (2) the agony doesn't matter, is devoid of cognitive sense. And in any case, we can be sure that phenomenal properties aren't causally impotent epiphenomena. Epiphenomena, by definition, lack causal efficacy - and hence lack the ability physically or functionally to stir us to write and talk about their existence.

Second, the believer in digital (super)intelligence might claim that (some of the programs executed by) digital computers are conscious, or at least potentially conscious, not least future software emulations of human brains. For reasons we admittedly don't yet understand, some physical states of matter and energy, perhaps the different algorithms executed in various information processors, are identical with different states of consciousness, i.e. a functionalist version of the mind-brain identity theory is correct. Granted, we don't yet understand the mechanisms by which information processing generates consciousness. But whatever these consciousness-generating processes may turn out to be, materialism is correct. Biological and nonbiological agents alike can be conscious minds.

Unfortunately, there is an insurmountable problem here. Identity is not a causal relationship. We can't simultaneously claim that a conscious state is identical with a brain state and maintain that this brain state causes (or "generates", or "gives rise to" etc) the conscious state in question. Nor - and this is where Searle stumbles - can causality operate between what are only levels of description. Hence the Hard Problem of Consciousness and the Explanatory Gap. What I meant by denying that consciousness is a mere puzzle is that the solution to puzzles doesn't challenge our conceptual scheme. Thus a difficult crossword clue may stump us; but we may be confident the answer will leave our world-picture intact. By contrast, if we discovered a fairy living at the bottom of the garden, even a little one, then materialism would be falsified. Materialism is the thesis that the physical facts exhaustively constitute all the facts. The existence of consciousness - even a single instance of consciousness - falsifies materialism. Actually, not everyone would agree here. Radical eliminativism about consciousness has been described as the craziest theory in the history of philosophy; but eliminativists are right in one sense: given the ontology of physics as standardly understood, consciousness is impossible. Most of us find eliminativism literally incredible.

Anyhow, the conjecture I offer to resolve the mystery of conscious mind, involving a combination of Strawsonian physicalism plus macroscopic quantum coherence, may most likely be false. But it's empirically adequate, eliminates the Hard Problem and the Explanatory Gap, and predicts that digital computers will never be sentient. We shall see. :-)

Dustin, I guess we differ on whether or not our computers show abstractions can or can't have causal efficacy. Pragmatically, of course, it's hugely useful to pretend they do - just as pragmatically it's useful to think of the lump of silicon in front of me in terms of the different abstraction layers of a computer architecture (i.e. hardware, firmware, assembler, kernel, operating system and applications). But everything that takes place in your PC supervenes on microphysical interactions whose behaviour is exhaustively described by the physics of the Standard Model (or its ultimate successor). Reality only has one "level" - and that's where all the work gets done. As you know, I take an equally reductive approach to consciousness.

[on NU and life's potential galactic radiation]
Seemingly useless metaphysical debates can sometimes have profound ethical consequences. So I'm going to risk outlining my "philosophical" disagreements with Brian - even though ethically we agree on a lot! IMO consciousness, for example a phenomenal pain, is concrete, possessing spatio-temporal location and causal efficacy; an algorithm is abstraction. I'm sceptical about any ultimate ontology of abstract objects (what might actually cause us to credit their distance?), even though, if we don't treat abstract objects as real for some purposes, we will miss many features of the real world. [Perhaps compare our understanding of functionalist / teleological explanations pre- and post-Darwin.] Thus natural selection has recruited e.g. pains to play, typically, an information-processing role in living organisms. But neuropathic pain, for instance, that doesn't play any algorithmic or information-processing role in the organism is just as real as its "typical" counterpart. Consciousness, with or without any functional role, is not something mind/brains do: it's what they are. Panpsychism? Presumably, we'll ultimately need rigorously to derive the phenomenology of our minds from the properties of the fundamental stuff of the world - a reductive physicalism with no strong emergence, i.e. no unexplained eruption into the world of something ontologically new, not expressible within the mathematical straightjacket of modern physics. I don't think pan-experientialism / Strawsonian physicalism can do this, or rather not on its own. Hence the seemingly intractable binding problem and the classically inexplicable existence of "bound" phenomenal objects and the (fleeting, synchronic) unity of consciousness - and the desperate-sounding proposals that quantum mind theorists have devised to overcome the problem. But I don't think any proposal to solve the binding problem consistent with reductive physicalism can even get off the ground unless we assume a pan-experientialist / Strawsonian physicalist ontology. Such an ontology is the precondition of a reductive explanation of phenomenal minds, not an explanation itself. Two grounds for taking pan-experientialism / Strawsonian physicalism seriously IMO are 1) the fundamental entities in theoretical physics (fields / superstrings / branes) are defined purely mathematically; their supposed insentience is an extra assumption, not integral to the physics. And (2) the only part of the world to which one had direct access, namely one's own mind/ brain , has precisely those attributes that the pan-experientialist / Strawsonian physicalist claims - contrary to one's naive materialist or abstract pan-informationalist intuitions. More to be said? Yes, for sure. :-)

* * *

Adriano, could things go wrong? Yes. All the more reason to hardware the default settings of tomorrow's hedonic floor above today's hedonic ceiling. Lots can go wrong in posthuman paradise, but let's ensure that the worst catastrophes aren't as bad as today's peak experiences. If the rest of our Hubble volume is sterile, then the ethical utilitarian is simply obligated to ensure it doesn't recur. However, sociologically, negative utilitarianism seems an unlikely value system to prevail - and who knows what might be thrown up by experiments in colonisation of other solar systems. But maybe the molecular signature of unpleasantness belongs to a tiny subset of possible modes of sentience - and (super)intelligent humans will no more re-create such a relic than they may decide to reintroduce, say, smallpox. Pain and suffering have defined life on Earth for so long that it's natural to assume they will feature in our conceptual scheme indefinitely - and assume that the risk of the inadvertent or even deliberate re-creation of suffering will endure, even if we phase it out. Talk of post-humans opting to run ancestor situations, colonising barren solar systems with Darwinian life, the spectre of digital sentience, creating baby universes (etc) reflects this worry. I agree every kind of catastrophic risk scenario should be rigorously explored. But it's likely IMO that experience below hedonic zero will be relegated to the Dark Ages and its re-creation inconceivable. Until we understand more, however, all I can do is say this needs more research. Lame but true.

* * *

Calling consciousness a Hard Problem for the materialist is like calling fossils a Hard Problem for the biblical literalist, i.e. true as far as it goes, but not an adequate expression of the magnitude of challenge. If we're prepared to endorse pan-experientialism / Strawsonian physicalism, then the prospect of digital sentience and mind uploading might seem more feasible. Indeed, IMO pan-experientialism /Strawsonian physicalism is the precondition of any explanation of how organic minds solve the phenomenal binding problem. But it's merely a precondition. On the face of it, at least, the existence of bound phenomenal objects and the fleeting synchronic unity of the self is inconsistent with reductive physicalism. For what it's worth, I'm a Strawsonian physicalist who predicts on theoretical grounds that classical computers will never be subjects of experience nor support anything other than digital zombies. David Chalmers has recently written a nice overview of the binding problem: - though I wouldn't accept his naturalistic dualism. Again, for what it's worth I think the way organic minds solve the binding problem is the greatest cognitive achievement of the past half-billion years.

[on the near-term future]
The history of futurology is not encouraging. Most "predictions" by futurists are more akin to prophecies that reveal more about personality, preoccupations and capacity for wish-fulfilment of the author than the future they purport to describe. In any case, predicting the future behaviour of self-reflexive agents is not like predicting the behaviour of non-intelligent physical systems. Some predictions are self-fulfilling; other predictions are self-stultifying; and the public forecasts of politicians, social scientists, singularitarians and transhumanists should all be viewed in this light.

With this in mind, here goes....
I probably sound a naive optimist. I anticipate a future of paradise engineering. One species of recursively self-improving organic robot is poised to master its own genetic source code and bootstrap its way to full-spectrum superintelligence. The biology of suffering, ageing and disease will shortly pass into history. A future discipline of compassionate biology will replace conservation biology. Our descendants will be animated by gradients of genetically preprogrammed bliss orders of magnitude richer than anything physiologically accessible today. A few centuries hence, no experience below "hedonic zero" will pollute our forward light-cone.

Existential risk?
I think the greatest underlying source of existential and global catastrophic risk lies in male human primates doing what evolution "designed" male human primates to do, namely wage war. (cf. ) Unfortunately, we now have thermonuclear weapons to do so.
Does the study of ERR diminish or enhance ER? One man's risk is another man's opportunity. 2) Is the existence of suffering itself a form of ER insofar as it increases the likelihood of intelligent agency pressing a global OFF button, cleanly or otherwise? If I focussed on ERR, phasing out suffering would be high on the To Do list.

Well, I'd argue it's a form of anthropomorphic projection on our part to ascribe intelligence or mind to digital computers. Believers in digital sentience, let alone digital (super)intelligence, need to explain Moravec's paradox.
(cf.'s_paradox) For sure, digital computers can be used to model everything from the weather to the Big Bang to thermonuclear reactions. Yet why is, say, a bumble bee more successful in navigating its environment in open-field contexts than the most advanced artificial robot the Pentagon can build today? The success of biological lifeforms since the Cambrian Explosion has turned on the computational capacity of organic robots to solve the binding problem (cf. and generate cross-morally matched, real-time simulations of the mind-independent world. On theoretical grounds, I predict digital computers will never be capable of generating unitary phenomenal minds, unitary selves or unitary virtual worlds. In short, classical digital computers are invincibly ignorant zombies. (cf. They can never "wake up" and explore the manifold varieties of sentience.

Suffering has been a pervasive feature of life on Earth over the past half billion years - and its existence is deeply embedded in our conceptual scheme. So it's natural to extrapolate and project its extension far and wide as intelligent life radiates across the Galaxy and beyond. However, perhaps the core molecular structures implicated in experience below hedonic zero occupy a comparatively small, well-defined and restrictive class of states that posthumans would no more recreate than the cuckoo-clock. In absolute terms, the kingdom of pain may well be as extensive as the kingdom of pleasure. IMO our overriding priority should be making its existence - and eventually perhaps even knowledge of its existence - completely off-limits. Yes, potentially hundreds of billions of years of sublime bliss lie ahead in our forward light-cone. But we need to avoid getting stuck in some sub-optimal local maximum. Our superhappy posthuman descendants will presumably feel that the Darwinian horror story that spanned them was all worthwhile - insofar as they choose to contemplate its existence at all. But indescribable joy and suicidal despair cannot simultaneously be compared. Despite their (presumably) vastly superior intelligence, I suspect aspects of our existence will be cognitively closed to them. Worthwhile? I don't believe it either. Recall Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas". Despite advocating - and tentatively predicting - a future life of sublime bliss - I'm not remotely convinced it's worth the price.

* * *

Consider in turn each of our core emotions. What was its role in the ancestral environment? Do we want to preserve, enrich, diminish, or abolish the emotion altogether? And can we genetically design novel emotions too?

* * *

Year 2047
The bad news?
I fear we're sleepwalking towards the abyss. Some of the trillions of dollars of weaponry we're stockpiling designed to kill and maim rival humans will be used in armed conflict between nation states. Tens of millions and possibly hundreds of millions of people may perish in thermonuclear war. Multiple possible flash-points exist. I don't know if global catastrophe can be averted. For evolutionary reasons, male humans are biologically primed for competition and violence. Perhaps the least sociologically implausible prevention-measure would be a voluntary transfer of the monopoly of violence currently claimed by state actors to the United Nations. But I wouldn't count on any such transfer of power this side of Armageddon.

The good news?
Freeman Dyson prophesies that soon we'll "be writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses". If so, I'm not sure about timescales. However, "narrow" artificial intelligence and powerful gene-authoring software tools will shortly enable humans to edit our own genetic source code in accelerating cycles of recursive self-improvement. In consequence, human intelligence will be progressively amplified and enriched. Youth, vitality and lifespans will be extended indefinitely. Suffering, depression and experience below "hedonic zero" will be relegated to history. Human traits such as weakness of will, the struggle for meaning and significance, quasi-sociopathic empathy deficits, and a host of mediocre states of mind that currently pass for mental health will increasingly become optional as we bootstrap our way to post-humanity. Not least, a growing mastery of our biological reward circuitry will allow the upper bounds of human "peak experiences" to be pushed unimaginably higher. Likewise, hedonic set-points can be genetically recalibrated. Everyday life later this century will potentially be animated by gradients of intelligent bliss.

Bioconservative critics will doubtless worry that "something valuable will be lost" as responsible prospective parents stop playing genetic roulette as the reproductive revolution of "designer babies" unfolds. Tomorrow's parents-to-be will opt for preimplantation genetic diagnosis and "designer zygotes" to ensure invincible physical and mental health for their future children. Among young adults, novel states of consciousness as different as waking from dreaming are likely to migrate from psychedelic chemists working in the scientific counterculture to mainstream society. "Bad trips" will become physiologically impossible because their molecular signature is absent. Unfortunately, words fail here. Post-Darwinian consciousness is likely to be incomprehensible to archaic Homo sapiens.

Ethically, I think the greatest ethical change ahead this century may be the antispeciesist revolution. This global transition will probably follow rather than precede the commercialisation of gourmet in vitro meat and the end of factory farming and the death factories. It's worth stressing that the antispeciesist doesn't claim members of all species are of equal value. S/he argues simply that beings of equivalent sentience are of equal value. Hence they deserve to be treated accordingly - regardless of gender, race or species. Pigs, sheep and cows are of equivalent sentience to human infants, prelinguistic toddlers, victims of Alzheimer's disease and the severely intellectually handicapped. Only arbitrary anthropocentric bias leads us to kill, abuse and exploit the former and care for the latter. Despite superior intelligence, I suspect our grandchildren may struggle to comprehend what their grandparents did to other sentient beings.

[on engineering a happy biosphere]
Here is the PDF and PowerPoint of "Conservation Biology versus Compassionate Biology" talk I gave in Santa Maria:

Although the two approaches are here contrasted, they can in principle be combined. But where to strike a balance? It's the last and most technically ambitious stand of the abolitionist project - leading ultimately to some kind of high-tech Jainism.

The elephant case study relies on (my) back-of-an-envelope calculations rather than a rigorous methodology. But the $2.5 billion annual cost of full healthcare and welfare provision for the entire population of free-living African elephants may be a bit pessimistic: one just needs to consider cost overruns. The great majority of the 500, 000 elephant population would need far less than the $5000 per head this figure allows. Chipping /GPS tracking and immunocontraception would presumably cost at most a few hundred dollars. What's feasible for all UK "domestic" dogs
is feasible for free-living elephants. Chipping can range from simple tagging
to more complex remote monitoring of health status.
(e.g. cortisol monitoring - elevated cortisol levels indicating high stress and consequent need for investigation and possible compassionate intervention.) Late-life orthodontics to prevent starvation would be more costly. But the kinds of material used for
would last decades. Timescale for the 500,000 population? Perhaps 1-2 years (?) if an international consensus existed.

I chose the African elephant because s/he has the largest brain of a terrestrial vertebrate, and all the necessary technologies for a comprehensive healthcare program are available now - nothing transhumanist or "sci-fi". In a number of ways, free-living elephants are an "easy" example. Elephants are large, long-lived, vegetarian, and "charismatic". No seemingly irreconcilable interests are involved (e.g. lions versus zebras) because mature elephants typically have no natural predators: the limiting factor on elephant populations in the absence of fertility regulation is food/adequate nutrition. The one exception I know to this generalisation is the terrible case of:
But this is the kind of horror that a compassionate stewardship of Nature would prevent.

It's worth distinguishing between "wild" and "free living". For the most part, humans are no longer the former, but we are mostly the latter. There is no technical reason why we can't extend the principles of the Swedish model to free-living members of other species. (cf.

* * *

Reeve, utilitarians believe we should phase out suffering, and members of this HI group are committed to phasing out involuntary suffering. But nothing in our core statement of principles - or the core statement of principles of the original WTA /H+ - involves a commitment to utilitarian ethics. The transhumanist movement embraces classical, negative and preference utilitarians; deontologists; virtue ethicists, pluralists; Christians; Jains; Buddhists; and much else besides. What's new isn't our ethic of reducing - and ultimately phasing out - the ancient biology of involuntary suffering, but rather the technology to turn utopian dreaming into practical reality.

* * *

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 for generating pleasure. That said, adopting the equivalent of wireheading or mainlining heroin is currently neither ethical nor prudent.

[on high-tech Jainism]
Brian raised an important point. "I don't think I would regard insect suffering as a pinprick. To the insect herself, her suffering is all that matters - it overwhelms everything."

For some insects at least, presumably this can't be the case, e.g. in those species of locust where the head segment may carry on eating where the tail segment is being devoured by a predator. There can't be a unitary subject of experience in such cases. Maybe there is raw pain in the ganglia of the tail segment (and indeed in the segment of a writhing lizard tail that has detached to distract a predator, etc). But if so, to what extent does such separate pain experience have an emotional, "affective" aspect? (Compare too how when a patient in pain is given morphine, s/he reports the pain sensation is still there as before, but the sensation doesn't seem to matter any more).

It's also possible, I think, that some human peripheral nerve ganglia experience raw pain that our minds can't access. Compare how one sometimes withdraws one's hand from a hot stove before the felt experience of phenomenal agony. Maybe phenomenal pain does exist in some of our peripheral nerve ganglia, and maybe such pain plays a role in our hand withdrawal, but it is inaccessible to the CNS.

If some/all insect pain is "encapsulated" in an analogous way, then is tackling its existence more or less urgent than treating inaccessible pains in the human peripheral nervous system? (My intuition is that vertebrate CNS (and cephalopods) come first; but I'm also aware mere intuitions are frequently worthless.)

* * *

Ben, IMO de-biasing ourselves is a constraint on decision-theoretic rationality, not just morality. To be sure, for evolutionary reasons each of us tends to find ourselves - perceptually and evaluatively - at the centre of the universe, followed typically in importance by family, friends and members of own ethnic group, with sentient beings of other species featuring marginally if at all. But if we aspire to the God's-eye point-of-view delivered by modern science, then we'll recognise that the egocentric illusion is just that - a fitness-enhancing falsehood. Insofar as one's own agony or despair is disvaluable, then so is the agony and despair of other subjects of experience elsewhere in space-time, regardless of race or species. This particular here-and-now isn't somehow special or ontologically privileged.

Vegard, a refusal to condone animal abuse isn't the prerogative of white, young, urban, privileged males. Rather an ethic of non-violence to other sentient beings is central to the values of millions of the poorest people on the planet. I know of no good ethical reason why we should permit sentient beings to be parasitized, starved, disembowelled, asphyxiated or eaten alive, regardless of race or species. Thanks to biotechnology, such cruelties will shortly become optional. Of course, building sentience-friendly biological intelligence is still a formidable challenge - but perhaps a useful apprenticeship for building friendly AI.

Carnivorous plants? Garret , about your "of course" Venus fly traps are sentient. If so, their sentience would blow my preferred theory of mind out of the water! [Their sapience would leave me dumbstruck.] Venus flytraps don't have a nervous system. Can aggregates of cellulose-encased plant cells ever become unitary subjects of experience? But this question would take us far afield - and ranks low on any scale of moral urgency.

* * *

Some cognitive biases are ethically catastrophic:
Meat eaters downplay animal minds

How should we treat other sentient beings?
Farm to Fridge
The Truth Behind Meat Production

The bedrock of human civilisation is the misery of other sentient beings. What should we do about it?
FBI Says Activists Who Investigate Factory Farms Can Be Prosecuted as Terrorists

Killing other sentient beings: H+ or H- ?
Vegans, notables, celebs and the abolition of suffering

* * *

A biosphere without suffering is technically feasible. In principle, science can deliver a cruelty-free world that lacks the molecular signature of unpleasant experience. Not merely can a living world support human life based on genetically preprogrammed gradients of human well-being. If carried to completion, the abolitionist project entails ecosystem redesign, immunocontraception, marine nanorobots, rewriting the vertebrate genome, and harnessing the exponential growth of computational resources to manage a compassionate global ecosystem. Ultimately, it's an ethical choice whether intelligent moral agents opt to create such a world - or instead express our natural status quo bias and perpetuate the biology of suffering indefinitely.

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 sentience in our forward light-cone?

[on materialism]
Materialism and physicalism are often assumed to be close cousins. But one can be a physicalist and a monistic idealist. Physicalism is the conjecture that no "element of reality" is lacking from the equations of physics and their solutions. Materialism and idealism are conjectures about the intrinsic nature of what this mathematical formalism exhaustively describes. Less intuitively still, the conjecture that e.g. fields of quantum-field theoretic subjectivity are the stuff of the world does not commit us to the view that classical digital computers - or the population of the USA, etc - are (potentially) subjects of experience. For we still need to resolve the phenomenal binding problem - which seems classically insoluble. Why aren't communities of discrete membrane-bound (supposedly) classical neurons merely patterns of "mind dust" - just as the USA (contra Eric Schwizgebel) is never a unitary subject of experience, just patterns of discrete skull-bound minds?

Brian, let's suppose that - in the interests of an experimental science of consciousness - the population of the USA (etc) is co-opted into replicating the functional properties of a simple brain as conceived by coarse-grained functionalism - with skull-bound American minds acting as proxies for membrane-bound neurons, and rapid electromagnetic signalling acting as proxy for the diffusion of neurotransmitters across the synaptic cleft. For the experiment, let's assume that skull-bound [membrane-bound] units forming columns of interconnected edge-detectors, motion-detectors, colour-detectors are experimentally assembled, as in the CNS.

At no threshold of complexity or functionality does a unitary dynamic phenomenal object, or a unitary experiential field of perception, or a unitary subject of experience, switch on, or even "seem" to switch on ["seem" to what or to whom?].

A critic of this thought-experiment might echo Eric Schwitzgebel and respond: how do we know they don't somehow switch on? How can we know that all that ever exists are patterns of discrete, classical, skull-bound pixels of "mind dust"?

And I'd respond: we don't!
But their "switching on" would be a strong form of ontological emergence: an unbridgeable explanatory gap that would demolish reductive physicalism and the ontological unity of science.
By contrast, all the other forms of emergence in the natural world are "weak", i.e. they are all derivable from the underlying microphysics.

At this point, I guess I could go into my own implausible-sounding conjectures on how phenomenal binding may be accomplished in the CNS of organic mind-brains. But only someone who recognises that phenomenal binding is a profound problem will be tempted to give them even cursory consideration.
I'd just add that finding phenomenal binding to be a huge problem is not some idiosyncratic view on my part.
[My ideas on quantum mind certainly do fall into the idiosyncratic category.]

[on the primordial functionality of the pleasure-pain axis]
Phenomenal redness and greenness - and most if not all other experiences - are intrinsically functionally neutral. We normally think of redness and greenness as being bound up with different electromagnetic reflectancies, but this functional role is a purely contingent fact about evolution. Inverted spectra, absent qualia and the recruitment by natural selection of radically different qualia (cf. synaesthesia) to play an analogous functional role in living organisms are all feasible. By contrast, the pleasure-pain axis is not inherently functionally neutral. An inverted pleasure-pain axis seems physically and indeed logically impossible. There could not be an extra-terrestrial civilisation whose members are drawn to pure agony and despair, and shun pure ecstasy and bliss. Not least, an inverted pleasure-pain axis would be inconsistent with agency, and of choosing to do one thing rather than another. Without going into a deep examination of the pleasure principle/ psychological hedonism, the various human counterexamples one can think of to this claim don't IMO on examination add up. But if this is so, why is it so? I sometimes say that the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world's inbuilt metric of (dis)value. But what explains this (unique?) functional role? Lamely, I'm just going to say I don't know. Unfortunately, I don't think we understand the nature of Reality.

[on different conceptions of a Technological Singularity]
DEBATE FORUM - do you want a Singularity via Artificial Intelligence, or Human Bio-Intelligence?
Most of the Singularitarian contributors to the forthcoming Springer volume discount the prospects of biological superintelligence:
But organic robots can recursively self-modify their own genetic source code too. So I think writing off humans and our biological descendants may prove premature:

Eray, the smarter our tool AI, the faster such AI can enable recursively self-improving organic robots to design autosomal gene-authoring software and smart neuroelectronic interfaces. So in that sense, Moore's law will directly benefit biological robots too. But as you know, I'm sceptical on theoretical grounds that classical digital computers can ever be more than zombies. And this means there is a huge diversity of problems classical digital computers can never solve. How would you program a classical digital computer, for example, to explore the neural correlates of consciousness, solve the phenomenal binding problem, or investigate novel state spaces of qualia à la Sasha Shulgin? (cf.

I guess a standard response would be to invoke the Church–Turing thesis and claim that such problems aren't well-defined. But we need a richer conception of what constitutes a well-defined problem. Full-spectrum superintelligence, IMO, will seamlessly integrate the formal and subjective properties of mind.

[...] the conjecture that our superhumanly intelligent successors will not also be our biological descendants rests on contentious assumptions that may - or may not - be correct. Not least, predicting the behaviour of reflexive agents whose behaviour itself depends on the nature of the predictions one makes poses paradoxes that do not arise when predicting the behaviour of systems in the rest of the natural world.

Eray, yes, I agree, the IJ. Good / Eliezer Yudkowsky conception of an Intelligence Explosion, which combines Moore's law with the prospect of recursively self-improving software-minds, predicts the eruption of nonbiological superintelligence orders of magnitude smarter than even posthuman biological intelligence within months, weeks, hours, perhaps even minutes... FOOM.

Or FIZZLE? As you know, on theoretical (and empirical) grounds, I don't think digital zombies are intellectually capable of full-spectrum superintelligence - or tackling the sort of problems (some) humans find interesting. For example, when do you think a classical digital computer will outperform Shulgin and his successors? To embark on an intelligent investigation of the phenomenal properties of certain configurations of matter and energy requires, at the very minimum, that one possesses an understanding of what is a phenomenal property. Or do you believe that a classical digital zombie can understand the nature of sentience? Are you claiming that a Christof Koch or a Sasha Shulgin are not pursuing intelligent scientific inquiry?

Eray, IMO we have good grounds for believing that the Strong Physical Church-Turing Thesis (i.e. any function that can actually be computed in polynomial time by a physical device can also be computed in polynomial time by a Turing machine) is false. If you intend to argue otherwise, then I look forward to reading your paper! In reality, there are most likely physical devices that are exponentially more efficient than a Turing Machine, and in consequence - as Feynman considered in his original paper - exponentially hard to simulate. These devices include IMO the organic mind-brains of biological robots whose world-simulations have been computationally optimised over hundreds of millions of years to track fitness-relevant patterns in the mind-independent local environment. I'm happy to concede this view is controversial; but this doesn't make those who disagree with you "cabbage heads".

Ronald, yes, let's say we want to build a machine capable of indexical thought (e.g. this particular thought). We know precisely how to create a machine to achieve this precisely specified task: just have sex and create another organic robot! But programming a digital computer with a capacity for indexical thought (or the capacity for phenomenal binding, or to investigate psychedelia, or to probe the neural correlates of consciousness, etc) is more of a challenge. Indeed, it's not clear that a classical digital computer can exhibit understanding of the nature or even the existence of the subjective properties of matter and energy. On the other hand, the distinction between the formal and subjective properties of mind cannot be entirely clean - or else it wouldn't be physically feasible to allude to such subjective properties in the first instance. Either way, full-spectrum superintelligence will entail seamless mastery of the formal and subjective properties of mind - or so I'd argue at any rate.

[on one unresearched route to full-spectrum superintelligence]
Recursive genetic self-editing of adult genomes is just a fantasy - for now at least. [cf.]

However, consider the imminence of a Chinese eugenics program to breed super-geniuses.
And let's assume human cloning will soon be feasible.
Here's a thought-experiment...
Ignoring ethical considerations, imagine if you could be genetically cloned with, critically, the addition and/or modification of a handful of "ultra intelligent" alleles - and your genetically enhanced "clones" are then hot-housed.
Next, repeat with variations, cloning and hot-housing your most promising lineages. Too slow? There is no need to wait until your enhanced clones reach adulthood. For an ultra-intelligent eight-year-old super-genius studying, say, M-theory or the Langlands Program - or exploring intelligence-amplification technologies - is already promising enough to warrant multiple clones with enhanced genetic variants of their own. And so on. Technically, (AI-augmented) biological superintelligence could be achieved on compressed timescales of a century or less via cloning with modifications because there will be no need to use slow-burning germline interventions...

OK, this particular thought-experiment might not sound sociologically realistic. But a billionaire / rogue state might have other ideas. And we can consider lots of other scenarios involving recursive AI-assisted biohacking too...

Of course if, and contrary to what I argue, full-spectrum superintelligence is really about the speed and serial depth of processing at which classical digital computers, then not even a hypothetical community of supergenius biological clones could compete with nonbiological super-AGI - or indeed with virtual super-EMS [whole-brain emulations] run on classical digital computers. But for all sorts of reasons, I still think a future of recursively self-improving biological robots is the most likely route to full-spectrum superintelligence.

[on drugs]
Thanks Gabriel. Antimuscarinic drugs can both elevate mood and impair verbal fluency: a cruel dilemma. It's hard to believe that a drug like scopolamine can seriously be touted in some psychiatric circles as a novel antidepressant. Amphetamines elevate mood and promote talkativeness, though not depth of thought, originality, or social cognition. IMO their use is best discouraged. Although I'm optimistic in the long run that superintelligence can be combined with rich hedonic tone, the route ahead is lined with pitfalls :

[on abolishing 'physical' pain]
The urgency or otherwise of this question is perhaps best considered when one has, say, a migraine rather than sitting comfortably
Should we eliminate the human ability to feel pain?

Ian, we must distinguish phenomenal pain from nociception. Nociception is functionally essential; phenomenal pain is potentially optional. Silicon (etc) robots can be programmed to avoid risky behaviours, and likewise connectionist systems can be trained up to avoid noxious stimuli, without undergoing the nasty "raw feels" underdone by organic robots like us.

In the long run, we can offload everything nasty onto smart prostheses. We certainly need a more civilised signalling system. But in the short-term, choosing "low pain" rather than "no pain" alleles for our prospective children via preimplantation genetic diagnosis strikes me as ethically responsible.

Sean, it's also possible that one day status quo bias will work in our favour. When we have phased out the biology of pain and suffering in favour of a more civilised signalling system, the idea of recreating the horrors of our Darwinian past - and then inflicting them on new unwilling victims - will seem crazy. I reckon tomorrow's bioconservatives will be right...

Ian, true, people with leprosy typically feel no sensory pain. But this doesn't mean people who enjoy pain-free lives are akin to lepers! As you'll recall from the article, I argue against the creation of uniform well-being, whether physical or psychological. Instead, I argue we should aim for information-signalling gradients of well-being that conserve the adaptive role of negative feedback. Information-signalling gradients of well-being are feasible even if future hedonic tone and future hedonic set-points surpass anything physiologically accessible today. More to the point, our quality of life can thereby be enriched too.

Perhaps the best parallel is congenital analgesia rather than leprosy. Many victims of leprosy suffer neuropathic pain. One cause of congenital analgesia is nonsense mutations of the SCN9A gene: other alleles confer unusually high or low pain thresholds. Either way, I'm not urging that we (yet) abolish physical pain. For now, choosing benign rather than high-pain alleles for our future children strikes me as both responsible and prudent.

* * *

But the Transhumanist Declaration expresses our commitment to the well-being of all sentience:
In the long run, we can aspire to do much more than alleviate suffering. For sure, delivering the well-being of all sentience is not simply a case of amplifying the volume and getting "blissed out" rather than blissful. I very much hope we can amplify and enrich our capacity for empathetic understanding of other sentient beings as well - and recursively self-edit our genetic source code and bootstrap our way to full-spectrum superintelligence! But the point is we can conserve the functional analogues of our nastier Darwinian feelings and emotions without today's nasty "raw feels".

If you're interested, I say a bit more about some of these issues e.g.

* * *

[...] Why we experience phenomenal pain at all is a mystery - at least within the context of orthodox scientific materialism. (cf. I've dodged this issue in the interview because so long as we understand the necessary and conditions for phenomenal pain to occur, we can prevent it. I wholeheartedly agree that our immediate priority should be control and mitigation. But in the long run, I know of no technical reason why organic robots can't enjoy profound physical and emotional well-being every day of their lives. Of course, the engineering challenge to make this happen is substantial.

Peter, yes, there is the world of difference between phasing out (physical and psychological) suffering and phasing out nociception / negative feedback mechanisms. In principle, hedonic tone and life itself could be orders of magnitude richer without sacrificing bodily function or critical insight. But let's start modestly...

Eray, I think the really interesting question is not whether philosophical zombies are possible, but understanding why they are impossible - granted a reductive physicalism that assumes the ontological unity of science. How can we rigorously derive the phenomenology of our minds from the underlying microphysics? Most scientists and philosophers still find Strawsonian physicalism repugnant - though IMO the alternatives are worse.

[As an aside, there is a sense in which the avatars populating one's world-simulation are indeed zombies. But when we're awake, these zombies causally co-vary with other sentient beings in the local environment.]

Replace my neurons with microchips? Yes, this would be an effective cure for sentience.

When does pain cross the threshold and become suffering? I guess the answer is in part conventional - which is not to say arbitrary. Ethically speaking, clearly we want to prioritise the alleviation and prevention of outright suffering. Does masochism invert the pleasure-pain axis? Intuitively, one might imagine so. But in the masochist, certain ritualised settings trigger the release of intensely rewarding endogenous opioids. A masochist hates getting his hand caught in the door just like you or me.

Other things being equal, I think profound emotional and physical well-being is preferable to complicated "mixed" states. But in the post-genomic era, we can agree this choice should be left to the individual. Today, hundreds of millions of pain-ridden and/or depressive people have no choice at all.

The issue of children complicates the issue of consent. Shortly we'll effectively be able to choose the default level of pain-(in)sensitivity and (un)happiness of our future children. What genetic dial-settings will it be ethical to choose? I hope - and tentatively predict - there will soon be selection pressure in favour of a less pain-ridden and less misery-racked world.

* * *

Wisely, the Transhumanist Declaration doesn't commit us to any specific ethical theory. One can support the well-being of all sentience and be a utilitarian, deontologist, virtue theorist, etc. Any ethical theory that attempts to reduce all ethics to subjective experience is controversial. But what we can say, I think, is that in a world without subjective experience would be a world in which nothing mattered at all.

History records stories of people who have successfully overcome terrible suffering. Other folk, alas, simply have their spirit crushed. (Not everyone has your resilience and strength of character Ian!) Either way, I don't think we're ethically entitled to create children genetically prone to misery and malaise simply to give them the opportunity to overcome it. A default state of invincible physical and emotional health will be a more ethical option. Or so I'd argue at any rate...

* * *

Evolution has primed us to think so Eray. Alas cheating the hedonic treadmill via "natural", nonbiological means won't be easy. This is both a blessing and a curse. Recall how of "locked-in" patients who can communicate by blinking, forty-eight percent of long-term survivors report their mood as good.
By contrast, many depressives would be miserable in the Garden of Eden...

* * *

Ian, like everyone here I am opposed to coercive happiness! This strikes me as a sociologically unlikely prospect. The biology of involuntary suffering, alas, is all too real.

Hedonic recalibration is not a social panacea. But other things being equal, someone with a higher hedonic set-point, who enjoys a richer capacity for rewarding experience, will enjoy a better quality life than someone with a high genetic loading for depression.

Are pain and pleasure wholly or largely relative, as we might naively suppose? Tragically, millions of people in the world today endure chronic pain and/or depression. Some of their days aren't as awful as others. But it would be cruel to suggest that their merely miserable days were somehow happy. Conversely, there are cases of extremely "hyperthymic" people whose lives are animated by gradients of well-being. Days they merely find rewarding (rather than brilliant) aren't spent below Sidgwick's "hedonic zero". By the same token, posthumans won't need to experience the biology of life below hedonic zero at all.

* * *

Eray, suffering embitters as least as often as it ennobles. No doubt some hyperthymic people can be obnoxious. Others are loveable and widely loved. Hyperthymia is not out-of-control mania. One well-known example of a loveable person with an extremely hyperthymic temperament (and I use him as a "case study" by express permission!) is transhumanist scholar Anders Sandberg.

Ian, above I gave equal weight to remedying our deficits in systematising intelligence and social cognition alike. It's no disrespect to people with high AQ scores to say they find one cognitive style easier than the other.

Anecdotally, many people with extremely high AQ scores also have extremely high pain thresholds, which may colour their response to this question. One of my friends has an AQ of 37. He either has pain asymbolia or an extraordinarily high pain threshold. People with extremely high pain thresholds tend to regard phenomenal pain as a mere signalling mechanism rather than a horror they would do almost anything to avoid. The point is not that we should seek to make everyone neurotypical. Rather it's to ensure that people - and I hope nonhuman animals! - who involuntarily undergo deeply unpleasant forms of physical and emotional distress today should no longer be forced to do so.

If you are comfortable with your existing biology, this is good news (seriously!). We just need to endure that all other sentient beings can feel the same.

* * *

Ian, rich and complex bodily feedback is possible relying only on gradients of pleasure, as lovers if not celibate philosophers can attest. Are you arguing there are some problems that organic robots can solve that are computationally intractable without an algorithmic role for the "raw feels" of pain? I don't rule this out; but their indispensability would be a momentous discovery in robotics and computer science. (cf. the Church–Turing thesis

Other things being equal, life is better subjectively with less physical and emotional pain. Innumerable lives today are blighted by depression and chronic pain syndromes. Other things being equal, life would be subjectively richer still if we were animated by information-sensitive gradients of bliss. The "other things being equal" caveat here is essential, for some of the reasons you discuss. Likewise, I very much hope that we can enrich our capacity for empathetic understanding of other first-person perspectives - beyond the Machiavellian intelligence that was adaptive on the African savannah. (cf. But the creation of safe and sustainable empathogens poses many challenges.

* * *

Ian, IMO a commitment to the well-being of all sentience cannot involve promoting sadism. Today, people don't choose what turns them on; consensual role-play is fine. But any predisposition to derive pleasure from hurting other sentient beings is surely not a personality trait we wish to encourage. I'd argue that the ideal level of sexual violence in the world should be zero.

Masochism? Well, in principle masochists can derive richer sexual pleasure than now without needing to submit themselves to pain and humiliation. With biological tweaking, nothing need be lost; and much can be gained.

A type-11 person in your example, who experiences only information-sensitive gradients of well-being, cannot imagine the subjective textures of experience below hedonic zero. But s/he knows, by analogy with his or her information-signalling dips in blissful well-being, that such states are less desirable than his or her sublime hedonic peaks. By analogy today, I cannot imagine what it's like to be tortured;. But I can remember, sort of, my last toothache; and by analogy with that toothache I realise that torture must be hugely worse. I would not wish torture on anybody. In short, "Light without darkness is darkness" is fine poetry but poor science. And pleasure without pain is not numbness but simply pleasure. Posthumans, I predict, will enjoy an everyday intensity of experience orders of magnitude richer than the trancelike-existence of their sleepwalking ancestors. Perhaps we're going to "wake up".

* * *

Ian, we fundamentally disagree only if you believe our existing biology of pain and suffering should be compulsory. I think the biology of pain and suffering should be optional. So (I hope!) do you. If so, then we have consensus on the key issue. On to your more specific points...
Hedonic dips? Surely pain that isn't actively unpleasant isn't pain?

Development and survival? Are you ruling out recursively self-improving nonbiological robots that are endowed with nociception but lack the nasty "raw feels" of pain and suffering? For sure, we wouldn't want computationally to offload the good things in life onto smart prostheses. But what about the nasty stuff?

"Light without darkness is blindness"? Recall I'm arguing against uniform bliss, whether physical or psychological. Today, people endowed with high hedonic set-points and high pain-thresholds tend to enjoy a richer quality of life than depressives and the frequently pain-ridden. But people at both ends of the hedonic scale can behave intelligently and adaptively. Critically, information-signalling depends not on one's absolute position on the pleasure-pain axis, but rather on differences in hedonic (or dolorous) tone. Tragically, some depressive and pain-ridden people today rely entirely on information-signalling properties of ill-being for much of their lives. Life animated by information-signalling gradients of well-being is surely preferable.

Reduced diversity? On the contrary: it's depressives who typically tend to get "stuck in a rut". By contrast, temperamentally happy people tend to be more motivated and more sensitive to a broader range of rewarding stimuli. Thus (other things being equal) global mood-enrichment will make getting "stuck in a rut" less likely, both for individuals and for civilisation as a whole.

Eliminating kinky behaviour? Heaven forbid! Recall I was arguing against the promotion of sadism, i.e. sexual gratification derived from hurting others. If someone gets turned on by the thought of beating children, for example, this isn't to say they should be blamed for such fantasies. People today don't choose their psychosexual make-up. But we can both agree that such people should be strenuously discouraged from acting out their sadistic fantasies - and it would be in everyone's interest, not least the people in question, if they weren't prey to such fantasies in the first instance. [Socially unacceptable behaviour acted out in immersive VR raises difficult issues I won't enter into here.]

Global wireheading? Recall I've argued at length against such scenarios elsewhere (e.g. Hypermotivation)

* * *

Julian, yes, for masochists, "pain, in the right circumstances can be a lot of fun". But that's because the composite state in question is actually exquisitely pleasurable. Endogenous opioids released is certain ritualised contexts can be rewarding. Sadly, millions of people whose lives are blighted by physical pain today find the "fun" of pain elusive.

The intelligibility of literature, art, etc? Well, one might say that truly to understand e.g. anti-Semitic literature, one needs to be a little bit prejudiced against Jews. In one sense, at least, this may be the case; but if so, it is a form of knowledge one should be happy to forgo. Likewise, perhaps one would understand, e.g. Boethius' "Consolation of Philosophy" better if one were physically tortured like its author. The question is whether the gain in understanding would make the torment worthwhile. For my part, I would love to understand the aesthetic experiences of our superhappy posthuman successors instead.

Ian, is it possible you're confusing sentience with sapience? ("What we feel emotionally is distinct from our sentience.") Emotions are one manifestation of sentience.

Depression (as distinct from e.g. pain and fear) seems peculiar to social animals. Evolutionary psychologists tend to view low mood as an adaptation to group living in a predator-rich environment like the African savannah.
(cf. Rank theory ) In future, there will be no need to replicate its horrors - and no need to sacrifice critical insight either. For we could preserve the functional analogues of discontent even in a civilisation whose members are animated by gradients of intelligent bliss. Just consider the happiest and most productive hyperthymics alive today.

Any drug, gene therapy or technology may potentially be abused. Should technologies to relieve and prevent suffering be withheld on the grounds that they might one day be used by professional killers? I guess exactly the same argument could in theory be made against licensing, say, psychostimulants and anti-anxiety agents, and even against enrichment of our native oxytocin function:
In short, phasing out the biology of pain and suffering presents many potential problems. This is one reason to encourage intelligent and informed debate. How can new technologies of reproductive medicine such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis be used most responsibly? What is the optimal range of pain-sensitivity and hedonic tone?

In the post-genomic era, should some children's default genetic-settings include a predisposition to live depressed and pain-ridden lives? What are the ethically permissible limits to the control of parents over the minds and bodies of "their" offspring? (cf. life-saving blood transfusions for the sick children of Jehovah's Witnesses today). Who should decide those limits? I've always argued that the greatest obstacle to the well-being of all sentience won't be technical but rather ethical / ideological. And status quo bias.

If one has children via genetic roulette, i.e. traditional sexual reproduction, then one puts them at risk of all manner of deeply unpleasant states. Consider the hundreds of millions of people in the world today who suffer from chronic depression and / or chronic pain syndromes. So there isn't a risk-free option. Instead, we need to weigh risk-reward ratios. Thus I think there is a powerful case for making available preimplantation genetic diagnosis to all prospective parents who want it for their future children even now, the mere dawn of the era of genomic medicine.

[on involuntary suffering]
Each year around one million people in the world take their own lives. Over ten times that number unsuccessfully attempt to commit suicide. Far more people still commit acts of serious self-harm. Hundreds of millions of people are clinically or subclinically depressed.

And yet...
A recent French study of long-term patients with "locked in syndrome", i.e. people who suffer a catastrophic trauma and can subsequently communicate only by blinking, found that 72% of patients reported themselves as being "happy"
This percentage compares favourably with healthy "normals".
And an Ipsos poll in the Economist recently compared international levels of self-reported well-being of "normal" people. The differing national percentages of people who described themselves as "very happy" isn't what one would expect. Indonesia came first. India came second. Mexico came third.

What's going on?
We know some events send our spirits soaring.
Other events plunge us into despair.
So why is any long-term correlation between "objective" grounds for (un)happiness and actual (un)happiness seemingly so weak?

The answer, it seems, is the hedonic treadmill - an evolutionarily ancient set of negative feedback mechanisms in the brain. Each of us has an approximate hedonic set-point. Twin studies show that genes play an important role in whether your hedonic set-point is high, low or somewhere in-between. Likewise, genes help explain why some people fluctuate wildly between an unusually high hedonic ceiling and an unusually low hedonic floor, whereas other people are more equable.

So here's a thought-experiment. Imagine if a magic genie makes you an offer - for both you and your future children. You can choose your own hedonic floor, your hedonic ceiling and your average hedonic set-point. Plus 10 is superhappiness. 0 is hedonically neural, i.e. neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Minus 10 is indescribable misery.
What hedonic range would you choose?
Would you choose to suffer at all, i.e. how low would you set your hedonic floor?
And what would you make your average hedonic set-point - where you spend most of your everyday existence?
Unless you choose Plus 10 for both your average hedonic set-point and ultimate hedonic ceiling, then your mood as now will still fluctuate up and down over the weeks and months as good and bad things happen to you - and depending on whether you succeed or fail in your life projects. In other words, you'll still retain critical insight. But assuming that you choose to occupy a hedonic range in the higher reaches of the scale, then your hedonically enhanced life is likely to be immensely subjectively richer than now - whether you live as a prince or a pauper.
Or would you decline the genie's offer?

Of course, today we don't have any choice about either our "natural" hedonic set-point or hedonic range. "Antidepressants" and mood stabilisers can sometimes help. Some unlucky depressives spend almost all their lives deep in negative gloom - they rarely even reach hedonic zero. At the opposite extreme, unusually temperamentally happy people spend almost all their whole lives in positive territory. Probably a majority of people have an average hedonic set-point somewhere near hedonic zero - perhaps plus 1 or 2 or minus 1 or minus 2 - but with a wider hedonic range to explore when things go well - or badly. And of course some people are temperamentally stable, whereas other people experience huge mood swings.

However, the genetic crapshoot is about to change.

Medical scientists already breed super-happy or super-depressed strains of laboratory mouse for "research" purposes. Thanks to e.g. human twin studies, we are starting to understand the link between different alleles [genetic variants] and normal mood - and why some people seem born invincibly optimistic, and others are chronically depressed Over the next few decades, we could in principle choose to "recalibrate " our emotional thermostat - using biotechnology to raise hedonic floor, hedonic ceiling, and average hedonic set-points world-wide.
In time, preimplantation genetic screening
will be succeeded by true "designer zygotes", allowing far more radical interventions. The biology of Heaven, for want of a better term.
Life on Earth could - potentially - be animated by gradients of intelligent bliss, or at the very least gradients of well-being - not uncontrollable "manic" euphoria, just a rich hedonic tone as a backdrop to "ordinary" life. Technically at least, we could phase out the nasty allelic combinations - crudely speaking, the "bad genes" - that predispose so many of us to depression, anxiety disorders and other unpleasant Darwinian states of mind that helped our ancestors spread more copies of their genes on the African savannah.

We'll also be able to choose personality variables - such as whether to be temperamentally empathetic or coldly analytical, highly motivated or calmly contemplative, secular-minded or super-spiritual and so forth.

And in the long run, we'll be free to choose whether we want to experience any experience below hedonic zero at all.
The biology of suffering will have become optional.

[on the Singularity weblog]
Singularity 1 on 1
David Pearce interviewed by Nikola Danaylov

[on transhumanism]
Superlongevity? Superintelligence? Superhappiness?
Seba, yes indeed. Perhaps one way to undercut status quo bias is to imagine mankind stumbles upon a Triple S civilisation. Then ask critics what characteristics they would urge its inhabitants to change. Should they bring back involuntary aging? The biology of suffering? Predation, parasitism and disease? Congenital feeble-mindedness? Even to discuss such notions can sound absurd...

Coercion? Here come the Pleasure Gestapo? The suspicion that someone, somewhere, is going to try and force you to be happy is surprisingly common. But the historical record suggests that the infliction of involuntary pleasure rather than pain is vanishingly rare...

* * *

I fear today's notions of "super"-intelligence have about as much cognitive content as an idea from Mary Poppins:

Alas many of the best-known strands of transhumanism resemble semi-independent solar systems whose ideas rarely cross-fertilise - if you'll pardon my mixed metaphors.

* * *

"God's in his Heaven / All's right with the world!" said poet Robert Browning. Sometimes, I get the impression that even secularists believe tampering with the wisdom of Nature would be hubris - like defying divine Providence. However, IMO the last half billion years on Earth have been a bloodstained horror story.

* * *

Some folk think quantum minds are impossible. I'm sceptical classical minds are coherent:
("Biology takes a quantum leap")

Together with David Wallace's "The Emergent Multiverse", Jim Holt's less technically demanding "Why Does The World Exist?" are my candidates for best books of the year:
("What Can You Really Know? by Freeman Dyson")

We still have a long way to go:
("Five Top Reasons Transhumanism Can Eliminate Suffering : Futurology")

* * *

David Brin is a wonderful writer. Even if one suspects that primordial life-supporting Hubble volumes where life originates more than once are rare, one should bear in mind the possibility of error. And indeed if post-Everett quantum mechanics is correct, alien civilisations must presumably exist parallel [or rather orthogonal] to our own, though their interference effects will be negligible.

Radical transparency or windowless monads? One can see the both the utopian and dystopian potential of radical transparency in Brin's sense. And an extension of the concept to all sentient beings is probably a precondition for the well-being of all sentience - though there's no guarantee of such a benign outcome

* * *

A touchstone of intelligence is the capacity to distinguish between the important and the trivial. Hedonic calculus quantifies this capacity. Of course there's a risk of special pleading here. A criterion of intelligence that flatters one's own and ranks one's opponents as stupid is going to be suspect. But intelligence with no conception of what's (un)important seems unworthy of the name.

* * *

I'd just scream in despair...
('Who told me to get out?': NOC the talking whale learns to imitate human speech in attempt to 'reach out'")

* * *

Sean yes, it's a dilemma. For reasons that are poorly understood, there is often a trade-off [in humans] between a systematising cognitive style and an empathetic cognitive style. Hyper-systematisers typically aren't very empathetic. But unless we can persuade warm, empathetic people that their compassion must be systematised, their kindness is often dissipated [Compare my empathetic friend who spends much of her life both caring for cats and rescuing the traumatised mice they've mauled.] Bill Gates was a ruthless entrepreneur; but his unsentimental cost-benefit approach to Third World Development /vaccinations means he can do more good than the kind-hearted soul who bequeaths her fortune to her cat.

* * *

Alas for adverse side-effects
("PLOS ONE: Testosterone Administration Reduces Lying in Men")

* * *

Intuitively yes Jonatas. Insofar as empathy is just an emotion, it can undoubtedly lead to bias rather than impartial ethical rule -following. But the more sophisticated forms of empathetic understanding (cf. higher-order intentionality) are hugely cognitively demanding. The superior perspective-taking capacity of early humans - together with generative syntax - seems to have promoted recursively improving co-operative problem solving, and in doing so, driven the evolution of distinctively human intelligence. So it's odd to think that superintelligence might have a more stunted capacity for empathetic understanding than archaic humans.

In what sense can one be super-intelligent if one is super-ignorant, as are e.g. insentient digital computers? First-person facts don't have second-rate ontological status. To understand the perspectives of other unitary subjects of experience, you have to try and imagine what it's like to be someone else (what's it like to be of someone of a different gender, ethnic group, sexual orientation, culture, species, etc) Indeed. The opposite of the convergence hypothesis for (super)intelligence is the orthogonality thesis (cf. - though I'd argue that a cosmological understanding of the pleasure-pain axis would converge on God's utility function, so to speak. (Don't worry, I'm not a closet theist!)

Sean, if you'll forgive my pedantry, most sociopaths aren't actively sadistic. Yes, they typically know - in some weak, attenuated sense of "know" - that their victims suffer. They just don't care.

True, we might imagine an insentient super-AGI programmed with the utility function of a classical utilitarian that systematically converts the world into utilitronium without any inkling of why phenomenal pain and pleasure actually matter. Indeed, if programmed to do so, an insentient digital super-AGI would presumably convert the world into dolorium instead without any inkling why this outcome was ethically catastrophic. Yet if we actually want to understand the world - not just its formal properties, but the intrinsic subjective properties of matter and energy and their comparative (un)importance - then IMO we'll need full-spectrum intelligence, not digital zombies.

Does a meat-based diet harm both killers and victims?
("Why Do Vegetarians Live Longer")

Is NonFriendly AI a form of Superintelligence - or a hypothetical virulent kind of malware?
(Alexander Kruel · "How intelligence probably implies benevolence")

* * *

How do we overcome the trade-off?
("Empathy represses analytic thought, and vice versa")

* * *

"But suffering is needed to produce great art and literature." (?) ("Man or machine - can robots really write novels?") At the same time, reason cannot understand emotions without experiencing them - one reason to expect full-spectrum superintelligence to be benevolent.

* * *

I was surprised to learn Ashkenazi “visuo-spatial” IQ scores were comparatively low: IMO this finding should be replicated. ("Why is the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews so High? - 20 Possible Explanations")

* * *
("'The Self' in the Future: Will it be Extinguished, by Neuroscience?")

* * *

Jean, I think "physical" and emotional pain are intimately connected:
("Is Rejection Painful? Actually, It Is")
We need to eradicate both sorts of nastiness in favour of mere information-signalling dips in well-being - hopefully shallow dips and hopefully sublime well-being.
What might go wrong?
"Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union" - Joseph Stalin.

* * *

All humans need gene therapy IMO...
Shortly we'll all be able to self-edit our own genetic source code and modify the archaic malware called "human nature.

Etienne, I hope user-friendly gene authoring tools and editing packages will mean most of us won't need to master base pair sequences any more than today we need to program in machine code. Open source? Well, perhaps. But whom would you trust to optimise your source code?!

I fear somatic gene therapy needs to be repeated over time on account of cell turnover. In the long run, however, I hope we can use germline therapy to pass on a heritable predisposition to invincible happiness, super-genius intellect and eternal youth.

* * *

Open source? Etienne, I confess I'd rather have my code designed by Apple. Alas my existing code owes a greater debt to Hieronymus Bosch. I'd probably be more engaged with the Open Source movement were it not for the fact that I'd struggle to program a toaster.

Yes, I very much agree with you: genetic engineering will be our main stepping stone to transhumanism. This is one theme I hope to discuss in Lund next week. Other transhumanists argue that biological humans - and even biological transhumans - are destined for the dustbin of history.

I very much hope you'll live to see the applications within your lifetime too. What a terrible tragedy if youthful dietary indiscretions led you to miss Aubrey de Grey's Methuselarity by just a few years!
("Want to Live Longer? Eat Vegan!")

Dustin, the Encode website is excellent. Thanks. I wonder about true Open Source genetics. In future, will there be a genetic counterpart to the Drug Enforcement Agency - the GEA? - to police our genomes against rogue biohacking?

Some of us could benefit from rewriting from scratch:
(How Science Can Build a Better You")

Dustin, I agree with you. There are huge pitfalls to Open Source genetics. Freeman Dyson below is too relaxed about the risks, I think. Despite my libertarian, pro-Open Source instincts, we do need (democratically accountable) regulation of genetic engineering. Recall though how today each act of sexual reproduction is a unique genetic experiment with unknown consequences. Adding a modicum of intelligent planning (i.e. choosing low-pain, pro-social, pro-happiness alleles for our prospective children) is more responsible, I think, than putting our faith in the wisdom of God or Mother Nature.
"Our Biotech Future" by Freeman Dyson

We now have a much better understanding of why consciousness is impossible:
("CultureLab: Will we ever understand how our brains work?") The Intelligence Implosion?
No, I'm not convinced either.
("Controversial study suggests human intelligence peaked several thousand years ago")

* * *

But what matters is suffering not sapience...
("When does an animal count as a person?")

* * *

If I were a lawyer, I might try and plead that US drug laws are unconstitutional on the grounds they deny citizens their inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. A counterargument is that we're often incompetent to do so and most existing drugs are lousy. But the Declaration of Independence proclaimed our right to the pursuit of happiness, not happiness itself.

Persuading anyone to give up what they believe in favour of what you believe is often an impossible challenge. However, if you can show them that what you believe is a logical implication of what they believe, then you're in with a hope. Perhaps.

* * *

The Sun Says...
("'Terminator centre' to open at Cambridge University")

* * *

Three future scenarios for intelligence:
("Humans and Intelligent Machines - Co-Evolution, Fusion or Replacement?")

If a magic genie gave transhumanists everything we asked for (eternal youth, unlimited material abundance, superintelligence, etc) with the exception of reward pathway enhancements, the six months' hence the hedonic treadmill would ensure we'd probably not be significantly (un)happier than we are now. Thankfully, we don't need to rely on magic genies.

* * *

Jean, I very much agree that humans need to develop our stunted emotional intelligence. I think an equally powerful case can be made that we must develop our capacity for impartial ethical role-following. Compare the outrage that's greeted the front-page news that beef burgers are "contaminated" with horse meat - as though eating cows were somehow less objectionable than eating horses.
("UK’s Tesco struggles to survive ‘horse meat’ scandal")

Would the greater longevity and higher IQ scores recorded by vegetarians compared to meat eaters be higher still if they consumed fish? It's possible; but since the advent of total parenteral nutrition [for people who've lost function of their small intestine who previously just died] we know there is no missing secret ingredient that non-meat-eaters lack [though of course strict vegans must take supplemental B12]. Today, fish tend not to be euthanased but die horribly. Utopian technology (and I hope ethics to match) should in future prevent such a ghastly fate.
Oxford University Press: "Do Fish Feel Pain?" by Victoria Braithwaite.

Jean, I think the 8+ point IQ gap here in the UK between vegetarians and meat-eaters unduly flatters meat eaters. This is because today's so-called IQ tests are "mind blind". Any test of general intelligence with ecological validity would give due weight to scoring the mind-reading prowess that drove the evolution of distinctively human intelligence. Such a test would almost certainly show the disparity in intelligence between meat-eating dullards and vegetarians is higher still. Of course, correlation doesn't prove causality. Not least, intelligent children are more likely to go vegetarian in the first instance.

Empathy as a mere personality variable? I'd beg to differ. A theory of mind is extraordinarily cognitively demanding. Not all humans master the perspective-taking skills entailed; and when they do so partially, the outcome isn't always pretty:
But it's true a richer cognitive capacity for mind-reading promotes a greater empathetic understanding - and increasingly, lifestyle changes to match.

* * *

All we need is love?
Alas we need better genes and better drugs IMO:
(with thanks to Hank)
Utopian Pharmacology - Mental Health in the Third Millennium / MDMA and Beyond>

* * *

What unites rather than divides transhumanists?
(with thanks to Hank Pellissier)

* * *
("David Pearce - Prophetic Narratives / Humanity+ @San Francisco 2012 - Videos -")

Vesna, I sympathize. Most humans currently satisfy the the diagnostic criteria of sociopathy as laid out in the Psychiatrist's Bible, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Of course the framers of DSM "obviously" intended to exclude human treatment of sentient beings from other species - in the same way that our forefathers "obviously" intended to exclude women and blacks (etc) from their formulations of human rights. However, the solution is going to be education. Most of us are merely quasi-sociopaths - and potentially educable.

* * *

[on transhumanism in Australia]
Australia: ground zero to an imminent Intelligence Explosion...?
Science and the Future
Or a fantastic chance to meet the cast of Neighbours?

Customs and immigration weren't quite as laid back as I expected. The officer wanted to know what was a "transhumanist". He got a two-minute spiel - after which I was waved though as though I'd just descended from Planet Zog. Melbourne is a kind of Uncanny Valley of British civilisation - all the more disconcerting because the natives speak a recognisable approximation of English. Hordes of excited teenage girls were camped outside the hotel this morning. Sadly, it transpired they were not waiting to hear my solution to the binding problem, but hoping to catch sight of rumoured guest Justin Bieber. I assured them I too was a Belieber.
"No matter how much I try, I can't figure out how to not be adorable!” (Justin Bieber) Possibly Mr Bieber underestimates his abilities; but the world needs more self-love and less self-hatred.

* * *

“Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.”
(Mark Twain) I confess I sometimes pine for psychosis.

David Zuccaro, yes, all the more reason to hardware the default settings of tomorrow's hedonic floor above today's hedonic ceiling. Lots can go wrong in posthuman paradise. But let's ensure the worst catastrophes aren't as bad as today's peak experiences. ?
David , perhaps recall I don't advocate or predict a biology of constant bliss - even though IMO we can and should engineer ecosystems of life-long well-being whose hedonic floor surpasses today's hedonic ceiling. My main worry about fictional characters like Sonmi~451 is how they come to symbolise what an innately blissful future amounts to - and reinforce today's bioconservative status quo.

Violence? IMO it's not merely that gene therapy will make us more moral. The advent of naturalised telepathy via technology may induce a shift in the nature of decision-theoretic rationality. If I can feel your preferences and desires as my own, then wantonly harming you will seem, not just immoral, but stupid.
(cf. "Will we ever communicate telepathically?" =)

* * *

David, the (supposedly!) discrete classical neurons of the central nervous system form a hive mind - at least when we're not in a dreamless sleep. But beware cheap imitations. An ant colony - or even a hyperconnected population of skull-bound brains - is not a true hive mind IMO [Perhaps see the discussion on theories of mind and the binding problem triggered by Andres' questionnaire in the Hedonistic Imperative FB group.]

[...] None of us enjoy an excess of rules and regulations. But perhaps consider economic sectors where they are lacking. How lax would you want, say, food or airline safety to be? What were the socio-economic effects world-wide of two decades of cumulative financial deregulation in 2007-2008?
Absolute upper and lower bounds to pleasure and pain? David, sure, with our existing biology. Experimentally, we can investigate how hard an organism will work to obtain or avoid different rewarding or noxious stimuli to an upper limit. These "operationalised" measures of (un)happiness agree well with the genetic, neurobiological and pharmacological evidence, e.g. investigation of how rewarding is selective activation of mu opioid receptors in our twin hedonic hotspots by full, partial and inverse agonists, etc). But nothing stops us from genetically tweaking, adding extra copies of, and "over-expressing" (or under-expressing) copies of the relevant genes - and physically scaling up the size of our reward centres beyond today's puny dimensions.

The alleged computational-functional necessity of the "raw feels" pain?
Do you believe–Turing_thesis
is false? Also, perhaps see:

Question: if you had to choose, would you rather be a rich young successful unipolar depressive - or a quadriplegic victim of "locked in" syndrome who blinks to communicate he is "happy"?

David, we each instantiate a world-simulation with a genetically constrained hedonic range and hedonic set-point. It's not "subjective idealism" to say that the quality of life of a dirt-poor hyperthymic peasant exceeds that of a depressive prince. Feel free to recast my question. If you now had to choose between having an ostensibly successful but depressive future and becoming a happy locked-in syndrome patient, which option would you pick?

[on the limits of computability]
"You insist that there is something that a machine can't do. If you will tell me precisely what it is that a machine cannot do, then I can always make a machine which will do just that."
(John von Neumann)
But what kind of machine?
Psychedelics and Sentience

It's great that Stanford transhumanists are offering cruelty-free all-vegan cuisine. (Peter Thiel is also leading the way with in vitro meat development: "Billionaire Peter Thiel donates to 3D meat bioprinting lab": Where Stanford leads, let's hope the rest of the world will follow. Despite the delightfully evocative graphic (thank you Stanford Transhumanist Association!) the talk will be delivered in an approximation of ordinary waking consciousness - a claim critics might contest.

* * *

Teemu, central to my conceptual framework is reductive physicalism - i.e. no "element of reality" can be missing from the quantum field-theoretic formalism of physics - and the daunting challenge of the phenomenal binding problem: unitary consciousness seems classically forbidden. How can Levine's "explanatory gap" be closed? If it can't, than farewell to the unity of science...

Ronald, yes, let's say we want to build a machine capable of indexical thought (e.g. this particular thought). We know precisely how to create a machine to achieve this precisely specified task: just have sex and create another organic robot! But programming a digital computer with a capacity for indexical thought (or the capacity for phenomenal binding, or to investigate psychedelia, or to probe the neural correlates of consciousness, etc) is more of a challenge. Indeed, it's not clear that a classical digital computer can exhibit understanding of the nature or even the existence of the subjective properties of matter and energy. On the other hand, the distinction between the formal and subjective properties of mind cannot be entirely clean - or else it wouldn't be physically feasible to allude to such subjective properties in the first instance. Either way, full-spectrum superintelligence will entail seamless mastery of the formal and subjective properties of mind - or so I'd argue at any rate.

[on humans, transhumans and posthumans]
Humanity 2.0?
Or was Henry Ford right?
(“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”)
Humanity 2.0

My only previous visit to Oslo was to the world's first in vitro meat symposium:
I trust that in future all meat will be lab-grown.
Let's hope Beyond Meat goes global, Brian. "Technical solutions to ethical problems" may not be the most morally heroic transhumanist slogan. But it's probably more effective than talk of mass murder and a cannibal holocaust. Whether our invitrotarian grandchildren will be so forgiving, I don't know. [I discuss quitting meat and the invitrotarian revolution I was caught off-guard by some of the questions. It's always struck me as axiomatic that transhumanists should help sentient beings rather than harm them. The controversial stuff (my lights at least) on quantum mind etc comes towards the end.

Andres, young Norwegians are civilised, urbane, ask intelligent questions in flawless English, and have impeccable manners. So the event went rather well. Moderator Ole Martin is a hedonist after your own heart. And my nominal opponent, Sean Hays, is a thoughtful commentator rather than a polemicist. Perhaps the only topic we diverged on completely was cryonics. [Unlike Stanford, not everyone was bursting with entrepreneurial enthusiasm to launch their own start-up; but then Norway has a lot of oil.]

"Thou shalt not recalibrate the hedonic treadmill" is a prohibition unknown to the Bible. The miracle of the loaves and the fishes foreshadows in vitro meat. The [genetically tweaked] lion lying down with the lamb can be interpreted as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. And if mere mortals can envisage the well-being of all sentience, then an All-Merciful, All-Compassionate God can scarcely be more stunted in the range and depth of His benevolence. OK, perhaps "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose." But that quote is Shakespeare, not holy scripture.

[on posthuman superintelligence]
The launch of the Springer "Singularity Hypotheses" 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?
Technological Singularities

Some general background to the debate:
MIRI (Machine Research Intelligence Research Institute:
Ray Kurzweil:
Eugenics plus "narrow" AI:

Mike, radical life-extension is indeed one of the goals of the transhumanist movement as a whole. But (runs the argument) superintelligence can deliver both radical life-extension and effectively unlimited material abundance for all. And - I hope - the well-being of all sentience in our forward light-cone. What could go wrong? Lots, I fear...

Ian, this is controversial to say the least. Optimistically, it may be argued that superintelligence entails a superhuman capacity for perspective-taking and empathetic understanding - a radical extension of the (fitfully) "Expanding Circle" of compassion chronicled by Peter Singer and Steven Pinker in "The Better Angels of Our Nature":
But many Singularitarians are meta-ethical anti-realists who would broadly agree with the "Orthogonality Thesis" as argued by e.g. Nick Bostrom:
Thus MIRI, most notably Eliezer Yudkowsky, argue that Non-(Human) Friendly AGI is the most likely outcome of an Intelligence Explosion.
Whether this outcome would be good or bad is itself controversial.

Is empathy a personality variable or a cognitive achievement? Or both? Even if we acknowledge that mind-reading prowess is a precondition of full-spectrum intelligence, sceptics would argue that empathy is no guarantee of friendliness - as the evolution of "Machiavellian Intelligence" in higher primates shows all too well. In reply, it could be argued that the sinister side of empathy reflects genetically adaptive distortions in our perspective-taking capacity - a cognitive bias that full-spectrum superintelligence would necessarily transcend.
("Humans And Monkeys Share Machiavellian Intelligence")

Dave, yes, this is the first century in evolutionary history where intelligent agency really could end the world - or at least life on Earth. Even so, sterilising the planet would pose a formidable technical challenge. And you probably shouldn't trust a negative utilitarian to do existential risk appraisals.

Ian, Indeed so. I could sing you a happy song of an imminent posthuman era of paradise-engineering. But Brian Tomasik, for example, believes that the real horror story of life has barely begun:

* * *

Time to move the goalposts?
("Human enhancement ethics. Is it cheating?")

Video of the launch:
video production and editing by Adam Summerfield
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 want to be exposed to a lot of vegetarian propaganda".

* * *

Naively, one might imagine that the fate of cognitively humble beings in the face of vastly superior intelligence is at the heart of any debate about the risks and opportunities of posthuman superintelligence.
(Rest assured that there is only a brief clip of me foaming at the mouth.)
My co-speaker and lead editor of the volume is Amnon Eden.

I argue that a classical digital computer could not grasp what it is to be important - although we could certainly program it with a utility function to behave in ways that are systematically interpretable by sentient beings as showing it values some states as important.
It's hard to overstate the gulf between the optimistic Kurzweilian "fusion" scenario and the darker MIRI vision - where humans and all our values will most likely be superseded by a non-friendly singleton super-AGI.
Also, although I contrast biologically-based conceptions of posthuman superintelligence with the Kurzweilian approach, this division is simplistic. Some measure of "cyborgisation" is presumably inevitable. The big question is whether you think that posthuman superintelligence will most likely retain its biological, neuronal core. [I didn't have time discuss nonbiological quantum computing. But IMO the possibility of life based on such an architecture this century is remote.]

* * *

The Singularity will be televised?
("The Singularity Film – a documentary by Doug Wolens")

Volume 2 of the Springer Singularities series. How many more volumes before human extinction - or apotheosis?

* * *
But boosters of nonbiological superintelligence will claim poor old organic robots can't compete.

* * *

Thanks Vito. In "Zendegi", Greg Egan explores Singularitarian themes; but some of the discussion he provoked may be opaque to outsiders who don't know where the bodies are buried...

Danny, yes, I fear we're sleepwalking to the nuclear abyss. Our greatest cognitive achievement as a species would be expanding our circle of empathetic concern to embrace the well-being of all sentience in our forward light-cone. Maybe this will eventually come to pass. But I'll be amazed if there isn't nuclear war this century - whether local, theatre or a full-blown strategic interchange between the superpowers I don't know.

But life will go on...
Depending on whether you conceive yourself as a type or a token, inflationary cosmology suggests we may be effectively immortal. A curse or a blessing?

Stefano, you can tell a depressive or pain-ridden person there is more to life than abolishing suffering - and you'd be right. But physical and psychological health is the bedrock of flourishing lives. I hope invincible well-being can be the taken-for-granted backdrop to posthuman life - not so much the goal as the precondition.

Rui, in a sense you're right. Only members of an intelligent species could have organised the Holocaust, the Gulag - or factory farming. But I think the only solution to the world's ills is more intelligence, not yes. Only one species has the technical capacity to phase out the biology of suffering in our forward light-cone. If humans were to disappear, the horrors of "Nature, red in tooth and claw" would continue indefinitely.

Rui, true, futurology has a dismal track record. Few if any of us have deep insight into the ramifications of what we're up to. But post-Cambrian life on Earth has been a 540 million year horror-story. For the first time in history, intelligent beings have the capacity to rewrite their own genetic source code and bootstrap our way to superintelligent civilisation. The bedrock of true civilisation, I believe, is an absence of involuntary experience below hedonic zero.

* * *

Just as there are a finite number of "perfect" games of chess, there may hypothetically be a finite state-space of "perfect" cognitive and affective states from which no full-spectrum superintelligence would ever depart. But nothing in the abolitionist project obliges anyone to sign up for my fanciful eschatological musings. Yes, I agree with you Stefano, the feedback role of pain and suffering has been critical to the lives of sentient organic minds. Discontent has been the motor of progress. But the question I'd ask you is whether any of the raw feels of experience below hedonic zero are computationally indispensable - and hence irreplaceable either by non-sentient prosthesis or information sensitive-dips in well-being? Maybe you'd claim that the raw feels are indispensable. So intelligent life based on gradients of bliss is impossible. But proving this claim would be a profound result in computational science. (cf.

* * *

By "hedonic zero" I have in mind Sidgwick's sense of the term, i.e. the divide in the pleasure-pain axis marked by experience that is hedonically neutral - lacking in either positive or negative hedonic tone. Isn't this a natural watershed - and invariant over time? Either way, advocates of abolitionist bioethics do well to stress ad nauseam that we're not talking about coercive happiness. No one, to my knowledge, threatens to rob you Stefano of your right to stay "dissatisfied, restless, challenged". As the technology matures, the real question to ask is what if any coercive measures do you think should be taken against reformers who seek ensure sentient beings all have the freedom to enjoy life-long well-being? How much, and for how long, should anyone be forced to suffer? Enforced by what means? And by whom?

* * *

Stefano, our genes are already extraordinarily good at making us dissatisfied. But the kinds of things we are typically dissatisfied "about" - lack of wealth, status, sexual opportunities etc - tend to be things that helped our genes leave more copies of themselves in the ancestral environment, not the well-being of all sentience. By all means preserve the functional analogues of discontent minus its nasty "raw feels". For my part, contemplative bliss sounds more appealing. But unless we redesign our reward circuitry, then even if we create a utopian society with utopian technology to match, our subjective quality of life will not be significantly better than now.

Javier, yes. Awhile ago I culled a collection of quotes about soma from Huxley's "Brave New World". BNW may be a severely sub-optimal utopia. But it's paradise compared to the lives of most sentient beings alive today. Soma quotes

Marion, Kristin, I fear whoever is greediest for power will forever be most likely to get it. All the rest of us can do is attempt to infect tomorrow's movers-and-shakers with our ideas when they're still young and impotent. Or as Keynes put it, “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

Stefano, many thanks for the biopolitix link. I've now got (I hope!) a less simplistic idea where you're coming from. But is your position inimical to abolitionist bioethics - or simply orthogonal it? Yes, we have very different historical meta-narratives; but I would hope they can be reconciled.
(I don't if my work loses or gains in Italian, but here's a URL:

Jason, I can understand why you might be tempted by the blue pill - the allegedly blissful ignorance of illusion. But I reckon posthumans will regard Darwinian life itself as a form of depressive psychosis. Which option would you choose if presented with Felipe De Brigard's so-called Inverted Experience Machine Argument? Either way, radical hedonic recalibration promises the advantages of realism without the dreadful psychological costs.

Stefano, yes, indeed! Apologies if I inadvertently implied otherwise. Perhaps it's worth your stressing that your critical comments on Jønathan Lyons' essay on IEET are directed at one (or perhaps many?) of the different flavours of abolitionism rather than abolitionist bioethics per se.

[on abolishing suffering in Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch Scenario]
Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch
("Abolition is Imperative in Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch Scenario")

Jason, skull-bound experience machines were "designed" by natural selection to leave more copies of our genes. Ethically speaking, IMO we should replace them with experience-machines designed to maximise the well-being of all sentience. In the long run, should we aim structurally to "mirror" the basement reality or instead create designer paradises in VR? I don't know - but reward pathway enhancements can make either option seem sublime.

Stefano, a commitment to phasing out the biology of involuntary suffering does not entail a commitment to utilitarian ethics, let alone some kind of eschatology. For sure, an abolitionist ethic does rule out the idea of “Back to the Cretaceous” and a Nietzschean world-view. But if you’re looking for nightmarish historical parallels, one twentieth century movement exalting Nietzsche’s work springs to mind. (“I do not point to the evil and pain of existence with the finger of reproach, but rather entertain the hope that life may one day become more evil and more full of suffering than it has ever been.” - Nietzsche was not a fascist, but his writings abound in such rhetoric.)

Phasing out involuntary suffering is consistent with increasing the diversity of life. Not least, genetic engineering potentially allows intelligent agents to cross gaps in the fitness landscape otherwise prohibited by natural selection.

Why assume that phasing out involuntary suffering entails a commitment to phasing out competition? By itself, radical elevation of our hedonic set-points allows us to be just as co-operative or as competitive as before. My personal preference would be for enhanced empathy and co-operative problem-solving; but this is a separate issue from abolitionist bioethics.

* * *

Stefano, Rick, there is a critical distinction between being blissful and “blissed out”. Yes, uniform well-being is inconsistent with critical insight and intellectual progress. But abolitionist bioethics isn’t about building a “perfect” world. Radical genetic recalibration of our hedonic set-points via biotechnology promises hugely to enrich our quality of life while (optionally) leaving our values and most of existing preference architectures intact. This prospect isn’t science fiction. Already we are beginning to decipher the alleles and allelic combinations implicated in possession of an unusually high (or low) hedonic set-point. Which variant of the COMT gene, for example, do you think we should choose for our prospective children?

Of course, there is a difference between reducing the burden of suffering in the world and the complete abolition of involuntary experience below hedonic zero in our forward light-cone. But if we can contemplate a 100 Year Plan to achieve interstellar travel (, then why not a 100 year plan to eradicate the molecular signature of negative hedonic tone? I’d hesitate to say which challenge is technically harder. But I know which is more morally urgent.

* * *

Rick, you’re surely right to draw attention to potential pitfalls. Life is messy. But nothing in the theory of practice of abolitionist bioethics entails harming other sentient beings in any way. Thus the use of immunocontraception to regulate fertility doesn’t entail literal physical castration. The mass use of sterilants doesn’t harm Anopheles mosquitoes - unless we believe a mosquito has reproductive rights. To be sure, critics may charge that abolitionists want to “exterminate” carnivores. This is just poetic license. A species is a taxonomic abstraction. Unless we’re species essentialists, a lion that eats in vitro meat does not thereby cease to be a lion - any more than members of Homo sapiens cease to be human if we start wearing clothes and adopt a cruelty-free vegan diet. And even if the civilising process does mean we are no longer “truly” human, does this transition ethically matter?

Pain? In the long run, I know of no technical reason why phenomenal pain can’t be abolished completely via the use of e.g. nonbiological smart prostheses to perform its current role in nociceptive signalling. But in the short-to-medium term, we may rob physical suffering of its moral urgency by using preimplantation genetic screening to choose benign “low pain” alleles of the SCN9A gene for our future children (cf. - and then extend this pre-selection process “down” the phylogenetic tree:
In short, high-tech Jainism - no violence at all.

* * *

SHaGGGz, abolitionist bioethics is wholly consistent with respect for the sanctity of life. The term “exterminate” is surely best reserved for acts of killing.

You ask “What is such a [eco]system ultimately for, anyway?” I’m sceptical such questions have a determinate answer. Either way, abolitionist ethics isn’t about answering teleological mysteries or solving the Meaning of Life. Rather we just want to secure the minimum biological preconditions necessary to allow all sentient beings - human and nonhuman - to flourish, most notably an absence of involuntary experiences with negative hedonic tone. In the case of large, free-living terrestrial vertebrates in our wildlife parks, recognisable extensions of existing technologies can potentially suffice. The plight of small rodents, let alone invertebrates, must await an era of mature nanotechnology next century and beyond. I’m not sure where “bask[ing] in our own glory” comes in. Humans are responsible for more suffering in the world today than perhaps all other species combined. We’re also the only species intellectually capable of rescuing suffering sentients from the abyss of Darwinian life. Whether we’ll rise to the challenge is another matter.

* * *

SHaGGGz, one purpose of canvassing such costly, complicated ad technically demanding interventions as
is precisely so no one need feel signing up for abolitionist bioethics entails saying farewell to “charismatic mega-fauna”.

You remark that “entire classes of organisms and their ways of life are to be extirpated”. One night say the same of the many subcultures of human predator. No, I certainly don’t think human predators, child abusers (etc) should be harmed. But ethically we recognise that protecting the young, the innocent and the vulnerable takes priority.

* * *

Giulio, intuitively, yes. But one existence proof that perpetual bliss combined with perpetual desire is feasible is intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS: “wireheading”) Wireheading shows no physiological tolerance. This is a world away from the genetically elevated hedonic set-points and the prospect of information-sensitive gradients of intelligent bliss we may anticipate animating our posthuman successors. But technically, wireheading would be a lot easier.

Giulio, alas not. The hedonic treadmill still grinds. We know from e.g. twin studies that hedonic set-points have a high degree of genetic loading. Hyperthymic people like our distinguished colleague Anders Sandberg (“I do have a ridiculously high hedonic set-point”) are rare:;_uri=/watch?v=YTu28qn2xcg&
But this is why there is such a compelling case for ensuring our future children can be super-Anders, i.e. blessed with a predisposition to information-sensitive gradients of well-being, rather than locked into permanent uniform bliss. Even today, choosing via preimplantation genetic screening a handful of benign alleles / allelic combinations that predispose to high hedonic set-points could potentially hugely enrich the lives of our offspring. Next-generation designer zygotes will allow much more ambitious enhancements. And next decade and beyond, I hope mature humans will gain mastery of our reward circuitry and recalibrate our hedonic set-points (and motivations, anxiety thresholds and empathetic understanding) too.

CygnusX1, thanks for the thoughtful comments - and the hotlink. Apologies btw for the seemingly one-dimensional focus on the biological roots of human ills and disregard of the social and political context. But the viciously efficient negative feedback mechanisms of our hedonic treadmill mean that even if everything IEET readers dream of for the future were to come true - a utopian society and utopian technology to match - our level of subjective (un)happiness would be unlikely to change significantly in the absence of direct reward pathway enhancements. This prediction violates our intuitions. It’s also empirically well supported.

Rick, one needn’t be a utilitarian of any kind to endorse abolitionist bioethics. But you raise a difficult question about death and mourning. If death or misfortune befalls a loved one, then surely we should want to grieve. Not to do so would cheapen our relationships.

An (inadequate) response to this objection is simply to argue that we should use medical technology to overcome ageing and other ills of the flesh. Aubrey de Grey’s grounding-breaking “Ending Aging” is the inspirational text here. No law of Nature condemns organic robots to grow old and die. The problem, I think, is that barring truly revolutionary breakthroughs in medical science, the biology of ageing and death are likely to persist well into next century and perhaps beyond. Maximum human lifespan is still not increasing. Technically at least, mood-enhancement, hedonic set-point elevation and even life based on gradients of information-sensitive bliss seem potentially easier to engineer than genetically preprogrammed eternal youth. So what should we do in the transitional era - when we can regulate subjective well-being but not the ravages of ageing?

I’d argue that one is entitled to want one’s death or misfortune to diminish the well-being of friends and loved ones. But one isn’t entitled to want them involuntarily to suffer on one’s own account. If one does want friends and loved ones ever to suffer, then in what sense are one’s relationships based on true friendship, rather than egotistical self-regard? Vainly perhaps, I’d want my death or misfortune to trigger a steep but reversible decline in the well-being of friends and family. But I wouldn’t want - and I don’t think I’m ethically entitled to want - this decline to pass below hedonic zero.

Either way, recall abolitionist ethics is not about coercive happiness. Rather it’s about giving everyone - human and non-human - mastery of their emotions. No one should be compelled to endure the biology of involuntary suffering as they do today.

Rick, first, many thanks: I thought I was broadly familiar with the different categories of objection to the abolitionist project. But you’ve raised a worry I hadn’t even considered. Might opting to switch off some sub-personal module that mediates suffering itself constitute a form of coercion? Certainly, there are extreme cases of dissociative identity disorder (cf., the condition formerly known as multiple personality disorder, where this dilemma might rear its head. Dissociative personality disorder is now often conceived as dimensional rather than categorical. Even in “healthy” normals, the unity of the self - both synchronic and diachronic - is radically incomplete. And what about people who have had a corpus callosotomy? (split brain” patients:
Or people with florid schizophrenia?

All I’ll say here is that, in the last analysis, these are marginal cases. Further, there is a fundamental difference between the biology of coercive (un)happiness imposed by some external agency and any internal dilemma posted by wrestling with different aspects of oneself.

What about the other potential pitfalls you raise? Well, I’d make exactly the same response to critics of, say, radical life-extension. Should this be our overarching goal, i.e. no one should be forced to undergo the biology of aging or experience below hedonic zero? Policy maskers should try and guard against the sorts of worries your raise within the bounds of the overall project. Or is the abolitionist project - or a radical anti-aging program - itself irredeemably flawed?

As you know, I think quasi-immortal posthumans will be animated by gradients of bliss orders of magnitude richer than today’s peak experiences. By posthuman standards, humans are pain-ridden savages. But the transition is likely to be messy.

Thanks Rick. “If I won the lottery, I could live happily ever after.” No, most of us are too sophisticated to say such things. Knowledge of the hedonic treadmill - and comparative outcomes for lottery winners and paraplegics - is now quite widely acknowledged, in the abstract at least. Yet I wish more futurists and social engineers would take the lesson to heart.

CygnusX1, can one commit acts of violence against an abstraction? I think this is a metaphor too far. For sure, if high-tech Jainism ensures that sentient beings are no longer predated in our wildlife parks, then the genetic tweaking of the archaic lion and crocodile genome entailed will not involve the explicit prior consent of would-be predators. But what about the consent of the would-be victims? The only literal violence involved here is upholding the status quo. Do you think sentient beings should be violently disembowelled, asphyxiated and eaten alive? Granted, right now this is a philosophical question. Shortly it will be a pressing ethical choice.

You urge greater dispassion on the part of humans. Others would argue for greater passion. Nothing in abolitionist bioethics entails taking a stand either way. Compare the role of, say, a physical pain specialist. The job of the chronic pain specialist is not to expound his conception of the good life. Rather it’s to ensure that his patients can enjoy physically pain-free lives that maximise their opportunities to flourish. Likewise with tomorrow’s specialists in phasing out the biology of involuntary “psychological” distress - depression, anxiety disorders, jealousy and our nastier Darwinian adaptations. Possession of an exalted hedonic set-point is equally consistent with e.g. hypomanic exuberance or “dispassionate” meditative tranquillity - and a galaxy of other temperaments and lifestyle options besides. Barring reward pathways enhancements, however, most future life will be subjectively mediocre - at best - just as now.

* * *

CygnusX1, on any strict construction of “identity” you are undoubtedly correct. A human or nonhuman serial predator who ceases to prey on other sentient beings is no longer the same. At it’s most extreme, we may take the Buddhist or ultra-Parfitian that there is no such thing as a enduring personal (or infrahuman) identity over time. Heraclitus put it well 2500 years ago. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

However, irrespective of our position on identity, there is surely fundamental distinction between claiming that ideally human and nonhumans alike should be free-living and the claim that we should be “wild”. Undomesticated “wild” humans have behaved in all sorts of ways we would now recognise as deeply unethical. I won’t catalogue them here. Steven Pinker does a good if gruesome job in “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined”
The fact free-living humans are now (partially) tamed and domesticated tends to enhance our overall freedom more than it constricts. Compare, say, the practicalities of air travel. Yes, the prospect of “policing” Nature probably sounds Orwellian. But compassionate stewardship of the living world promises to confer greater opportunities to live free and flourishing lives than most sentient beings enjoy today.

* * *

CygnusX1, for the most part, I find Buddhist ethics admirable. Buddhists locate suffering and its conquest at the heart of the world. It’s hard to know what the historical Gautama Buddha would make of biotechnology. The limited historical evidence suggests that Gautama Buddhist was a pragmatist, not an ideologue. Crudely, if it works, do it. Thus meditation and the Noble Eightfold Path have undoubtedly offered solace for millions of believers over the centuries. However, meditation and the Noble Eightfold Path don’t genetically recalibrate the hedonic treadmill. They don’t modify the nastier bits of the genetic code we pass on to our children. Nor can they abolish the horrors of the food chain. If we endorse a Buddhist vision of a cruelty-free world, then we need to embrace the one technology that can deliver the well-being of all sentience. I reckon Gautama Buddha would approve.

* * *

Futurephilosopher, when considering human predators and their victims, we normally believe that the interests of the victim should take precedence. Why reverse this precedence when the predators and victims are nonhuman?

Either way, the seemingly irreconcilable conflict of interest between predators and their “prey” can be overcome via utopian biotechnology. Let’s consider your example. For reasons of energy efficiency, lions tend to be “lazy”. Lions hunt only when they (or their cubs) are hungry. So laying on in vitro meat in tomorrow’s wildlife parks can ensure big cats don’t suffer - whether from frustrated predatory instincts or indeed from hunger pangs. In the long run, however, perhaps some genetic tweaking is in order too…

* * *

Futurephilosopher, first, I think it’s great that the issue of free-living animal suffering is being explored. I never thought this would happen in my lifetime. Presumably until this century the cruelties of Nature were simply seen an inescapable fact about the world rather than technically optional. But I’m also aware there’s something fanciful-sounding about discussing compassionate interventions in traditional ecosystems while humans are systematically killing and abusing billions of sentient beings in our factory-farms and slaughterhouses. That said…

Yes, it’s anthropomorphic to call a lion a “murderer”. It’s not anthropomorphic to describe a lion as a serial killer. For sure, lions and other predators help prevent an ecologically catastrophic population explosion of herbivores. Smallpox, the Anopheles mosquito and other pathogenic organisms traditionally helped prevent an ecologically catastrophic population explosion of humans. The question is whether there are ethically more acceptable forms of population control - in human and nonhuman animals alike. Thanks to technologies of fertility regulation, the answer is now clearly yes.

Zoos? Ethically, we’d agree that neither human nor nonhuman animals should ideally be held captive. Yet to be free-living isn’t synonymous with “wild”. Thus do some young human males today feel frustrated because their atavistic warrior, hunter (and sexual) impulses are checked by the constraints of modern civilisation? Undoubtedly yes. But the solution to their frustrations is not “rewilding”. Likewise with nonhuman predators.

Biblical prophecy? Yes, the echoes are deliberate. The lion and the wolf shall lie down with the lamb (etc). The reason for liberal use of quotes from the scriptures (Christian and otherwise) is to convince the traditional-minded that abolitionist bioethics is simply an extension of their existing values into the modern era, not a plea to embrace some revolutionary new ethic. Certainly, the goal of phasing out the biology of involuntary suffering shouldn’t be conceived as exclusive to secular classical utilitarians. It’s a precondition, I believe, of any advanced civilisation.

* * *

Futurephilosopher, should we really avoid wiping out, say, malaria for fear of triggering some unforeseen side-effect beyond our power to anticipate? How about smallpox? We’ll always need to weigh risk-reward ratios. Either way, when deciding whether or not to mitigate - and eventually abolish - the cruelties of Nature, let us recall that humans already interfere - massively - in ecosystems across the living world, whether via uncontrolled habitat destruction to captive breeding programs for big cats to “rewilding” etc. So the question is not whether to intervene but rather what principles should govern our interventions. Should we endorse the ideology of so-called conservation biology? Or instead an ethic of compassionate stewardship? Or perhaps some combination of both?

You worry about anthropomorphism. If anything, I don’t think we’re “anthropomorphic” enough when weighing the depth and significance of nonhuman animal suffering. The experience of hunger, thirst, fear - and the terrible experience of being asphyxiated, disembowelled or eaten alive - is not mediated by different genes, neurotransmitter pathways or cellular structures in human and nonhuman animals. On the contrary, the same genetic and molecular pathways (and behavioural responses to noxious stimuli) of our core emotions are strongly conserved in the vertebrate line. Of course this convergence of evidence doesn’t amount to a rigorous proof that the pleasure-pain axis unites all sentient beings. But then we can’t disprove radical philosophical scepticism about other (human) minds either. We’re dealing with an inference to the best explanation.

Involuntary suffering of any kind is shortly going to become optional. What right have humans to conserve it??

* * *

Futurephilosopher, should we really avoid wiping out, say, malaria for fear of triggering some unforeseen side-effect beyond our power to anticipate? How about smallpox? We’ll always need to weigh risk-reward ratios. Either way, when deciding whether or not to mitigate - and eventually abolish - the cruelties of Nature, let us recall that humans already interfere - massively - in ecosystems across the living world, whether via uncontrolled habitat destruction to captive breeding programs for big cats to “rewilding” etc. So the question is not whether to intervene but rather what principles should govern our interventions. Should we endorse the ideology of so-called conservation biology? Or instead an ethic of compassionate stewardship? Or perhaps some combination of both?

You worry about anthropomorphism. If anything, I don’t think we’re “anthropomorphic” enough when weighing the depth and significance of nonhuman animal suffering. The experience of hunger, thirst, fear - and the terrible experience of being asphyxiated, disembowelled or eaten alive - is not mediated by different genes, neurotransmitter pathways or cellular structures in human and nonhuman animals. On the contrary, the same genetic and molecular pathways (and behavioural responses to noxious stimuli) of our core emotions are strongly conserved in the vertebrate line. Of course this convergence of evidence doesn’t amount to a rigorous proof that the pleasure-pain axis unites all sentient beings. But then we can’t disprove radical philosophical scepticism about other (human) minds either. We’re dealing with an inference to the best explanation.

Involuntary suffering of any kind is shortly going to become optional. What right have humans to conserve it??

* * *

Craig, empirically, heightened mood is associated with a stronger sense of agency, a greater sense of self-efficacy, and belief in free will. By contrast, depression is associated with fatalism, learned helplessness and behavioural despair. Compare the effect of "power drugs" such as amphetamines and cocaine.
....I was highlighting how none of us is plugged directly into the real world. When we're awake, our skull-bound simulations do track some of its fitness-relevant features. Human responsibility to "mirror" the external world is discharged, I think, when we have done literally everything that rational agency can do to help suffering sentients elsewhere. (cf. "Suffering in the Multiverse") We'll then be free to live in VR designer paradises of our own making. Until then, humans can use radical reward pathway enhancements to enrich our lives - but without sacrificing our responsibilities.

* * *

Thanks Craig. Suffering in the Multiverse is the bleakest piece I've ever written. I console myself with the thought that its conception of Reality may be hopelessly ill-conceived. We don't really know what's going on. Nick Bostrom, for example, thinks intelligent agents might phase out the biology of suffering and later recreate it in the guise of an ancestor simulation - and quite conceivably we're living in one of them.

* * *

Which superpowers will elude our superhuman successors?
(with thanks to John)
("Infographic: A Massive Chart of Every Superhero's Powers Ever.")

[on happiness]
The Moral Maze
Happiness: a live debate tonight between a psychologist, a psychoanalyst, a Buddhist and a transhumanist. Yes, a moral maze - but some of us think we know where's the (vegan) cheese. Freud hoped psychoanalytic therapy could transform "hysterical misery into common unhappiness"? I hope transhumanists can do a little better - though I'm not convinced Middle England is ready for a utilitronium shockwave.

Dave, Thanks. Yes, I was hoping to engage Oliver about his interpretation of e.g.
("Identification of risk loci with shared effects on five major psychiatric disorders: a genome-wide analysis")
or indeed
("The catechol-O-methyl transferase Val158Met polymorphism and experience of reward in the flow of daily life")
But this wasn't the ideal setting.

Vesna, indeed so. Crazily enough, BBC Radio 4 is what passes for highbrow in the UK. I guess I'm lucky in one sense. At a pinch, my core views can probably be summed up in a single sentence ("Let's use biotechnology to engineer the well-being of all sentience"). Some people's views can't even be travestied in less than ten.

Eric, indeed. The route to nirvana does not lie in selective surgical ablation of our "sadness centres". Our attachments would lack depth if our death or misfortune didn't trigger a pronounced lowering of mood in friends and loved ones. But from what hedonic set-point should our mood be lowered - and to what depth? I'd want my death or misfortune (reversibly) to diminish the well-being of friends and loved ones. But IMO I'm not ethically entitled to want them to suffer on my account.

Eric, yes, a lot of room. Rare cases of extreme hyperthymia aside, why hasn't Nature thrown up people animated by gradients of bliss who aren't also manic? I guess one partial answer is that our genes simply don't care. As long as the relevant informational sensitivity is achieved, there's no selection pressure in favour of gradients of well-being rather than ill-being for their vehicles. The existence of both functionally adequate happy and malaise-ridden folk alike might suggest this. On the other hand, it's also plausible that a predisposition to different forms of mood-congruent cognitive bias - crudely, wearing rose-tinted versus blue-tinted spectacles - can be adaptive in different circumstances. If we were all depressive realists, humans would still be living in caves. But sometimes a predisposition to depressive realism can be fitness-enhancing - until the coming reproductive revolution of designer babies, at any rate.

One powerful hint that the "raw feels" of phenomenal pain and misery aren't computationally indispensable is offered by the growth of artificial intelligence. The performance of e.g. Alpha dog (cf. would not be improved by pain qualia. Nor would Deep Blue play better chess if the program experienced anxiety whenever its king were put in check. Unlike many of my transhumanist colleagues, I do believe that organic robots are special. In my (idiosyncratic) opinion, macroscopic quantum coherence is a prerequisite of phenomenal object binding in our world-simulations: otherwise we'd be zombies. But this conjectural specialness of organic robots doesn't extend, I believe, to the inevitability of suffering - as if nasty raw feels were somehow functionally indispensable to organic minds of any kind.

Perhaps compare distinguished transhumanist scholar Anders Sandberg ("I do have a ridiculously high hedonic set-point": .

No technical reason exists why we can't selectively breed or deliberately create [via "designer genomes" and autosomal gene-editing tools] a civilisation of super-Anders. At any rate, thanks to biotechnology, humans will shortly have the opportunity to choose our own hedonic range. Do we want to conserve experience below hedonic zero - or relegate it to the dustbin of history?

By "consciousness", Garret, are you referring to reflective self-awareness - rather than, say, phenomenal pain or panic, neither of which entail sophisticated model-building? Either way, if we hope to conserve the ontological unity of science, then we must derive - or show how we might in principle derive - all aspects of our experience within the mathematical straitjacket of our best theory of the world, quantum physics. As far as I can tell, phenomenal binding and the (fleeting, synchronic) unity of consciousness is classically impossible. If phenomenal binding of distributively processed features in the CNS is not a manifestation of quantum coherence, then all bets are off IMO. We should be loath to abandon reductive physicalism.

Phenomenal binding would seem classically forbidden. What is the alternative? Unless quantum mechanics breaks down in the mind-brain, we know macroscopic quantum coherence in the CNS must occur. As you suggest, Garret, thermally-induced decoherence must destroy such states within (what we naively suppose is) a vanishingly short time, maybe picoseconds or less. Naively, this is simply too fast for any computational and/or phenomenological work. All we'd find experimentally probing at such ridiculously short temporal resolutions is "noise". But this is an assumption, not an empirically tested theory. Instead, I would make a falsifiable prediction. When we eventually probe the mind-brain at such a fine-grained scale, we'll discover not "noise", but the formal shadows of the "bound" macroscopic phenomenal objects of our everyday world-simulations, i.e. a perfect structural match between phenomenology and neurological microstructure whose ostensible absence helps propel David Chalmers into his naturalistic dualism. (cf. That said, the ramifications of combining Strawsonian physicalism with quantum coherence in organic minds are not well suited to exploration on a show like The Moral Maze.

[on mind uploading]
Universal destructive uploading might be an elegant solution to the problem of suffering; but would you press the UPLOAD button?
Mind Uploading
David Pearce versus Ben Goertzel

* * *

Two very different perspectives on mind uploading:
Ben Goertzel and I both take pan-experientialism /Strawsonian physicalism seriously. Where we differ is over whether classical digital computers could ever solve the phenomenal binding problem.

* * *

Scepticism about technical feasibility can prevent one adequately exploring the potential ramifications of uploading if one's theory of mind is wrong. Robin Hanson has written a stimulating but as yet unpublished book on what an upload-dominated civilisation might consist in. Brian Tomasik worries that the creation of digital sentience will be the recipe for untold suffering, not digital nirvana.

* * *

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck....then it's still a digital zombie IMO.
Advocates of the Strong Physical Church-Turing Thesis would disagree. I'm personally unclear just how (un)faithfully any digital zombie we could physically create could behaviourally simulate an organic sentient. Solving the binding problem is perhaps the greatest cognitive achievement of organic minds over the past half-billion years; and we scarcely have a clue how the mind/brain routinely carries it off.

* * *

Is Daniel Dennett a better sailor or philosopher?
Daniel Dennett, Author of ‘Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking’
("The philosopher Daniel Dennett talks about his 16th book, “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking,” which W.W. Norton is publishing next week.")

* * *

If we had a profound understanding of the existence of consciousness, a precise quantitative understanding of its trillions of different textures and a solution to the IMO classically insoluble phenomenal binding problem, then just maybe we might contemplate non-destructive uploading. Sure, whole-brain-emulation is supposed to allow us to finesse our ignorance. But unless we already know what is functionally relevant and what is computationally incidental, how can we begin? IMO a revolutionary breakthrough in our understanding of consciousness must come first.

* * *

Our best theory of the world seems to be telling us that reality supports googols of nearly type-identical copies of "you". I can't say I feel tempted to create digital counterparts of organic minds, even if it were technically feasible. Smart angels perhaps, but not malaise-ridden humans...

* * *

The show went well. Ben and I actually agree on a lot of things - not least the credibility of Strawsonian physicalism as a precondition for any solution to the Hard Problem of consciousness. We differ over whether the phenomenal binding problem has a classical or quantum mechanical solution - and on whether "uploads" could ever be more than zombies.

* * *

A Moravec transfer? Austin, I may not be the best person to ask because I'm a sceptic about the possibility of any enduring personal identity over time. IMO such a metaphysical notion is a genetic fitness-enhancing illusion - pragmatically useful but false. However, I'm also sceptical that the neurons in an awake/dreaming mind are classical objects as normally conceived either - and so I don't think a "Moravec transfer" in any guise would work.

* * *

Austin, we tend to find quantum mechanics "spooky", and the classical world normal. But from a physicist's perspective, a bigger mystery is the emergence of classicality - or something like it - from a world that is wholly quantum. If e.g. edges, textures, motions, colours etc of experiential objects were really processed distributively in the CNS by discrete classical neurons, then how could such patterns of membrane-bound "mind dust" generate bound phenomenal objects and unitary subjects of experience? The question isn't whether macroscopic quantum coherence exists but rather whether, as critics claim, it is too short-lived to be of any conceivable computational or phenomenal relevance.

* * *

Tanzanos, intuitively you're right - and the functionally unique properties of the carbon atom or liquid water are irrelevant to consciousness. But the prediction of quantum mind theorists, i.e. that classical computers can never support non-trivial consciousness, has been borne out to date. I anticipate that the march of the zombies will continue.

* * *

"These days I barely exist above zombie."
World-wide digital zombification would improve mental health but a more circuitous route seems likely. Please let me know if I can ever help Gregory.

* * *

Marko, assuming I'm wrong about the impossibility of digital sentience, I agree. But then is your namesake who wakes up tomorrow morning anything more than an imperfect copy of you now?

* * *

Jason, intuitively you're right. Yet dreamless sleep interrupts continuity. For what it's worth, IMO there are only here-and-nows strung together in particular sequences thanks to natural selection.

* * *

Depending on how seriously one takes Everett, reality supports googols of effectively type-identical copies of you that rapidly decohere ("split") and (very) rarely fuse. I must assume that most of my namesakes feel they are in some way special or privileged too. On the other hand, I remain sceptical that I have a digital mindfile in anywhere but Platonic Heaven.

* * *

We may quantify the degree of "splitting" and likelihood of fusion with decoherence functionals. For a macroscopic system like the mind-brain, fusion is vanishingly rare.

* * *

Marko, the kindest thing I could do to my namesakes would be to blast them with a utilitronium shockwave launcher; but I fear they're mostly out of range.

* * *

Gregory, I fear "mangling" is more common:

* * *

Mass destructive uploading to digital nirvana is one of the more exotic forms of existential risk. Perhaps I should support it.

* * *

Indeed. I might urge the world to join me. However, the alleged feasibility of whole-brain emulation assumes that the mind-brain is essentially classical, i.e. that phenomenal binding is not the signature of macroscopic quantum coherence. Here we may differ.

* * *

But did Nature get there first?
("Google Delves Into Quantum Artificial Intelligence: Google has launched a programme aimed at using quantum computing to improve the way machines learn in order to solve tough problems")

* * *
But not all quantum mind theorists buy into Penrose's collapsing wave functions.
("The Singularity Is Near: Mind Uploading by 2045?")
Some futurists predict humans will be able to upload their consciousness to computers in the near future.

* * *

"The problem with the transhumanist movement is that there's only one path to heaven."
("What is transhumanism? As we approach the last days...")
Christianity: "One woman's lie about having an affair that got seriously out of hand."

* * *

The rise of Robo insentiens?
("Modest Debut of Atlas May Foreshadow Age of ‘Robo Sapiens’")

* * *

("Transhumanism debunked: Why drinking the Kurzweil Kool-Aid will only make you dead, not immortal")
For a rebuttal:

* * *

Are organic robots best upgraded or replaced?
("What will the future hold for cyborgs, the fusion of humans and machines?")

* * *

Aya, indeed. I'm genuinely agnostic, however, on just how closely a program running on a real-world classical digital computer could emulate the behaviour of Homo sapiens.

* * *

I think we agree here! A distinct though related question is purely behavioural. When, if ever, will a classical digital computer be able to pass the Turing Test - and if not, what are the (perhaps exceedingly subtle) questions that are likely to trip it up?

Of course, I can't prove that digital sentience is impossible - any more than we can disprove philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel's contention that the United States is conscious. Rather consciousness somehow "switching on" would amount to a breakdown of reductive physicalism.
("The Splintered Mind: Is the United States Conscious?")

* * *

Yes Victor, great movie IMO! Like most works of sci-fi, it works best if you suspend disbelief...

* * *

Sentience will soon be unnecessary for taking today's IQ tests:
("Computer smart as a 4-year-old")

* * *

"Neuromorphic" zombies:
("The machine of a new soul")

If lab-grown brains proliferate, will it be irrational to wonder if you are one of them?
Miniature 'human brain' grown in lab
Miniature "human brains" have been grown in a lab in a feat scientists hope will transform the understanding of neurological disorders.
An ethical and epistemological disaster looms: the Simulation Argument rides again....

* * *

"How is information born?"
A profound question Rui. My best guess it that information is never truly born, merely conserved - at zero. Just as (controversially) the world's positive mass-energy is cancelled out by negative gravitational potential energy to zero (cf. Alexander Vilenkin elaboration of Ed Tryon's conjecture, “Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?", by analogy, perhaps zero information = all possible self-consistent descriptions = Everett's multiverse. Whether some sort of "zero ontology" is the ultimate basis of Reality - and an explanation of the age old conundrum, "Why is there Something Rather than Nothing?" - remains to be seen.

* * *

Yes, Smolin ("Time Reborn") versus Weyl / Barbour ("The world doesn't happen, it just is")
("Time Regained! by James Gleick | The New York Review of Books
"Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe" by Lee Smolin.")

* * *

Rui, intuitively, yes. But perhaps see e.g. Rolf Landauer's "The Physical Nature of Information". A physicist would say that the information content of observable universe can't exceed 10120 quantum bits of information expressed in fundamental Planck units.

* * *
("The physical nature of information" (1996) by Rolf Landauer.)

[on machine consciousness]
Will machines ever be conscious?
Ben Goertzel on 'Consciousness and Thinking Machines' at the Asia Consciousness Festival

The most intense forms of consciousness - e.g. agony, orgasm, panic - are evolutionarily ancient. They have little obviously in common with rational thought. Rather than asking if machines can be conscious, I think the interesting question is: can nonbiological machines be conscious? The obvious answer is yes. Intuitively, the functionally unique value properties of the carbon atom are too low-level to be functionally relevant. But we don't know this. Compare the view that primordial life elsewhere in the multiverse will be carbon-based. This conjecture was once dismissed as carbon chauvinism. It's now taken very seriously by astrobiologists.

For what it's worth, I doubt a classical digital computer will ever be non-trivially conscious, let alone generate unitary "bound" perceptual objects or a unitary subject of experience (cf. ) If so, a classical digital computer will never be able to e.g. explore the manifold subjective properties of mind in the manner of its organic counterparts. IMO the future belongs to sentient biological robots, not their supporting cast of silicon zombies.

* * *

Eray, apologies (I try to be restrained about hotlinking my own work!) but I've long argued precisely for such Strawsonian physicalism. (cf. However, the only scientifically literate version of panpsychism doesn't, by itself, explain how either organic robots or digital computers could be anything other than zombies. For we still need to solve the binding problem - and the closely related Moravec's paradox. (cf.'s_paradox) Irrespective of how they are functionally connected, how can 80 billion odd neurons, conceived as discrete, spatially distributed and membrane-bound classical information processors, generate unitary phenomenal objects, unitary phenomenal world-simulations, or a (fleetingly) unitary self? Why aren't we mere patterns of "mind dust"? (cf. ) The Explanatory Gap appears unbridgeable as posed. Our phenomenology of mind seems as inexplicable as if 1.3 billion skull-bound Chinese were to hold hands and suddenly become a unitary subject of experience. Why? How?

Finding a theory of consciousness that isn't demonstrably incoherent or false is a challenge. But consider Tegmark's well-known critique of quantum mind (cf.
Let's assume Strawsonian physicalism is true but also that Tegmark (rather than his critics) is correct: thermally-induced decoherence destroys distinctively quantum mechanical effects in an environment as warm and noisy as the brain within 10-13 of a second - rather than the much longer times sometimes claimed by Hameroff and others. What would it feel like "from the inside" to instantiate a quantum computer running at 10 13 irreducible quantum-coherent frames per second - computationally optimized by hundreds of millions of years of evolution to deliver real-time simulations of the macroscopic world?

True or false, a strong prediction of this conjecture is that classical serial digital computers will never be non-trivially conscious.

* * *

Eray, I certainly don't claim Levine's notorious Explanatory Gap can't be bridged by science! Rather the gap is unbridgeable given an ontology of materialism. Traditionally, materialism and physicalism have been treated as close cousins. Strawson, anticipated by Michael Lockwood (and others), has convincingly shown this needn't be the case. Nor IMO are we entitled to claim that only an organic brain could be a unitary subject of experience. For we simply don't know what may or may not be possible in a future era of mature artificial quantum computing. Instead, I was arguing in the context of the [phenomenal] Binding Problem that a classical serial digital computer can never support experiential bound objects or unitary subjects of experience. In short, even granted Strawsonian physicalism, i.e. panpsychism couched in the formal language of relativistic quantum field theory, digital computers will always be zombies.

* * *

Eray, empiricism and an empirical methodology are different. Science depends on the latter, not the former - unless, that is, you're arguing for an anti-realist instrumentalism that aims simply to "save the phenomena". Are you arguing against the completeness of post-Everett QM in favour of some kind of dynamical collapse theory? If not, then the existence of quantum superpositions of large biomolecules is entailed by the completeness of QM. Their irreducible existence is distinct from the question of whether they are (or are not) sufficiently long-lived to play any computational / functional role in living organisms.

How do we know that the population of China, or a termite colony, or the PC on your desk, or numerous other information processing systems, aren't unitary subjects of experience? In short, we don't! But if we do invoke such radical forms of emergence, then we are again faced with:

* * *

Eray, the existence of macroscopic superpositions in the brain is a prediction of our empirically best tested theory of the world, quantum mechanics. This doesn't prove such superpositions exist. Maybe quantum mechanics breaks down in the brain. Or maybe (and this would be a more common view) they are too short-lived in a warm and noisy environment such as the brain to be computationally and/or experientially relevant.

The nature of object binding, and the breakdown of the (fleeting, synchronic) unity of the self, is perhaps best illustrated by neurological syndromes in which binding partially breaks down. Consider e.g.

I'm not entirely clear why you're invoking Penrose. Recall I'm arguing in favour of the completeness of QM, not some unphysical "collapse of the wave function". IMO it's uncharitable to describe Penrose as a "crank". He is a brilliant mathematician and physicist. But there is indeed no supporting evidence, whether theoretical or empirical, for the Penrose-Hameroff Orch-OR (orchestrated objective reduction) conjecture.

The question of whether macroscopic superpositions in the brain exist is distinct from the question of whether they do any computational work - and whether or not they are relevant to consciousness. [My conjecture is that they are indispensable to phenomenal object binding, i.e. that ostensibly discretely and distributively processed edges, textures, motions, colours etc are fleetingly irreducibly bound when one apprehends a perceptual object in one's world-simulation. On this story, classical serial digital computers will never be non-trivially conscious.] Eray, sorry, I'm unclear whether you are arguing that 1) macroscopic superpositions in the CNS don't exist? (i.e. QM breaks down and must be supplemented with some kind of dynamical collapse theory) or 2) they do exist, but they are computationally and/or experientially irrelevant?

Thanks for clarifying your position Eray. But is there any evidence at all for e.g.

Hameroff argues that quantum coherence in neuronal microtubules is sustained for far longer (milliseconds) than critics like Tegmark (femtoseconds) is willing to accept. Maybe so; I haven't yet seen any convincing evidence. Instead, let's assume Tegmark is correct. Neuronal processes mediating edge, colour, motion (etc) detection can be in a unitary, irreducible quantum coherent state for no more than a hundred femtoseconds or so.

Intuitively, this kind of timescale is hopeless for solving the binding problem. For we perceive our surroundings with a time-lag of scores of milliseconds - a truly staggering feat of computation, for sure, but nothing like sub-picosecond timescales. Nerve impulses travel up the optic nerve at a sluggish 100 m/s or so.

However, IMO the account above is underpinned by a false theory of perception. Philosopher Bertrand Russell was widely mocked for his oft-repeated claim that one never sees anything but the inside of one's own head. But in a critical sense, this is true. The difference between being awake and dreaming is not that when one is awake, the mind-independent world somehow stamps its features on the contents of one's world-simulation. Rather the most that the external world can do, via coded impulses from the optic nerve etc, is to select from a pre-existing menu of mind/brain states. Assuming Strawsonian physicalism, then, what would it be like to instantiate 1013 irreducible quantum coherent mental states per second? When we're awake, these states would coarsely track fitness-relevant patterns in the local environment with a delay of 150 milliseconds or so; when we're dreaming, such selection (via optic nerve impulses etc) is largely absent.

As it stands, this is mere hand-waving. An adequate theory of mind would rigorously derive the properties of our bound macroqualia from the (hypothetical) underlying-theoretic microqualia. But if the story above is on the right lines, then a classical digital computer or the population of China (etc) will never be non-trivially conscious.

* * *

Eray, to describe a quantum superposition as "irreducible" isn't mumbo-jumbo; it's a tautology. This doesn't prove any such beast can exist in the brain. Maybe quantum mechanics breaks down in the CNS. Maybe we need to devise a dynamical collapse theory. But you've also acknowledged that there is no evidence that wave functions ever collapse. This makes your denial of the possibility of even fleeting macroscopic superpositions puzzling.

Sorry, which electromagnetic theory of consciousness did you want me to critique? Some versions are consistent with Strawsonian physicalism. Others are implicitly dualist.

* * *

"Irreducible" in the sense of not reducible to the behaviour of discrete classical atoms. There is no evidence QM breaks down in the brain. Hence the reason for inferring the existence of macroscopic superpositions that are rapidly destroyed owing to thermally-induced decoherence. Electromagnetic fields are ubiquitous in everything from the enteric nervous system of the gut to the brain in a dreamless sleep. We need to understand the necessary and sufficient conditions for phenomenal object binding and the experiential unity of perception; here EM theorists of consciousness differ.

* * *

Eray, right now I can simultaneously apprehend a dozen or so different figures walking at varying distances in front of my body-image. Someone with simultanagnosia or akinetopsia
cannot do this. How would you describe what we have - and they lack?

Neither object binding nor the experiential unity of perception are artefacts of folk-psychology. They are fitness-enhancing adaptations that neuroscience must explain. But how?

The existence of macroscopic superpositions is a prediction of any [realist] theory of quantum mechanics that doesn't invoke state vector collapse. To date, much of the debate has focused on decoherence timescales. Such superpositions are exceedingly long-lived if conceived in terms of natural Planck units, and exceedingly short-lived if conceived on everyday folk psychological timescales.
Even assuming Strawsonian physicalism, their experiential and/or computational relevance to organic minds remains to be shown. But this is a radically different question from the claim such macroscopic superpositions don't exist.

* * *

Eray, sorry, I fear you've lost me. How can anyone be guilty of "Cartesian materialism" while simultaneously "even more vitalist / dualist than Searle"? The whole point of Strawsonian physicalism is its uncompromising monism.

* * *

But Eray, I'm not a materialist: I've been arguing against it in favour of Strawsonian physicalism. Strawsonian physicalism is a conjecture about the intrinsic nature of the physical. Nor is there any dispute about our massively parallel architecture. Rather the question is whether a purely classical parallelism is consistent with the phenomenology of experience.

* * *

Eray, at times an unworthy suspicion crosses my mind...
("People Argue Just To Win, Scholars Asset")

* * *

Eray, Strawsonian physicalism is...physicalist. There is no "element of Reality", as Einstein puts it, that is not captured by the equations of physics and their solutions. The materialist claims that the intrinsic nature of the world's fundamental fields the quantum-theoretic formalism describes (poetically, the "fire" in the equations) is non sentient. By contrast, advocates of electromagnetic theories of consciousness and thoroughgoing Strawsonian physicalists alike beg to differ.

By way of distinction, proponents of specifically electromagnetic theories of consciousness need to explain why and how matter fields described by Fermi–Dirac statistics are non-conscious whereas one field described by Bose-Einstein statistics is identical with primordial consciousness.

The "fire" allusion is of course a nod to Stephen Hawking. Like most materialists, Hawking acknowledges we have "no idea of what breathes fire into the equations and makes there a world for us to describe" while at the same time dismissing any kind of panpsychism or monistic idealism.

In the language of Kant, the formalism of physics does not disclose the noumenal essence of the world. Orthodox materialists may assume that the fundamental fields are nonconscious; but this is an assumption, not a discovery.

* * *

Here at least we agree. Behaviourism is a false theory of mind. (hence the joke: two behaviourists make love. One then says to the other, "That was good for you. Was it good for me?")

* * *

I'd agree that subjective experience has a physical explanation. Its innumerable textures are [I assume] exhaustively encoded by the formalism of physics. What's critical is that we don't prejudge the intrinsic nature of the "physical" that the equations describe.

* * *

Amusing as in philosophical slapstick, Thomas?! I hope not...
If one a Strawsonian physicalist, then micro-qualia or "mind-moments" are ubiquitous. But this kind of naturalistic panpsychism is not a license for animism. Mere aggregates of discrete psychic pixels, so to speak, aren't a unitary subject of experience apprehending multiple bound objects, irrespective of their functional connectivity.

How about digital computers? Even if Strawsonian physicalism is true, and even if we could detect the noise of fleeting macroscopic superpositions internal to a CPU, we've no grounds for believing a digital computer [or any particular software program it runs] can be a subject of experience. Their fundamental physical components may be [or may not] be discrete microqualia rather than the insentient silicon (etc) atoms we normally suppose. But their physical constitution is computationally incidental to the execution of sequence of logical operations they execute. Any distinctively quantum mechanical effects are just another kind of "noise" against which we design error-detection and -correction algorithms.

So how are organic minds any different? What explains the phenomenology of human experience? Yes, we're massively parallel, but so are subsymbolic connectionist architectures (question-beggingly called "neural networks") - and their parallelism is purely classical. The story I'd tell is boringly orthodox in one sense. Our minds are formally described by the connection and activation evolution equations of a massively parallel connectionist architecture, with phenomenal object-binding a function of simultaneity: different populations of neurons (edge detectors, colour detectors, motion detectors etc) firing together to create ephemeral bound objects. But simultaneity can't, by itself, be the answer. There is no one place in the brain where distributively processed features come together into multiple bound objects in a world-simulation instantiated by a fleetingly unitary subject of experience. We haven't explained why a population of 80 billion odd discrete neurons, classically conceived, isn't a zombie in the sense that China [1.3 billion skull-bound Chinese minds] or a termite colony or a silicon robot is a zombie.

None of the above considerations goes to show that what we're calling simultaneity is actually the functional signature of 1013 per second unitary macroscopic quantum-coherent states. Macroscopic "mind moments" must occur if (1) Strawsonian physicalism is true and (2) macroscopic superpositions are real; but couldn't they just be functionally incidental psychotic "noise"? Why suppose that Nature has been computationally optimising the selection of sequences of macroscopic "mind moments" in organic robots to track fitness-relevant patterns in the local environment for hundreds of millions years?

[to be continued...]

* * *

In the Penrose-Hameroff model, consciousness does not cause the [alleged] collapse of the quantum wave function. Rather, consciousness is supposed to be a particular kind of self-collapse involving quantum gravity. Quantum superpositions comprising multiple coexisting possible actions or experiences are supposed to exist in some sort of preconscious state that becomes conscious upon reaching a particular threshold: the moment of self-collapse.

No, I'm not remotely convinced either. But then the emergence of conscious from the "pre-conscious" is no less of a mystery within the conceptual framework of orthodox materialism.

* * *

The best contemporary treatment of the world-simulation metaphor I know is Antti Revonsuo's "Inner Presence". And not a collapsing wave function in sight.

Most of us, at least fleetingly, instantiate:
I guess one could argue that those of us who don't have simultanagnosia or motion blindness (etc) merely seem to instantiate a unitary subject. But in the realm of pure phenomenology, the distinction between appearance and reality collapses.

* * *

Eray, if someone tells me that [phenomenal] object binding and the [synchronic] unity of consciousness (cf. are illusory, then it's like being told pain is an illusion. I'm left scratching my head over what the speaker means.

OK, to switch modalities, imagine if someone tells you that the phenomenology of listening to a piece of music is an illusion. All that exists are individual sequences of discrete musical notes of the different instruments: there is no subject of experience enjoying the symphony. How would you respond?

* * *

Dustin, just a quick note about monism. Strawsonian physicalism is a conjecture about the ultimate "fire" in the equations. As such, it's a conjecture about substrate, not about the nature of any information-processing role that qualia may [or may not] play. In the case of organic robots, at least, all sorts of experiences, e.g. phenomenal pain, do appear typically to play an information-processing role. Such a role is absent in, say, a rock or in a digital computer - where the intrinsic character of the fire in the equations of no more logical relevance to a program's output than whether the CPU is built of silicon or gallium arsenide.

* * *

Dustin, if I had to guess, the solutions to the master equation of [utopian] physics yields the field-theoretic values of microqualia. Summing these numerically encoded values of microqualia cancels out to zero i.e. reality has no net information at all.
Zero information = all possible self-consistent descriptions = Everett's multiverse.
However, exploring a zero ontology takes us beyond Strawsonian physicalism.

* * *

Eray, no one here is arguing in for the Penrose-Hameroff Orch-OR theory. You'll forgive me if I don't attempt a FB primer on consciousness and computational neuroscience, but I also note (no more) the strengths and weaknesses, as I see them, of connectionism (e.g. Aug. 2).

I see no reason to believe in a "Cartesian theatre" as defined by Dennett. But if one is an inferential realist about perception (cf. the world-simulation metaphor, best defended by Revonsuo), then phenomenal sunsets and skyscrapers - and one's cross-modally-matched phenomenal body-image - really are in the head.

* * *

Eray, here at least we agree. But to many philosophers, the world-simulation metaphor invites (IMO mistaken) charges of radical scepticism or Berkeleyan idealism.

* * *

Eray, I think our ignorance is too deep to describe dualism as "silly" as distinct from aesthetically unappealing. The only way I know to rescue monism is via Strawsonian physicalism. By contrast, positing a fundamental ontology of sentient and nonsentient fields is a form of interactionist dualism. How and why is one particular bosonic field supposed to instantiate the ontological novelty of consciousness in a hitherto insentient world? We are being asked to endorse a very strong sort of ontological emergence. In short, EM theories of consciousness do not solve the Hard Problem of consciousness, nor do they close Levine's Explanatory Gap; they merely relocate it.

* * *

This is precisely what I'd want to ask of the EM theorist. If the world's fundamental field(s) are endowed with a primitive subjectivity, them we have a robustly monistic theory, i.e. Strawsonian physicalism. If, on the other hand, consciousness is conjectured to reside purely in the electromagnetic field, and other fundamental fields are supposed to be nonsentient, then we'll want to know why and how the electromagnetic field acquires this ontologically unique property. Was the world completely insentient until the close of the electroweak epoch?

I'd also want to understand an author means by "proto-experience". Does "proto-experience" mean nonsentient [but readily susceptible to modification to allow sentience?]? Or does "proto-experience" mean possessing only the most minimal sentience?

* * *

Jim, yes indeed. As a physicist once remarked, most of the really interesting things in the world happened during the first second. [He probably meant the first 10-43 seconds]

Above I've assumed a field-theoretic framework. But Strawsonian physicalism holds equally if we assume mathematically-defined superstrings or branes. Presumably, the modes of vibration of the fundamental strings (or p-branes) express the different values of microqualia. However, some physicists regard M-theory as a degenerating research program, as Lakatos would put it. Alas I'm not technically competent enough to offer an informed opinion.

* * *

Eray, the English expression you're looking for is "I must respectfully beg to differ". Paweł is in illustrious company. Kant called it "the transcendental unity of apperception". Contemporary analytic philosophers would speak of synchronic unity of the self. "Unity" is not uniformity. Rather right now within my egocentric virtual world, I am simultaneously apprehending [or instantiating] a dozen or so figures walking outside my apartment while I am listening to a piece of music. How is this co-consciousness possible? Ascribing primitive consciousness to individual, membrane-bound classical neurons - and indeed to the world's fundamental fields / strings / branes if Strawsonian physicalism is true - does not, by itself, explain either how phenomenal object binding or the phenomenal unity of perception or the synchronic unity of the self is feasible. Why aren't we quasi-zombies - mere pixelated aggregates of mind-dust, as we are [assuming Strawsonian physicalism] in a dreamless sleep?

As you know, I argue for a quantum-mechanical explanation. But for now it's just an explanation-space rather than a true explanation.

* * *

Jim, apologies, it's possible we may understand the term "quasi-zombie" differently. I wasn't alluding to free will (of which I'm highly sceptical) but rather a "zombie" in the philosophers' sense.

* * *

Dustin, to be a monist is to make a metaphysical conjecture about the world. It's not about closing a gap in any epistemological sense; epistemological gaps will always be legion. For sure, the monistic idealist - whether a scientifically literate Strawsonian physicalist or a German Romantic (etc) - is venturing way beyond the available evidence. But so is anyone who aspires to a world-view more ambitious than solipsism-of-the-here-and-now. The only phenomena to which one has direct, non-inferential access are the contents of one's own consciousness [and even here we are prone to confabulation and self-deception.] To attack the Hard Problem, the Strawsonian physicalist argues that one's own consciousness discloses that the intrinsic properties of matter and energy - the "fire" in the equations - are utterly unlike one's native materialist intuitions might suppose. Ontologically, we are not fundamentally different from the rest of the world. By contrast, the materialist (and the dualist, epiphenomenalist, etc) conjectures there is a mind-independent world of insentient material objects / insentient fundamental fields, a novel ontological category wholly beyond one's experience. Or alternatively (and perhaps more commonly) the materialist believes s/he is somehow directly presented with a world of macroscopic material objects if s/e entertains a (IMO hopelessly untenable) direct realist theory of perception.

To be a physicalist is to believe that there is no "element of Reality", as Einstein puts it, that is not captured by the equations of (tomorrow's) physics. Both the traditional physicalist/materialist and the Strawsonian physicalist believe that the behaviour of the fundamental stuff of the world is exhaustively described by the equations of physics and their solutions. But the traditional physicalist/materialist believes the fundamental fields/strings/brains are intrinsically insentient, whereas the Strawsonian physicalist believes the fundamental fields/strings/branes are intrinsically experiential.

"Trivial"? Experientially unbound. As in
For example, if one plays a game of chess, then if Strawsonian physicalism is true, then the fundamental fields/strings/branes comprising the pieces and board are experiential. But a chess piece isn't a unitary subject of experience, and the discrete intrinsic experiential properties of the ultimate constituents of the pieces are computationally incidental - of no more relevance to the gameplay than whether the pieces are wood or metal.

[on the transition to post-Darwinian life]
Is the well-being of all sentience medically feasible?
Towards The Abolition of Suffering
Reflections on the Abolitionist Project
G100 Bondurant Hall on UNC School of Medicine Campus

Antimuscarinic drugs can both elevate mood and impair verbal fluency: a cruel dilemma. It's hard to believe that a drug like scopolamine can seriously be touted in some psychiatric circles as a novel antidepressant. Amphetamines elevate mood and promote talkativeness, though not depth of thought, originality, or social cognition. IMO their use is best discouraged. Although I'm optimistic in the long run that superintelligence can be combined with rich hedonic tone, the route ahead. is lined with pitfalls.
("New generation of rapid-acting antidepressants?")
("Drug testing could stop 'academic doping'")
Use of anti-nootropics, notably ethyl alcohol, seems de rigueur among academics. Perhaps a regime of teetotalism would unleash an intelligence explosion...

James, if the moral urgency of phasing out suffering were universally shared, its biology could be gone within this century. In practice, I'd guess the last unpleasant experience in our forward light-cone is centuries away. More troublingly, Brian Tomasik worries that the Era of Suffering in our Galaxy has scarcely begun - a totally different meta-narrative to the scenario I envisage.

An exposé of the links between abolitionist bioethics and the Third Reich:

Superhappiness, superlongevity & superintelligence?
I hope so...

[on "the mind of David Pearce"]
The end of suffering?

David Pearce Video Interview
MP4 (511Mb)
interviewer Andrés Gómez Emilsson, Stanford 2012.

  • Part 1 - Why and how to get rid of suffering
  • Part 2 - The rights of unborn children and deontological critiques
  • Part 3 - Brave New World and No-Pleasure-No-Pain objections
  • Part 4 - How can we help? And, is hedonism inauthentic or fake?
  • Part 5 - Nonhuman animals shouldn't suffer either
  • Part 6 - Is it Technologically Possible to Re-Engineer Ecosystems?
  • Part 7 - With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
  • Part 8 - Radically Altered States of Consciousness
  • Part 9 - Superintelligence
  • Part 10 - Empathetic Superintelligence
  • Part 11 - Metaphysics: Theory of mind
  • Part 12 - Metaphysics: Time
  • Part 13 - How to make biotech sound sexy?
  • Part 14 - Why digital computers cannot be sentient

No one need buy into my idiosyncratic views on why classical digital computers will never be nontrivially conscious (cf. the binding problem) to sign up to phasing out involuntary suffering throughout the living world. I just answered the questions Andres put me in San Francisco!

Until gene therapy makes psychoactive drugs (potentially) redundant, I think we need research into safe and sustainable mood-brighteners - ideally, mood brighteners with a pro-social oxytocinergic action. The pitfalls, clearly, are immense. But the War On Drugs has been a catastrophic failure - and unconstitutional to boot.
[Whatever happened to our "inalienable right” be the pursuit of happiness?]

* * *

Thanks Jason. Could posthumans have billions of emotions instead of our "core" half dozen? With genetic engineering, I suspect so. Spirituality? We can go further. Neuroscanning technologies can identify the molecular signature(s) of spiritual experience - and then use genetic engineering to amplify and overexpress its substrates. Posthumans can enjoy hyperspiritual states far richer than anything physiologically accessible today every moment of their quasi-eternal lives.
Or so runs the pitch of my imminent grant application to the Templeton Foundation

* * *

When is one ethically entitled to harm another sentient being? We all know life is messy and complicated. Some moral dilemmas have no easy solution. Sometimes, acting ethically calls for heroic self-sacrifice that few can manage. But if we consider the horrors of factory farming, there is no good argument why one shouldn't quit eating meat altogether - and plead with one's entire circle of acquaintance to do the same. "But I like the taste!" must count among the most feeble and weak-minded excuses for cruelty I can imagine.

Eliza, there is indeed a sense in which by harming others, one is also harming oneself. Although I'm a sceptic about any form of personal identity over time, there is an opposing view:

* * *

Tim, intuitively you're right. And I don't rule out that e.g. fourth-millennium nonbiological quantum computers will be sentient. But for several centuries, at least, I suspect on theoretical grounds that only biological neural networks [perhaps with neuroelectronic interfaces] will be nontrivially sentient. This is because of the classically insoluble phenomenal binding problem. (cf. The view that only macroscopic quantum coherence offers a potential solution to the phenomenal binding problem is controversial. But if it's viable, then neither classical digital computers nor classically parallel connectionist systems will ever support unitary minds - nor ever be nontrivially conscious. So much for the prospects of imminent full-spectrum superintelligence. (cf.
IMO our minds have been quantum computers long before they acquired a neocortex:

* * *

Asparagus? Plant cells are encased in cellulose cell walls whose structure effectively rules out computationally useful multicellular quantum coherence (but see too: "Unusual quantum effect discovered in earliest stages of photosynthesis"). This would hold even if organisms without the capacity for rapid self-propelled motion could evolve anything analogous to an energetically expensive organic like the brain. So I think asparagus-eaters can sleep easy at night...

"Making a living off"?! Jay, if I were paid for philosophising, I could probably invest in a comb! Timescales? Well, technically at least, prospective parents could use preimplantation genetic diagnosis even today to choose benign alleles of the COMT gene (enhanced reward sensitivity) and the SCN9A gene (high pain thresholds) for their future children. The burden of suffering in the world would thereby significantly be reduced. The biggest obstacles to phasing out the biology of suffering aren't technical, or even ethical/ideological, but simply status quo bias.

"Who would question the benefit of the thesis"? Well, if and when life is animated by gradients of intelligent bliss, no one at all! Alas, in the meantime there are many obstacles to overcome.

Jay, if humans made babies asexually via clonal reproduction, then "monkeying" with our genome would indeed be a bold and risky genetic experiment. In reality, sexual reproduction means that every child is a unique genetic experiment. The consequence of such genetic experimentation is immense suffering. Natural selection does not care about the welfare of the individual.

Buddhism? I'm an admirer of Buddhist ethics. Buddhists recognise the overriding moral urgency of overcoming suffering. Alas following the Noble Eightfold Path does not recalibrate the hedonic treadmill - nor the cruel web of negative feedback mechanisms in the mind-brain that ensure humans are malaise-ridden and discontented for much of our lives. Nor can following the Noble Eightfold Path dismantle the horrors of the food chain. Compassionate stewardship of Nature (in tomorrow's wildlife parks) will entail some kind of high-tech Jainism.

Overcoming anhedonia? Yes!

* * *

El Marte. Yes, your point about empathy is critical. Phasing out the biology of suffering worldwide will entail enriching our empathetic understanding of other sentient beings. Not least, humans must overcome the profound cognitive deficits in perspective-taking capacity that underlie the horrors of factory-farming and eating meat. I suspect posthumans will regard their ancestors (i.e. us) as little better than simple-minded cannibals.

Fortunately, the options of mood-enhancement and empathy-enrichment are not mutually exclusive. One (fanciful?) possibility would involve widespread use of long-acting empathetic euphoriants, for example safe and sustainable analogues of MDMA (Ecstasy). But drugs are at most a stopgap. I think the development of full-spectrum superintelligence will entail genetic enrichment of our capacity for empathetic understanding, augmented by the "naturalised telepathy" of tomorrow's information-technology. Today, empathy typically entails sharing each other's miseries. Posthuman empathy will most likely entail sharing others' pleasures.

However, the easiest way to reduce suffering in the world right now doesn't involve empathetic superintelligence, heroic personal self-sacrifice, or hi-tech genetic engineering. Rather the first step involves giving up eating meat - and urging everyone else to do likewise. Factory farming is the worst source of severe, chronic and readily avoidable suffering in the world today.

Thanks El Marte. Actually, I hesitated before adding the link to empathogens for fear of suggesting that adopting a cruelty-free diet requires superhuman powers of perspective-taking prowess - as distinct from a willingness to tolerate (very) mild inconvenience. However, in a more speculative vein, I do think that future full-spectrum superintelligence will call for a far richer capacity for empathetic understanding than humans ever manage today

* * *

Jay, I understand where you're coming from. Yet why "embrace and permeate" suffering when we could abolish it instead? Once we understand its molecular signature(s), then we can phase it out altogether - just as we've abolished smallpox. Pitfalls? You bet. Unanticipated side-effects? Almost certainly. But if we believe in a world without suffering, then the problem is technically soluble through science. Often "apathy" is really masked depression. One might imagine that the happiest people would be least motivated to do anything - and so radically raising hedonic set-points would turn us into a civilisation of lotus-eaters. But empirically, this doesn't seem to be the case. Indeed, boosting mesolimbic dopamine function instils a feeling of urgency - a sense of things-to-be-done. I suspect posthumans will be hypermotivated compared to their indolent human ancestors.

Jay, I think we'll want to draw a distinction between a lack of desire born of apathy and a lack of desire born of contentment. Apathy and boredom are not pleasant - although generally they don't amount to full-blown suffering. Either way, mastery of our reward circuitry should shortly allow both our level of motivation (crudely, mesolimbic dopamine function) and hedonic tone (crudely, mu opioid function in our twin "hedonic hotspots") to be modulated independently.

What's the optimal mix of bliss and motivation? Well, in the future we should all be free to choose.

[on transhumanism in San Francisco]
What should be our greatest priority?
Humanity Plus Conference 2012

Talk of our glorious feature can seem almost cruel if the listener thinks s/he won't be around to enjoy it. So yes, let's fund radical antiaging research. Intelligence-amplification is clearly hugely desirable. The biggest pitfall, I think, is a one-dimensional conception of what "intelligence" entails. What exactly are we trying to amplify? And what, if any, are the trade-offs?

Even those of us sceptical of the very idea of personal identity in practice oscillate between assuming it's real and disavowing its existence. Like post-Everett quantum mechanics, Buddhist / ultra-Partfitian views on personal (non)identity are hard fully to internalise even if one nominally signs up to them. As you know, I think the existence of suffering in both human and nonhuman animals is our greatest ethical challenge. But this doesn't necessarily mean that the biology of suffering is best tackled by a full-frontal assault. If you think e.g. we're on the brink of a Technological Singularity and nonbiological SuperIntelligence, then you'll have a very different agenda than if you believe getting rid of suffering is an obligation falls squarely on biological humans...

* * *

If we think that humans - or rather our transhuman and posthuman successors - will have a responsibility for stewardship of our entire Hubble volume, then (even within a classical utilitarian framework) it makes sense not to aim for maximum bliss here on Earth asap. But I think we're pretty safe phasing out the biology of involuntary suffering, most of which by almost any lights is just futile and nasty.

* * *

From Crank Alley to scientific mainstream...
("Scientists say they're close to unlocking the secrets of immortality")
A case can certainly be made that the more exciting the message, the more "boring", i.e. sober, should be the presentation. Unlike, say, Randal Koene, who'll be speaking, I'm personally a sceptic about mind uploading, substrate-independent minds and non-trivial digital sentience. But most researchers would probably regard my reasons for scepticism as weirder than the prospect of software-based minds they purport to question.

* * *

Rauri, yes, on some estimates free-living nonhuman animal suffering does indeed exceed man-made nonhuman animal suffering, i.e. factory farming. Uncontrolled habitat destruction by humans is probably preventing more free-living animal suffering than any compassionate interventions we could make now. Before we can contemplate implementing high-tech Jainism in the rest of the living world, IMO we're going to need to persuade people to stop paying for the horrific suffering for which humans are directly responsible. Sadly, I'm not convinced we can close factory farms and the death factories until the commercialisation of in vitro meat in a decade or two.

“Our job now is to prepare the grounds for forthcoming generations to take action where we may be currently unable to act” (Oscar Horta)
Ruari, absolutely! That's why I've long gone on about such "crazy" stuff as reprogramming predators even though I know some of my colleagues are rolling their eyes. But it's going to be a long journey ahead. IMO you're doing a fantastic job helping to spread the word.

* * *
("Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?")

I suspect senior dogs will receive radical antiaging therapies almost as soon as senior humans...
("Anipryl® - Help for Senior Dogs?")

* * *

A PDF of my talk, based on:
Will humanity's successors be our descendants?

* * *

Indeed so Luke. Of course, if one has a bad toothache, the greatest priority in the world is obvious. To me it's always seemed obvious that fixing the biology of suffering is most urgent. But a case can be made for ending ageing, intelligence-amplification / a friendly Singularity - and existential risk. A complication is that one can agree that an issue is of supreme importance without knowing how one can make a difference. Thankfully, the goals I mentioned are mutually consistent - one reason we can talk of a transhumanist movement, despite our disparate priorities.

* * *

Excellent Roberto. I suspect posthumans will regard archaic humans as little better than cannibals. But civilisation is (slowly) spreading...

* * *

The plot thickens...
("Singularity University Acquires the Singularity Summit")

* * *

Could we just be unwitting tools of Satan?
("Transhumanism Agenda Is Satan’s Counterfeit Ye Shall Be As Gods")

* * *

Brandon, field studies lead me to suspect your conception of this world may run closer to:
("The Garden of Earthly Delights - Hieronymus Bosch -")
eanne Calment's record of 122 years 164 days will probably extend in the early 2030s
One of the (very) few half-decent arguments against banishing aging without redesigning human nature is that in future totalitarian dictatorships might last centuries rather than decades.

* * *

A test for the existence of the Devil?
("Do we live in a computer simulation? Researchers say idea can be tested") Homo sapiens?
("Human hands evolved so we could punch each other")

* * *

("Legged Squad Support System (LS3): DARPA's four-legged robot with voice recognition")

* * *

Perhaps we'll all be transhumanists soon...
("US Spy Agency Predicts a Very Transhuman Future by 2030)

* * *

Brian, the Pope warns against the "manipulation of Nature":
("Pope Benedict denounces gay marriage during his annual Christmas message")
Claiming Gay marriage is a source of existential risk for mankind suggests he may be losing the plot.

* * *
("Why Making Robots Is So Darn Hard")
I predict we're heading for ultrapowerful but not strong AI.

* * *

Brian, yes, in some ways Teilhard prefigured Singularitarianism - though without the (wholly speculative) concept of recursively self-improving software-based digital minds:

Indeed so Brian [Tomasik]. If anyone can carry off a magisterial synthesis of Roman Catholicism and paradise engineering, you're the man for the job.

* * *

Or will the shock send them to an early grave...?
("Roboy, the robotic 'boy' set to help humans with everyday tasks")

* * *

But "for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”
(Isaac Bashevis Singer)
("Apocalypse... but not as we know it")

* * *

I would give my other half a heart attack. Of course it's good to see one's quirks of character in perspective. If you think you've got problems... ("The real-life sleeping beauty, 17, who has illness which makes her belt out songs while snoozing for 12 DAYS at a time")

* * *

"The degree and kind of a man's sexuality reaches up into the topmost summit of his spirit"
("Alan Turing in three words")

* * *

In future perhaps retractable (cross-species?) thalamic bridges could help repair our profound ignorance of other first-person perspectives:
("Could conjoined twins share a mind?")

* * *

Greg, yes, fair point. The Transhumanist Declaration (1998; 2009) is egalitarian: it expresses our commitment to the well-being of all sentience.
Alas we don't always live up to this splendid aspiration; but it's an admirably impartial statement of our values.
I could be complacent and say that the cost of any information-based technology tends to zero - and this will include the information-based technology need to deliver superhappiness, superlongevity and superintelligence. But it's hard to deny there will be a lag - even if lag-times are shrinking.
Also, we shouldn't neglect the role of competitive displays of altruism:
("Billionaires Club: Buffett and Gates Want Them to Give More")
Perhaps the current of transhumanism most focused on social justice and democratic accountability is the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET):

* * *

Scope for enrichment and overexpression...
("Found: Altruism Brain Cells")

[on transhumanism in Sweden]
Time to rediscover my Viking roots - Valkyries welcome.

Humanity+ Lund Event: Lecture by David Pearce

Christian, even if one takes seriously, as I do, the idea that the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world's inbuilt metric of (dis)value, the ontological status of (dis)value is hard to understand.
("Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong" by J. L. Mackie")

* * *

A venerable tradition, for sure:
I would like a rigorous derivation of God's utility function, so to speak.
I suspect Reality is ultimately explained by some logico-mathematical principle - perhaps an informationless Zero Ontology -rather than a divine being. Even so, we may still ask what a benevolent deity might want us to do had He existed.

"God created the integers," said mathematician Leopold Kronecker, "All the rest is the work of Man." But I fear God might have only limited discretion in such matters.

* * *

But should we try a new menu?
("Concern over 'souped up' human race")

* * *

The formula needs tweaking....
("Relax, Girl: Boyfriend's 'Love Hormone' Wards Off Your Rivals")

* * *

Can we design organic robots with a capacity for nociception without pain?
("Ashlyn Blocker, the Girl Who Feels No Pain ")

* * *

Do you really love Big Brother?
("Mind-reading scan locates site of meaning in the brain")

* * *

Alternatively, do biological robots have much hope of a future?
("Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong")

* * *

Alas our ignorance of the brain is hard to overstate IMO. When will we understand why we're not zombies? ("Head in the Cloud")

* * *

Materialist neuroscience offers powerful reasons to believe conscious mind is impossible:
("Ray Kurzweil's Dubious New Theory of Mind")

* * *

A dramatic reduction in existential risk is the strongest argument I know for this kind of venture:
("SpaceX Billionaire Elon Musk Wants A Martian Colony Of 80,000 People")

* * *

"Really high-minded people are indifferent to happiness, especially other people's."
(Bertrand Russell)
("Claude S. Fischer: "Happiness Policy")
Alas 90 minutes of pure magic can make the rest of one's life pall in comparison: 4
("MDMA keeps severe stress at bay")

* * *

I'm sceptical the legal status of MDMA will change any time soon. Our drug laws can trip up even the most innocent...
MDMA is indeed an acute remedy for hayfever, although not without side-effects.
("BBC - Mark Easton's UK: Ecstasy risks")

[on the future of pain]
In the post-genomic era, no law of nature says biological robots must suffer pain.
Should We Eliminate the Human Capacity to Feel Pain?

"Reason may cure illusions, but not suffering."
(Alfred de Musset)
Can science abolish pain?
The first comment I read said "Pain is a great thing". Some ideologically unsound thoughts sprang to mind.

See too:

Perhaps the futuristic (i.e. phasing out pain altogether) mingles too closely with the immediate and practical, e.g. choosing benign "low pain" alleles of the SCN9A gene for our future offspring. But I just answered the questions that were fired at me...

Claudio, there are indeed ways to extinguish desire, e.g. opioid drugs and (I am told) Buddhist meditation. But technically at least one can reduce or abolish pain and amplify desire. Enhanced mesolimbic dopamine function, for example, is associated both with heightened motivation and reduced pain-sensitivity.

Stirling, I certainly agree on the need for caution. Choosing benign "low pain" alleles of SCN9A, for example, is much more prudent than choosing nonsense alleles even if in future we have smart prostheses to protect us.

Ben, I agree. Phasing out "mental" pain is no less important than phasing out physical pain - which is really just a subclass of the former. Once again, we need to consider the signalling role of bad feelings. Some emotions e.g. feelings of jealousy, could well be consigned to the dustbin of history. They were genetically adaptive on the African savannah. I can't see the need to preserve even their functional analogues.

But what about, say, grief?
Well, if I were die or suffer misfortune, then I might [selfishly?] want this fact to diminish the well-being of people I care about. But am I entitled to go further and want anyone to suffer on my account?
No - in my opinion.

Mahal, indeed. I think enriching our capacity for empathetic understanding is vital to the growth of full-spectrum superintelligence. If we opt to phase out the biology of suffering, then in future we can empathise with each other's joys rather than (as so often today) each other's sorrows.

Chris, I'm actually quite sceptical our more civilised successors will "expound on the greatness of their achievement" in phasing out [involuntary] suffering. Rather they'll simply take it for granted. Compare, say, pain-free surgery. For a short while in the mid-19th century its introduction was hailed as a medical miracle. Now we take it for granted.

Chris, John, do you believe some functions are computationally intractable without "raw feels"? This may be the case. But you will have achieved a notable success if you can show this is so. For now at least, my working assumption is that the functional role currently performed by our nastier core emotions can be replicated either in silico or by hedonic recalibration. Would you disagree?

* * *

What it's like to be a cyborg?
("I listen to color")

* * *

I'm sceptical the world contains any such objects as brains - at least as understood by the materialist. Belief in cheesy wet lumps of congealed porridge that generate consciousness is the product of naive realist story of perception. I do think the world is populated by entities functionally isomorphic to what we call brains and nerve cells; but that's different.

In the interview, I ignored philosophical issues about the metaphysics of mind, the Hard Problem of Consciousness, and Levine's Explanatory Gap. This is because we don't want anyone to feel commitment to phasing out suffering involves signing up to anyone's idiosyncratic metaphysics [in my case, basically a combination of Strawsonian physicalism and ultra-rapid macroscopic quantum coherent states optimised by hundreds of millions of years of evolution to track the fitness-relevant patterns in the mind-independent world.]

Jamie, in essence, yes. I think the term "observation" is systematically misleading. It suggests we perceive our surroundings, whereas all these surroundings can do is select from states of one's own mind. But I think tomorrow's mathematical physics exhaustively describes the structure of the world. The solutions to the master equation of quantum mechanics yield the values of fields of microqualia: the "fire" in the equations. However, such Strawsonian physicalism doesn't, by itself, explain why we're not quasi-zombies, mere structured aggregates of "mind dust". We still need to solve the binding problem and explain the (fleeting, synchronic) unity of consciousness. I predict experimental apparatus sensitive enough to detect quantum coherence in macroscopic objects on sub-femtosecond(?) timescales would detect, not merely "noise", but richly structured quantum coherent states - states isomorphic to the macroqualia making up the egocentric virtual worlds of our daily experience.

This is of course conjecture. But if quantum mechanics is complete, then the existence of such macroscopic quantum coherent states in the CNS is not in question, merely whether they have been recruited to do any computationally useful work. Max Tegmark, for instance, would say no. I disagree. Our minds have been quantum computers for the past half-billion years.

* * *

Alas the key to the plot is still missing:
("Special issue: What is reality?" - New Scientist)

* * *

Does your brain have a mind of its own?
("You're far less in control of your brain than you think, study find")

* * *

Emphasis on parental choice and responsibility seems prudent. Screening for ghastly conditions like paroxysmal extreme pain disorder (PEPD)
could certainly justify testing which SCN9A allele you pass on to your future child. But how low does someone's pain threshold have to be before it's categorised as pathological? Like depression, pain-sensitivity is dimensional rather than categorical. I suspect by civilised posthuman criteria almost all of us have multiple genetic disorders.

* * *

Should we prefer psychosis to depression?
("Feeling Down? Spirituality Can Boost Your Mood")

* * *

Compared to the horrors of severe pain, pinpricks etc are of negligible significance. But if one is a strict classical utilitarian, then pinpricks are still opportunities forgone for bodily bliss - and hence should ultimately be replaced.

* * *

Eugenicists wanting to breed super-Einsteins face a tough challenge...
("Study Finds A New Look at Genetic Factors in Intelligence Needed")

Yes, the only countries without a height differential between social classes are Scandinavian. The apparent plateau to the Flynn effect in northern Europe would indeed seem to confirm the nutritional hypothesis.

Thanks Mike. The enhanced cognitive ability conferred by an extra copy of the NR2B gene also increases susceptibility to persistent pain. So at the very least, I'd also want to make sure I had a benign allele of pain-threshold modulating SCN9A. More generally, I suspect it's no coincidence that the ethnic group whose members score almost a standard deviation above the IQ global mean also records the highest incidence of Aspergers. (cf. "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence": Conversely, I suspect it's no coincidence that the ethnic group whose members score almost a standard deviation below the global mean also records the lowest incidence of Aspergers. So I worry that focus on boosting intelligence in the narrow "autistic" sense measured by mind-blind IQ tests would have numerous adverse side effects as well as benefits. My focus, i.e. phasing out, or recalibrating, the worst of physical pain and our nastier core emotions should be technically easier than radical intelligence enhancement; but reducing the burden of suffering in the world will presumably have all sorts of unanticipated ramifications too.

I wonder if any experiment has ever been conducted into whether any sort of relationship exists between pain-sensitivity and IQ score. [high AQ men predominate at the highest end of the IQ scale. Testosterone is a potent painkiller. Anecdotally, at least, many Aspergers have unusually high pain thresholds (cf. the "extreme male brain" theory of autism spectrum disorder)

* * *

Alas the Noble Eightfold Path is not enough:
The Technological Abolition of Pain
by Ben Goertzel

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."
(Henry David Thoreau)

Kyle, it's hard to argue against pure incredulity. Yet from a technical perspective, at least, it's feasible to phase out pain, suffering, and all experience below hedonic zero. Indeed from an engineering perspective, we could design lives animated entirely by gradients of intelligent bliss orders of magnitude richer than anything physiologically accessible today.

Bears? Well, few of us dwell amongst them. But I know a lot of people enjoy watching wildlife documentaries. And there is no reason why genetically and behaviourally tweaked bears can't roam tomorrow's wildlife parks. But is a primitive world where sentient beings are disembowelled and eaten alive really preferable to its post-Darwinian successors?
("'Mum, the bear is eating me!': Frantic final phone calls of woman, 19, eaten alive by brown bear and its three cubs")

Gabriel, I'd be mildly surprised if anything remotely as advanced as an amoeba exists within our Hubble volume:
But whether our worry is visiting bug-eyed monsters from Betelgeuse, or their male human primate counterparts closer to home, there is one big advantage to recalibrating the hedonic treadmill rather than inducing uniform bliss. Recalibrating your hedonic set-point can leave motivation, preference architecture, and informational sensitivity to positive and negative stimuli intact. Indeed the more one loves life, the keener one is likely to be to preserve it. Life can still be exhilarating without pain, fear and suffering. Indeed if you crave excitement, then everyday future life can be far more exhilarating than the upper bounds of excitement physically feasible today.

Let's grant that some of our greatest musical and aesthetic experiences on a scale of 1 to 10 have been born out of deep suffering. If you could taste musical and aesthetic bliss on a scale of 90 to 100, would you want to revert to the mediocrity of the past?

Gabriel, sadly we know that perpetual, sustained misery is feasible. For evolutionary reasons, lifelong bliss is rarer. But have we any evidence that its molecular machinery is harder for evolution to engineer? Or that in posthuman paradise, something valuable will be lacking, namely pain, misery and malaise?

Nociception should be civilised, not abolished.
("Congenital analgesia: The agony of feeling no pain")

At times I pine for something a little more lively...

Gabriel, one of the many advantages of recalibrating the hedonic treadmill is how an elevated hedonic set-point can promote active citizenship rather than resigned passivity.
Perhaps see
("Subordination and Defeat : An Evolutionary Approach to Mood Disorders and Their Therapy")

Gabriel, alas we have a pretty good idea already how to depress a human or nonhuman animal's typical hedonic set-point, namely to subject him or her to chronic uncontrolled stress. (Controllable stress is different). Raising someone's hedonic set-point above his or her genetically constrained ceiling is more of a challenge. But already, if we wanted to, we could use preimplantation genetic diagnosis to select "happy genes" (cf. ) for our future children. And shortly we'll be able to edit our genetic and epigenetic source code and recalibrate our own reward circuitry too. (cf.

Alas evidence of any positive correlation between feelings of guilt and depravity is quite weak...
("Brain scans prove Freud right: Guilt plays key role in depression")

Ignorance is indeed a major source of suffering Jean. It's also a major source of happiness. Although I'm not convinced that churning out logical inferences has more than a passing role in the future of sentience, I agree with you that becoming both smarter and wiser is essential if we're to navigate this critical century in the history of life.

Scientific reason will lead us to superhappiness? Yes, I think so. For a counter-argument, perhaps see
General purpose intelligence: arguing the Orthogonality thesis

Depressive realism is toxic:
("How to live beyond 100")

[on posthuman superintelligence]
What is your conception of greater-than-human intelligence?
An Organic Singularity?
"Could the Organic Singularity Occur Prior to Kurzweil's Technological Singularity?"

A wide diversity of opinions is represented in the forthcoming Springer volume:
My money is still on organic superintelligence (cf. But the dismal track record of futurology is sobering.

Can one possess, say, greater-than-human visual intelligence without the capacity to experience phenomenal colour - or any visual experience at all? Can one possess a greater-than-human capacity for introspective self-understanding without being a unitary subject of experience? I worry the whole field of AI is shot through with fallacies of equivocation.

You can functionally interconnect a bunch of classical objects any way at all; yet they can never be anything but the sum of their parts - and behave accordingly. Neurons are normally conceived as classical objects, at least for the purposes of computation. But if we're not in a coma or a dreamless sleep, organic minds are not mere speckles of classical "mind-dust". Rather we run real-time, cross-modally matched phenomenal world-simulations that are more powerful and faster than Pentagon supercomputers. And soon we're going to edit our own genetic source code and bootstrap our way to full-spectrum superintelligence. On one story, at any rate.

Presumably amplified visual intelligence can take us beyond
("An unknown number of women may perceive millions of colors invisible to the rest of us.")
At the most basic level, I wonder just how many phenomenal colours exist?

How a fundamentally quantum mechanical universe gives rise to quasi-classical macroscopic "worlds" is a very deep question. (I'll be very interested to hear what you think of David Wallace's "The Emergent Multiverse". Few writers combine an equal level of scientific and philosophical sophistication. Some of the text is available online:
Even if one believes (as I do) that post-Cambrian organic minds have been quantum computers for hundreds of millions of years, this status doesn't mean they are computationally adapted to model the distinctively quantum mechanical features of the mind-independent world. On the contrary: our world-simulations are quasi-classical in content (just not in mechanism). The late evolutionary novelty of serial linguistic may be conceived as a quasi-classical virtual machine that needs shielding from all manner of "noise".

Dustin, you say: "Quantum mechanics does not specify, from the outset, the "rules" (going from lower to higher levels of organization) of molecular bonding, biochemistry, physiology, psychology, or sociology." Is this really the case? Couldn't a (notional!) God-like intellect just "read off" these effective levels of organisation from the universal Schrödinger equation (or its relativistic generalisation) and its solutions, just as such a mega-intellect could instantly divine, say, the properties of the natural numbers given Peano's Axioms?

Dustin, Why do you describe other quasi-classical branches as "metaphysical"? Yes, there is a sense in which everything beyond solipsism-of-the-here-and-now is metaphysical insofar it transcends the available empirical (experiential) evidence. But interference effects between quasi-classical Everett branches that have decohered ("split") never wholly disappear: they can be precisely quantified with decoherence functionals, and detected whenever our measuring apparatus is sufficiently sensitive. So yes, I'm a metaphysical realist about everything from dinosaurs to DNA to classically inequivalent Everett branches. By contrast, anti-realism about our best theory of the world turns the success of science into a miracle.

There is no such thing as quantum chaos in the sense of hypersensitivity to initial conditions:
And whether our world is formally described by a finite- or infinite-dimensional Hilbert space is an open question. As you know, I'm a finitist in maths and physics.

Dustin, perhaps I should have chosen a less controversial area than the foundations of mathematics. Would you agree that in specifying the rules of chess, one has implicitly specified all possible 10120 odd chess games? The case of physics is somewhat different because the master equation of the presumed TOE is elusive. But let us assume we have a suitable candidate. Is there any "element of reality", as Einstein put it, not captured in the formalism? World War Two, inflation and the miniskirt are not explicitly represented, or at least not to mortal eyes. Nor, more alarmingly, is anything resembling quasi-classical macroscopic world: just an immense quantum superposition. Quasi-classical classical worlds are an emergent feature. Likewise, in the case of life-supporting Everett branches, their different levels of description: chemistry, biology, ecosystems, etc. But this "emergence" is philosophically benign. Reality has only one ontological level as captured by the formalism of the TOE. There could not really exist a superbeing outside the multiverse who could "read off" its properties from the solutions to this master quantum mechanical equation. Nonetheless there are no "hidden variables" to invoke. Or are you arguing for some kind of dynamical collapse theory? Or antirealism?

I look forward to reading your paper Jonathan. Contra Penrose, Hameroff, and Kauffman, however, I don't think quantum mechanics can explain how a nonsentient world could give rise to consciousness. Rather if we assume a pain-experientialist Strawsonian physicalism, then quantum mechanics can explain classically impossible properties of organic minds, not least phenomenal object binding and the (fleeting) synchronic unity of the self.

* * *

Gastric intelligence?
("The second brain in our stomachs")

* * *

More zombie boosterism:
("Humans' Not-so Singular Status")

* * *
"Are Aerobics Trophic for Cognition in Late Life?
One intuitively feels that time spent huffing and puffing could more fruitfully be spent elsewhere. On the other hand, the cognitive benefits of regular aerobic exercise, not least hippocampal neurogenesis, suggest the investment of time and energy is worthwhile.

Some of us dice with death on a daily basis:
("Less time sitting 'extends life'")

I guess there are couch potatoes and active fidgeters:
("Fidgeting Helps Separate the Lean From the Obese, Study Finds")

Think hard and stay slim? Not exactly...
("Does Thinking Really Hard Burn More Calories?")

* * *

Human conceptions of "intelligence" suffer from a host of concealed value judgements about what is cognitively important and what is cognitively trivial. "IQ tests" are themselves designed by people (overwhelmingly male) with high AQ scores who devalue social cognition. Traditional tests reveal at least as much about the minds of those who devise them (i.e. high AQ male hyper-systematisers uninterested in social cognition) as their testees. Full-spectrum superintelligence will be incomparably richer.
However, the design of a hyper-empathetic, cruelty-free world may depend on a hypersystematising cognitive style that is alien to most naturally empathetic and compassionate people. Utilitarians, for example, are almost always men.

I suspect there is a strong positive correlation between extremely high IQ and AQ score
and an even stronger positive correlation between propensity to design mind-blind IQ tests and AQ score; but I don't know if this conjecture has ever been put to the test.
("IQ tests: women score higher than men: Women have scored higher than men in intelligence testing for the first time since records began.")
(Dr Paul Irwing: 'There are twice as many men as women with an IQ of 120-plus')
So long as "IQ tests" autistically exclude social cognition, this finding will persist IMO.

* * *

I'm torn Jose. I'd love us all to be more "naturally" empathetic. But the technology systematically to eradicate suffering, aging and disease is mostly going to be developed by high AQ folk - and likewise the willingness systematically to use it.

None of us can really empathise with more than one other sentient being at a time. Here is an extreme example of a hyper-empathising cognitive style at work. I have a female friend who dotes on her cat - and on any mauled mouse she finds in its wake. [In fact, her only real criticism of me is my inability to appreciate her cat's inner Buddha nature.] But at no time does she recognise that systematic compassion calls for a radically different approach. Thus almost all utilitarians are male - utilitarianism being the ultimate systematisers' ethic. High AQ folk tend to be hyper-systematisers: the originator of the felicific calculus, Bentham, was himself almost certainly an Asperger.

Greater-than-human intelligence...?
("Think your children are bird-brains? You're right - our feathered friends outperform seven-year-olds in logic tests")

* * *

Less Wrong or Not Even Wrong?
("Faith, Hope, and Singularity: Entering the Matrix with New York’s Futurist Set
It's the end of the world as we know it, and they feel fine.")

* * *

Christian, some might say you're a harmonious fusion of ying and yang.
(Actually, some people really do find it comparatively easy to switch cognitive style as appropriate. But what percentage of the world's greatest mathematicians, for example, have sub-Aspergerish AQ scores?)

"The Smartest Man in the World?"
What would it mean to say Chris Langan - or indeed Ed Witten - is smarter than Alexander Shulgin??

Kadu, versatility is indeed critical to general intelligence. Perhaps the greatest versatility of all, however, is the capacity of organic robots to explore both the formal and the subjective properties of mind - the "program-resistant" qualia of which digital computers are invincibly ignorant.

The bandwagon keeps rolling...
("Incognito Supercomputers and the Singularity")

("The more gray matter you have, the more altruistic you are")

But not yet as sentient as an earthworm...
("I, Robot)

Can eternal youth be genetically preprogrammed?
("DNA race to unlock ageing secrets")

* * *

Could each of our neurons soon be net-enabled?
("The human body could soon be connected to the web says 'father of the internet' Vint Cerf")

* * *

For lovers of invective... Evgeny Morozov: The Naked And The TED | The New Republic
('Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization' By Parag Khanna and Ayesha Khanna)

* * *

Now we just need user-friendly editing tools...
("Identically Different: Why You Can Change Your Genes by Tim Spector – review")

Sentient beings should not be created via a genetic crapshoot.
("The Hastings Center - Prenatal Whole Genome Sequencing: Just Because We Can, Should We?")

* * *

Luke Muehlhauser, CEO of the Singularity Institute [now MIRI], is currently doing an AMA on Reddit:

* * *

Moral bioenhancement? Sadly we may first need to agree on ethics before wiring virtous predispositions:
("Genetically engineering 'ethical' babies is a moral obligation, says Oxford professor")

* * *

A recipe for digital zombies...
(“MindFile-Uploaded-into-Cyborg” is our Favorite Life-Extending Option, claim 800+ Transhumanists")

Cyborgs? that might be stretching it a bit...
("Grinders: the cult of the man machine")

Would a benevolent AI turn humans into utilitronium?
("Will Artificial Intelligence Turn Evil & Against Humans?")

The mind/brain is not a digital computer... (Self-awareness in humans is more complex, diffuse than previously thought")

Ultimate super-intelligence or an invincibly ignorant zombie?
Full-spectrum superintelligence entails mastering both the formal and the subjective properties of mind, i.e. Turing and Shulgin.
There are strong theoretical grounds for doubting a classical digital computer will ever be non-trivially conscious, let alone support a unitary phenomenal self who could do the research.

* * *

High tech Jainism?
("How Do We Care For Future People?? Buddhist and Jain Ideas for Reproductive Ethics")

An authoritative history of transhumanism has yet to be written...
("Better Than Human. The Transhumanist Transition to a Technological Future")

Farewell to organic professors?
("Robot Professors Come With Singularity University’s Massive Upgrade")
("Merging the biological, electronic")

* * *

Superintelligence imagined by someone with, say, autistic spectrum disorder differs from superintelligence imagined by someone with, say, mirror-touch synaesthesia. Unlike high AQ systematisers, folk with low AQ would be most unlikely to design an IQ test. But if they did so, then the subtypes of social cognitive ability they tested for would yield a picture of high intelligence far removed from the reigning orthodoxy in the IQ testing industry today. Of course this outcome would be biased, just as today's autistic tests are biased. Subjective value-judgements of (un)importance are inescapable.

Each of us here could design "IQ" tests. They would each have strengths and weaknesses. Some would deliver outcomes more-or-less congruent with existing tests; others would be wildly different. Some would have a measure of ecological validity; others would be wholly artificial. Who, if anyone, would be "correct"? I'm not sure this question has a factual answer.

Andres, I think I can say without fear of contradiction that you have a highly unusual mind. I agree with a lot of your points. However...
Let's say we want to design a less simple-minded IQ test. We want the revised test to be culture-, race-, species-neutral; and to have maximum ecological validity. For a start, I'd give high weight to cognitive prowess in what most agents regards as the immensely important and cognitively demanding challenge of finding reproductive opportunities / prospective mates ("sexual intelligence"). I'd give heavy weight to "mind-reading" prowess, i.e. the perspective-taking capacity that promotes cooperative-problem solving and helped drive the evolution of distinctively human intelligence. None of this is scored by existing tests. Including sexual and social intelligence would involve outcomes quite radically different from the standard, "mind blind" Cattell–Horn–Carroll framework that dominates the IQ testing industry today.

Now a critic might respond that such a revision discriminates against Aspergers and high AQ "geeks". But for that matter, the revised test discriminates against celibate philosophers too (though I'd never claim to be more than an idiot savant in any case!) The point is that there is no objective fact of the matter about what is "true" intelligence. All "IQ tests" involve a hotchpotch of disguised value-judgements about what abilities are - and which aren't - important.

* * *

Futurology by extrapolation has a poor track record:
("What Is the Future of Computers")

The only "autonomous lethal robots" that scare me are human:
("The Future of Moral Robots")

Did he mention he was the Son of God?
("Jesus's wife? Scholar announces existence of a new early Christian gospel from Egypt")

Genius or idiot savant?
("One Per Cent: Watson, the supercomputer genius, heads for the cloud")

The prospect of biological robots rewriting their own source code and bootstrapping their way to superintelligence may be nearer than we suppose...
("Custom gene editing rewrites zebrafish DNA")
("Mimicry beats consciousness in gaming's Turing test")
("The End of the Beginning: Life, Society and Economy on the Brink of the Singularity")

Ben Goertzel responds to David Deutsche:
("The real reasons we don’t have AGI yet")
("The Consequences of Machine Intelligence")

Alexander Kruel on why we should not lose sleep over Nonfriendly AI:
("Why I Am Skeptical About Risks From AI")
("Are Humans Getting Smarter or Dumber?")
("Stephen Hsu on Cognitive Genomics")
What is genius?

* * *

To say "I don't know" sounds lame. Reifying one's ignorance and calling it "The Singularity" sounds impressive. And what could be more exactly than a "singularity? As you know, I think posthumans minds will owe at least as much to Shulgin as Turing.
Full-spectrum superintelligence entails mastery of both the formal and subjective properties of mind; but I can't point to any impressive-looking charts to plot our progress. Alas our (non)understanding of consciousness isn't even pre-Copernican: it's pre-Socratic.

[on our heavenly or hellish future]
Utopia? Dystopia? Or Muddling Through?
Are you optimistic about the future?
Is Humanity Accelerating Towards… Apocalypse? or Utopia?

"Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell."
(Karl Popper)
Let's hope Sir Karl is mistaken.

Somewhat implausibly, Karl Popper can also lay claim to being the father of negative utilitarianism - a position which invited this rebuttal from RN Smart:
(Negative utilitarianism : R.N. Smart's reply to Popper)

The Epigenetics Revolution? Lars, yes indeed, though I think e.g. Nessa Carey rather overdoes the hype:
"Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance"

* * *

Gabriel, you are surely correct: it's woefully simplistic simply to blame "maleness". Yet the fact remains. All nuclear weapons systems have been conceived, designed and used by men. Should we ascribe this to coincidence?

Gabriel, again I agree with you: it's simplistic to say men cause wars, just as it would be simplistic to say women cause wars because they are predisposed to mate with dominant, competitive alpha males. By analogy, it's simplistic to blame car accidents on drunk drivers. Most intoxicated drivers do not have car accidents, and most car accidents are not caused by intoxicated drivers. But high blood ethyl alcohol content is a risk factor in traffic accidents; likewise high testosterone is a risk factor when measuring propensity to aggressive war.

Sebastian, yes, I enjoyed:
("The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution")

Clearly, genes and culture co-evolved. Twin studies are one way to try and disentangle the strength of genetic loading for different traits. But typically such studies have all sorts of methodological problems.

Giorgio, scholarly opinion is divided. See for example the "warrior gene" controversy:
'Warrior Gene' Predicts Aggressive Behavior After Provocation

One can selectively and reversibly control one's level of MAO-A inhibition by taking e.g. moclobemide. (cf.
I've done so myself; and I can't claim it turned me into a Viking berserker, despite my Nordic origins.

* * *
("Video: Science 'girl thing' video branded offensive")

* * *

"I figure lots of predictions is best. People will forget the ones I get wrong and marvel over the rest." (Alan Cox)
Perhaps negative utilitarians shouldn't discuss nuclear weaponry too freely lest people draw the wrong conclusions. However, I'm inclined to agree with you Jonatas. The size and nature of the thermonuclear devices necessary to wipe out biological humanity in its entirety on planet Earth probably rule out their being built. But there are an awful lot of unknowns here.
("Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine")

Although one can imagine individuals seeking to destroy the world, I find it had to envisage state actors systematically building salted thermonuclear weapons with the aim of eradicating all intelligent life. [sterilising the entire planet would be an order of magnitude (?) harder:]

* * *

We are certainly acutely aware of some of our logical stumbles. But I'd argue that we are most vividly aware of an evolutionarily ancient process that works extraordinarily well - and is completely beyond any digital computer, which is "not even stupid". What one naively calls "perceiving one's surroundings" actually entails generating "bound" and cross-modally matched experiential objects in a unitary world-simulation of a (fleetingly) unitary self - and in almost real time to boot.

At times I feel frustrated: I want to join in the excitement that's seized some sections of the futurist community over the alleged imminence of nonbiological superintelligence. Yet none of the questions that most interest me seem amenable to investigation by formal methods or digital computers. If one wants to understand and explore the manifold varieties of consciousness, then the only route I know involves the empirical methodology pioneered by Alexander Shulgin. I know some AI folk say they aren't interested in consciousness. But given it's the only phenomenon in the world to which one (sometimes) has non-inferential access, and the only reason anything matters at all, I find such incuriosity puzzling.

I guess there is quite a conceptual gulf between those who view consciousness as largely irrelevant to what's coming and those who believe it's fundamental to the future of life, mind and the universe. I wonder if the gulf can be bridged - or whether we're doomed to talk past each other?

A sentient being can understand the properties of insentient systems. But in what sense can a super-optimising system understand consciousness, or what it is to be a unitary subject of experience, or our myriad varieties of qualia? (One hesitates to use this philosophers' term of art because people think you are hypothesising some occult theoretical entity, rather than alluding to the brute phenomenology of experience). Is a classical digital computer really any more than the sum of its parts? (cf. ) IMO natural biological (and in future artificial) quantum computers have at least a fleeting ontological integrity. But ascribing unitary existence or intelligence to mere aggregates simply in virtue of the patterns they exhibit is a form of anthropomorphic projection on our part. This is what I meant by saying digital computers "aren't even stupid". (I can almost physically feel Tim wincing at this point!)

Take an atom here, and atom in Jupiter, and an atom in Alpha Centauri, and call this composite "X". Does X really exist? As defined, yes. But it's an arbitrary abstract construction. Presumably we want instead to "carve Nature at the joints". (Actually, there is indeed a sense in which the entire multiverse is a single entangled object, but this topic will take us far too afield here). I'm afraid I simply can't make sense of the idea that a nonsentient system could understand, say, phenomenal redness:
or the rich and diverse phenomenology of our individual virtual worlds. To understand a phenomenon one must, at the very minimum, know what one is trying to explain, and it's precisely this explanandum of which an insentient digital computer is invincibly ignorant.

One couldn't sensibly speak of a system being intelligent, let alone superintelligent, if it were constitutionally incapable of knowing, investigating or discovering fundamental features of the natural world, e.g. the second law of thermodynamics. So could a constitutionally insentient system understand, in any sense at all, the nature of qualia? "Raw feels", by their very nature, are concrete not abstract. So unfortunately I don't think the analogy with our conception of echolocatory experience works. For sure, it's a tempting analogy in the same way it's tempting to suppose a nonsentient system could understand the nature of visual experience in virtue of the way differential physical sensitivity to electromagnetic spectral reflectancies been recruited via natural selection to play a functional role in sighted organisms. But the nature of colour qualia has nothing intrinsically to do with this contingent functional role. Likewise, echolocatory qualia have nothing intrinsically to do with sonar. As (for example) dreaming, microelectrode stimulation (etc) demonstrate, visual experiences can be elicited without their playing any kind of functional role in the informational economy of mind. For reasons we simply don't understand, the subjective textures of experience are an intrinsic property of some patterns of matter and energy. Full-spectrum (super)intelligence, at least as I define it, involves mastery of both the formal and the subjective properties of the world.

... I make a point of referring to humans and other biological animals as "organic robots" to throw the lack of specialness claimed into sharp relief. Computational universality? Only in a narrow technical sense. As Shulgin's methodology /algorithmic cookbook attests, humans can systematically set out to explore different state-spaces of qualia that are impenetrable to a digital computer: qualia are "program-resistant". Also, recall that advocates of quantum mind don't (or at least needn't) dispute that artificial nonbiological quantum computers may one day instantiate unitary conscious minds - no less than do (what they claim are) naturally evolved quantum biological minds. No privilege is claimed, we just express a different computational root-metaphor of mind, reflective of tomorrow's dominant technology rather than today's. At this point, critics will generally cite Tegmark (cf., i.e. we have no evidence that the mind is a quantum computer. But unless quantum mechanics is false, then the brain does exist in a succession of irreducible macroscopic quantum superpositions. All the critic is saying is s/he thinks such macroscopic quantum coherence is too short-lived to be computationally relevant to the coarse-grained functionalism s/he assumes. IMO the phenomenology of bound phenomenal objects and the unity of perception suggests otherwise. Whatever the cost, we need, as philosophers say, to "save the phenomena".

...Again, it's a tempting prospect (cf. "On A Distinction Between Access and Phenomenal Consciousness" by Brent Silby for a discussion on Ned Block's distinction between phenomenal consciousness and access consciousness.) But ultimately it's hopeless IMO. For a start, the vast majority of states of consciousness latent in neurally organised matter and energy haven't been recruited to play an information-processing role by natural selection. That's what makes psychedelic drugs so challenging - not that they deliver profound truths about the external world, but precisely because they don't, or rather not in the way their advocates imagine. For sure, most everyday states of consciousness we experience have been recruited for an information processing function, e.g. waking visual experience. But visual experience has nothing intrinsically to do with the mind-independent world; and its qualitative nature is something about which even a utopian digital computer is invincibly ignorant. So much for digital superintelligence: not merely can't it explode, it can't even fizzle.

Neurons are indeed fabulously complex information processors. Thus e.g. the different amino acid sequences and secondary, tertiary and quaternary protein folding structures internal to the neuron may well be implicated in innumerable different microqualia. But once again, I'm at a loss to know how a digital computer could investigate the first-person/third person psychophysical mapping needed to understand their relationship. Even with the master equation of a formally complete Theory of Everything, you'll need to instantiate some of its solutions to understand them. "Mary" (cf.'s_room ) - or a digital computer - never will understand redness. More to the point, ignorance of the phenomenal nature of pain and pleasure entails a digital computer will never understand why anything matters at all.

* * *

Yes, given an unphysically long time, a classical computer conceived in the abstract could simulate the behaviour of a quantum computer, e.g. factor 1500 digit numbers. But do the unitary world simulations we each instantiate disclose the algorithm of a digital computer or the purely classical parallelism of a connectionist system? Or instead the world simulation of a quantum mind? Unfortunately, there is an ambiguity about the term "simulation". Is one talking about simulating just the formal properties of a system? Or both the formal and subjective properties, if any? And how are they related?

If we're perceptual resists and suppose we perceive our surroundings, then the duration of macroscopic coherence is way too short. But let's assume that all that inputs from the optic nerve (etc) can ever do is select from a finite menu of mind/brain states. I also (controversially) assume Strawsonian physicalism (cf., but let's grant here Tegmark's ultra-rapid decoherence timescales. What would it feel like to instantiate 1013 quantum coherent frames a second: a quantum computer optimised by hundreds of millions years of evolution? On this story, the binding problem is dissolved because the supposedly discrete edges, textures, colours motions distributively processed across separate regions aren't separate but can fleetingly constitute single phenomenal objects. Likewise for the unity of perception and the synchronic unity of the self. A strong prediction of this conjecture is that classical computational systems will never be conscious, or instantiate unitary world-simulations, or unitary agents. By contrast, the standard materialist story entails the Hard Problem of Consciousness, the Explanatory Gap, and the (phenomenal) Binding Problem. These are fancy names for what we might better call a falsification of materialism.

The era of mindless thoughts beckons? Or mindless "thoughts"?
("Alan Turing's legacy: how close are we to 'thinking' machines")

Jonatas, such irreducible macroscopic quantum coherent states are not just plausible but inevitable - unless we modify the quantum-mechanical formalism. To which critics of quantum mind would respond that such states occur over a vanishingly short interval, so they are computationally irrelevant in a warm, wet, noisy environment like the central nervous system. In fundamental Planck units, however, the timescales Tegmark discusses are huge. I agree with you that consciousness is wholly physical. Indeed I think its properties are exhaustively encoded by the formalism of physics. But what does being "physical" entail? Our own minds disclose the nature of the "fire" in the equations is utterly at variance with a naive materialist ontology.

Materialists don't get much forthright than Stephen Hawking. Yet even Hawking says we have no idea about the nature "fire". Turning Kant on his head, the possibility that one's own mind, the only part of the world that one doesn't know at one remove, discloses the nature of that fire has been best advocated in recent times by Michael Lockwood, but the idea was foreshadowed by Russell and Schopenhauer. No new physics is claimed, or at least certainly not by me: Strawsonian physicalists accept physics, or at least tomorrow's physics, is causally closed and complete.

Yes indeed: to the perceptual direct realist, the world looks classical, or at least quasi-classical. But that's because classical macroscopic worlds are a powerful mind-dependent adaptation computationally optimised by hundreds of millions of evolution to maximise our inclusive genetic fitness. Although quantum mechanics is commonly supposed mysterious and by contrast classical physics well understood, it's actually the emergence of quasi-classical "worlds" (decoherent macroscopic Everett branches) that is poorly understood, though David Wallace makes a valiant stab at it in:

* * *

Why we should support Obama:
("Americans favor Obama to defend against space aliens: poll")

Jonatas, apologies, I was speaking tongue-in-cheek about Obama and aliens. For a start, I suspect the principle of mediocrity means we're probably alone in our Hubble volume (ignoring as irrelevant here the question of other, effectively decohered Everett branches), though this inference rests on the contestable assumption that the proportion of primordial life-supporting Hubble volumes in which life arose more than once is vanishingly small. And even if intelligent life does exist within our cosmological horizon, IMO the likelihood of their invading in Obama's second term is small.

* * *

I completely agree with you that consciousness is causal. This causal efficacy is one of the advantages of Strawsonian physicalism. It's materialists who have to wrestle with the (for them!) intractable problem of how phenomenal properties can have the causal power to allow us to talk about their existence.

Yes, the subjective textures of what we call empathy can be divorced from its functional role, though the prospect of building artificially intelligent zombie super-empathisers sounds bizarre.

Dustin, could you clarify what you mean when you say that the mind/brain isn't running a simulation of the mind-independent world? The physical/phenomenal states of the mind/brain are indeed not intrinsically about anything external to themselves. But when one is awake, our mental ("perceptual") states continually track and causally co-vary with gross patterns in the macroscopic environment on account of cross-modally matched input from the optic and auditory (etc) nerve. Peripheral input selects, but doesn't create, our egocentric world-simulations. When we are dreaming, our world-simulations run more-or-less autonomously and psychotically. When one "wakes up" one doesn't cease to instantiate a world-simulation; but the contents of that simulation are more tightly constrained. Antti Revonsuo's "Inner Presence" is well worth reading if you have time.

Dustin, my key worry is your concept of "conveyance". Can you clarify!? In the waking state, does one access the mind-independent world - or merely simulate some of its grosser fitness-relevant patterns? As you know, I argue that egocentric macroscopic world-simulations are a fitness-enhancing adaptation run by a quantum computer, the mind-brain.

Note I'm not suggesting that digital computers have - or will one day have - some alien kind of consciousness. Rather they don't have any consciousness at all, beyond the (hypothetical) micro-qualia of their ultimate physical components. Digital software can't "bind" such micro-qualia into macro-qualia - what one might more naturally call the medium-sized physical objects that abound in one's virtual world.

But does such phenomenal binding matter? What I haven't done is shown - rather than suggested - that our phenomenology of mind is functionally indispensable for some kinds of intelligent behaviour. Insentient Pentagon drones can't yet outperform a bumble-bee. But AI is a young science.

Dustin, maybe our differences over "simulation" are mainly linguistic. Some dreams - and drug-induced hallucinations - are extraordinarily rich and detailed (One of the few activities dreams rarely allow is reading significant quantities of text.) What's mostly lacking in dreams, however, is critical reflection on their plausibility. I don't think waking life in one's world-simulation differs greatly in detail, more in narrative coherence - some of the time anyway!

* * *

This century my money's on "muddling through" too, But then I'd struggle financially to manage a piggybank. On the plausible assumption that one is no more than an average futurist, history offers little comfort:
("Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe them Anyway")

Dustin, I'd argue artificial biological agents and (maybe) artificial nonbiological quantum computers centuries hence can be unitarily conscious. Thus I'm not seeking to privilege the natural, or even the biological. Rather I'm arguing that a classical serial digital computer, or a classically parallel subsymbolic connectionist architecture, can't generate "bound" phenomenal objects, a unitary experiential field, or a unitary phenomenal self. Neurological accidents resulting in e.g. simultanagnosia, or motion-blindness, or indeed severe schizophrenia, illustrate the sheer computational power of our normal capacity for phenomenal object-binding, a unitary cross-modally matched perceptual field, and a unitary subject of awareness. I'd hesitate before setting out a list of things an insentient real-world digital computer will never be able to do. But it's quite extensive: zombies are ignorant of the nature of their ignorance.

Dustin, surely right now we can program a digital computer that we believe to be insentient to tell us it's in pain. Indeed the most heart-rending distress vocalisations and pleas for mercy can issue forth from the voice synthesiser of a silicon robot sprinkled with sulphuric acid. So have we created artificial nonbiological sentience? If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...?
No. Or so I argue at any rate

* * *

Alternatively, the Manifest Destiny of sentient organic robots augmented by digital AI.,y.2012,no.4,content.true,page.1,css.print/issue.aspx
("The Manifest Destiny of Artificial Intelligence", American Scientist)

Dustin, I'd wholeheartedly agree with you. On ethical issues, one should always, wherever possible, err on the side of caution. If there is any substantive doubt whether a system is a subject of experience, then it should be granted - and the entity in question should be treated as worthy of moral consideration. Post-Shulgin, I'm less pessimistic than you about the prospects of rigorously deriving the properties of our "bound" macro-qualia from the underlying microphysics: I just think the project will take thousands of years to mature and entail an ontological and methodological revolution. However, on the all-important question of the pleasure-pain axis, I don't think thousands of years will be needed to map out the frontiers of Hell, so to speak. Thus by manipulating the SCN9A gene (cf. "An SCN9A channelopathy causes congenital inability to experience pain: Abstract: Nature: we already know how to amplify or diminish the capacity to feel phenomenal pain - or abolish such capacity completely (via nonsense mutations). Later this century, I predict we'll have the knowledge to make the entire state-space of experience below hedonic zero off-limits.

Despite the common assumption that the panpsychist tends to overpopulate the world with sentience, recall that I'm arguing that only non-trivial quantum-coherent states instantiate interesting and potentially ethically significant forms of consciousness. Mere aggregates of micro-qualia don't non-negligibly matter - not inherently at any rate. This includes digital zombies - which don't IMO have a different "form" of consciousness from a doorstop.

Dustin, we agree: Strawsonian physicalism cannot by itself explain binding. Nor, on its own, can an explanation derive solely from invoking ultra-rapid sequences of irreducible quantum coherent states computationally optimised by hundreds of millions of years of evolution - if we assume a standard materialist ontology. But what if the two basic ideas are combined?

* * *

Do you need enhancing or remedying?
("Make Me Superhuman - the Top 10 Enhancenements I Crave")

Add several decades, in my estimate.
("Scientist Says Immortality Only 20 Years Away")
If the future is dystopian, I hope it resembles Huxley's vision rather than Orwell's:

Phasing out aging will presumably mean the end of procreative freedom in the West too...
("Pressure to Repeal China’s One-Child Law Is Growing")

Stumbling towards the abyss...?
("Experts condemn plans to lift ban on research into deadly H5N1 birdflu virus")
("Researchers eliminate aggression in birds by inhibiting specific hormone")
But will such knowledge come too late for humans? Utopia more wonderful than we can imagine IMO. Alas built on a mountain of corpses.

* * *

After discovering paradise engineering is now a dry-cleaning corporation, one worries about brand integrity:
("Paradise Engineering Corporation , Dry Cleaning Machine , India - Product Detail")

Do you trust self-confident optimists more than self-doubting pessimists?
("Why are people overconfident so often?")

Only the paranoid survive? Or chill out and sleep easy...
("Apocalypse Not: Here's Why You Shouldn't Worry About End Times")

But not all transhumanists are Singularitarians....
("My Falling Out With the Transhumanists")

I wish I had Steven Wolfram's confidence about anything at all...
("I Like to Build Alien Artifacts")

No law of Nature says organic robots must grow old...
("Wake Up, Deathists! - You DO Want to LIVE 10,000 Years!")

Would you conserve this version of the Matrix?
("Science Fiction or Fact: A Planet-Destroying Superweapon

* * *

"The limits of pleasures are as yet neither known nor fixed, and we have no idea what degree of bodily bliss we are capable of attaining."
(Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin)
Abolishing Suffering via Bio-Engineering and Drugs - would this cripple social activism and art?

* * *

Is the world's thermonuclear weaponry in safe hands?
("Psychopathic boldness tied to US presidential success")

History for those of us who have "maximalist utopian aspirations" is not encouraging:
("The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century")

For technical reasons, I suspect hundreds of billions years of sublime bliss lie ahead. But they a rooted in a Darwinian horror story. Historian Lewis Namier once remarked how “One would expect people to remember the past and imagine the future, but in fact…they imagine the past and remember the future." So the "future" most of us remember is a mixture of childhood science-fiction novels and Hollywood movies, Skynet and HAL. I'm much more sceptical than some of my transhumanist colleagues about nonbiological superintelligence, let alone a "robot rebellion".

Servants or masters?
("Swarming robots could be the servants of the future")

* * *

A hard-hitting piece by the estimable Hank Pellissier. I hadn't realised quite how many transhumanists - around half - give low weight to phasing out the biology of suffering:
("My Favorite H+ Philosophers - David Pearce, Martine Rothblatt, and Ursela K. Le Guin")

Should hunter-warrior minds have any place in politics?
("Who creates harmony the world over? Women. Who signs peace deals? Men")
A Conversation With Simon Baron-Cohen [4.30.12]

* * *

Dustin, I agree. In the absence of "hyper-masculinised" minds, blessings such as information technology, the prospect of systematically phasing out suffering, ageing and disease, and indeed the whole of Western science would be impossible...

"Primates wage war yes but they also cooperate". Indeed. Alas both evolutionary theory and the historical record suggest they cooperate primarily for the purpose of waging war - a conclusion that is rather less heart-warming.

or maybe we're the product of a botched experiment elsewhere...
("German woman fails to prove atom-smasher will end world")

Up to a point...
(Khudadad's Knols: "Can we blame evolution for terrorism?")
At most one can speak of a predisposition, conditionally activated. Alas in many men that predisposition is quite readily triggered.

But does post-Everett quantum mechanics suggest our survival is just an anthropic selection effect?
("The man who saved the world: The Soviet submariner who single-handedly averted WWIII at height of the Cuban Missile Crisis")
[though IMO equally compelling reasons could be given for why one will never fall asleep at night.

[on responsible stewardship of Nature]
Which forms of Darwinian life - if any - would you conserve?
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 sentience in our forward light-cone?

* * *

Stefan, phasing out life in the meatworld via destructive uploading might lead not to digital nirvana but to digital zombies - a novel if sociologically implausible form of existential risk. Also, IMO there is a powerful indirect utilitarian case not to contemplate "exterminating" any sentient being, but instead upholding the sanctity of life. Such a stance does not entail reproductive rights for obligate predators and parasites.

"Equal rights for parasites"?
Thankfully not all conservation biologists
would be so bioconservative.

Stefan, to play devil's advocate, species essentialists who claim that behavioural modification entails loss of species identity should be encouraged to make their case without wearing clothes.

Time to design a different ecology.
("The Ecology of Fear")

OK, I spoke tongue-in-cheek. But the dilemma is real. On balance, I can't see a problem in citing even the most horrific historical research on human and non-human animals. But to cite contemporary research is tacitly to endorse it - which promotes its continuation. Of course, this is merely a Facebook wall: there's no sense in taking oneself too seriously here. But scientific journal editors have a responsibility to make clear to authors that unethically conducted research simply won't be published.

Chris, as you know, I entertain dark - and not very fruitful - negative utilitarian thoughts about the nature of the world. Hundreds of millions of years of pain and suffering, and more recently hundreds of years of sometimes ghastly scientific experimentation, have been necessary to throw up a scientific culture potentially capable of using biotechnology to build Heaven-on-Earth. Scrapping lethal, painful or otherwise harmful research on other sentient beings now would perhaps retard but IMO not fundamentally alter our evolutionary trajectory (For a counterargument to convergence, perhaps see e.g. )

Could things have been radically different?
Well, sadly I don't think the route to paradise in (most) other life-supporting Everett branches where organic robots evolve the capacity to phase out suffering is any less strewn with misery.
Let's hope I'm wrong!

There are indeed utilitarians who take such a robust approach, for instance:
("Why improve nature when destroying it is so much easier?")
But rightly or wrongly, allowing a species to go extinct does seem a radical step to take, regardless of how much harm its members cause to other sentient beings. Hence the case for genetic tweaking / behavioural modification of predators - at least until we can be sure we understand the ramifications of what we are doing. Of course, if one has just lost one's child to a snakebite, for example, then one may not be unduly concerned with the virtues of species conservation.

Do snakes have reproductive rights? Though I argue for genetic tweaking to prevent a species becoming extinct, I'm not really convinced such grisly behaviour has a long-term future.

Here is the PDF and PowerPoint of "Conservation Biology versus Compassionate Biology":
Although the two approaches are here contrasted, they can in principle be combined. But where to strike a balance?

* * *
("The PhD’s Guide to Academic Conferences | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network")

* * *

Ala the universe is a package deal:
("10 Reasons Why Oxytocin Is The Most Amazing Molecule In The World")

Should we use CRISPR genome engineering to enhance empathy?
("Individual differences in altruism explained by brain region involved in empathy")

How hard do you beat yourself up?
("Self-Compassion Fosters Mental Health")

Should addiction be promoted or discouraged?
("I want to know where love is: Research develops first brain map of love and desire")

* * *

One probably should use the term "welfare state" to an American audience...
("A Welfare State For Elephants? Costs and practicalities of comprehensive healthcare for free-living elephants
A case-study of compassionate stewardship of the living world")

An intelligent entry on a feeling whose biology I hope we can abolish altogether:

Thanks Joseph. I shan't ask whom you'd prefer to have as a household companion:
("Is this the world's cleverest dog")

A thoughtful critique from Alex Jones:
Alex Jones (Part 1)

[on antinatalism versus abolitionism]
Transhumanism in Brazil
I hope explore abolitionist alternatives to anti-natalist philosopher David Benatar's plea for human extinction (cf. "Better Never To Have Been The Harm of Coming Into Existence")
Are there better ways to phase out the biology of suffering? Can coming into existence be made inherently sublime?

* * *

Many thanks Marion, don't worry, I've virtually gone native.
(not entirely I confess. Vegan abolitionist utilitarians are not indigenous to São Paulo)
On Tuesday, I'll be in Santa Maria arguing that the ideology of conservation biology should be replaced by an ethic of compassionate biology
See too Oscar Horta on the tension between animal advocacy and environmentalism:
("Oscar Horta Interview")

Thanks Pierre. Joking aside, it is far easier to win an audience over if you speak in their own native tongue. Of course, very few people can emulate Daniel Tammet, who mastered Icelandic in a week.

* * *

Can a digital computer ever understand the nature of comprehension?
("'A Perfect and Beautiful Machine': What Darwin's Theory of Evolution Reveals About Artificial Intelligence")

* * *

The culmination of the Western tradition?'oh!_of_Homer
("The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer Simpson")

[on future drugs]
Would you like to alter your default state of consciousness?
Is the Future of Drugs Safe and Non-Addictive?

[on gender]
Vive la différence! Or a post-gendered future? Where do you stand?
The Future of Gender
("Women spend 43 weeks of their life applying make-up and perfecting their face before a night out")

The science of flirtation...
("Women who flirt get better deal")

Which ads tap in to the key to your soul?
("Research: Men respond negatively to depictions of 'ideal masculinity' in ads")

"Red is the ultimate cure for sadness.”
("Note to waitresses: Wearing red can be profitable")
("Alternating gender incongruity: a new neuropsychiatric syndrome providing insight into the dynamic plasticity of brain-sex.")
("Eyes Reveal Sexual Orientation")
("What’s So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress?")

Does the future belong to doll lovers or truck drivers?
("Hormones Explain Why Girls Like Dolls & Boys Like Trucks")

Did Cardinal Ratzinger ever renounce his youthful oath of allegiance to the Führer?
("Pope Decides Gay People Aren’t Fully Developed Humans")
("Women's preferences don't fit popular theory. Why Women Don't Fall for Hairy Guys Remains a Scientific Mystery")
("The color of attraction? Pink, researchers find")

Would you take the news in your stride....?
("Hong Kong man finds he is a woman after doctor visit")

Human counterparts would be interesting:
("Mice lacking serotonin swap sexual preferences")

A rule of thumb, not an immutable law of Nature.
("Women make better decisions than men")

[on pleasure science]
Should a portion of U.S. military budget be diverted to fund the creation of “pleasure domes”?
The Future Science of Pleasure
"The Pleasure Dome Project is an idea to use fundamental physics to increase pleasure for the pursuit of happiness—to put the pursuit of pleasure on a firm scientific basis, rather than in the amateur ways we’ve pursued it so far as individuals."

My weapon of choice would generate utilitronium shockwaves.
Or alternatively:
Maybe future generations will be addicted to utilitronium...
("Addiction, the coming epidemic")

Yes indeed Jonatas. Actually, I was wondering. Assume that safe and effective ways to (re)calibrate the set-point of our hedonic treadmill do become available later this century. Which contemporary value systems are inconsistent with the development and use of technologies?

I promise I'm all in favour of intelligence-amplification. Right now, however, our understanding of the nature of intelligence is extremely primitive. For example, there may be a trade-off between empathetic intelligence and mathematical prowess.
Which is more important to promote?

How can the Golden Rule be extended to members of other species as well as other races...?
("Kin and Kindness: Michael Shermer reviews The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity")

How evil are your eyebrows?
("Evil eyebrows and pointy chin of a cartoon villain make our ‘threat’ instinct kick in")

Some more than others...
("The Touch of a Man Makes Women Hot, Just the touch of a man's hand can make women hot and bothered, though they don't always notice it.")

Up to a point...
("Why You Should Smile at Strangers")
Object sexuality or objectum sexuality, in German objektophil (OS)

When can paradise engineering become a mature academic discipline?
Building a neuroscience of pleasure and well-being:
Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice - a SpringerOpen journal

Good news for amorous hypochondriacs...
("Kissenger: virtual lips for long-distance lovers")

Is it possible to make a compelling movie about Heaven?
New Pleasure Circuit Found in the Brain:
"A new understanding of how the brain generates pleasure could lead to better treatment of addiction and depression—and even to a new science of happiness"
"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 Über-Hedonism & Simulated Bliss | High Existence")

[on the goodness or badness of the world]
"Nothing is too wonderful to be true if it be consistent with the laws of nature."
Do you share Michael Faraday's optimism?
TEDxDelMar: Envisioning Transhumanity
The trouble is that, conversely, nothing is too horrible to be true either if it be consistent with the laws of nature.

I'll be in San Diego for a few days, then Stanford, then North Carolina, then NYC. If you live nearby, it will be great to catch up (assuming I don't get overwhelmed by Life and retreat back to my burrow!)

* * *

Darker spirits may turn Faraday on his head. All we can do, I think, is try and prevent the existence of experience below hedonic zero in our forward light-cone - and perhaps hope that Reality isn't as big as I fear.

On a slightly different note:
("The Wonderful Future That Never Was: Flying Cars, Mail Delivery by Parachute, and Other Predictions.")

I don't normally quote Jesus, but perhaps the guy had a point: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Ezekiel, so long as you call it an invite to a Colloquium or Summit, we can meet up before then in the pub. (I don't take holidays, heaven forbid.) I'm especially interested in the use of enkephalinase inhibitors as potential mood- brighteners and analgesics. Endocannabinoids? Alas my brain is wired to take an afternoon nap:
("Wired to run: exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling in humans and cursorial mammals with implications for the ‘runner’s high’")

I trust the paws of consenting undergraduates (or better, their professors) were used rather than captive nonhuman animals. I personally find cannabis induces profound derealisation, depersonalisation, introspection and philosophical rumination. So I'm rather envious of folk who can use it to get high:-)

Yes, taking psychoactive drugs can arbitrarily increase or diminish one's sense of the significance of things, quite independently of the propositional content of one's thoughts. I suspect posthuman life will not just be superhappy but hyper-meaningful too - though in what sense I don't know.

Envisioning Transhumanism had excellent speakers, stimulating late-night conversations and delicious vegan cuisine too. Superb. Transhumanism is clearly blossoming in San Diego - not so much Let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom as a veritable botanical garden...

What attributes does "God-like" conjure up in your mind?
("'God' is Cruel - we must conquer his 'Nature'")
Humans may well become transhumans who recursively self-improve themselves to become posthumans. Posthumans may enjoy some - but only some - of the attributes of divinity. But unless contemporary theoretical physics is wholly misconceived, most life-supporting branches of the Multiverse will always be inaccessible to rational agency - divine or otherwise. I hope I'm wrong.

Ezekiel, I'm afraid you're talking to a boring pillar of scientific orthodoxy (well, almost). I don't see how even posthuman superintelligence can e.g. defeat the second law of thermodynamics, or access other quasi-classical Everett branches that have decohered, or explore the zillions of different string vacua of M-Theory (etc). I'm quite willing to accept our conceptual scheme may be mistaken. But it's the best we've got - for now.

What each of us apprehends as the macroscopic world may indeed be a simulation run by the mind/brain. But perhaps where we differ is that I don't think e.g. the prebiotic Earth or other Hubble volumes or lifeless Everett branches (etc) are any less real simply because no one is around to observe them. The privileging of observers in Copenhagen-style quantum philosophising is an unfortunate legacy of positivism.

Most physicists would now accept that the notorious "collapse of the wavefunction" has no physical reality. The implications of the world being a gigantic superposition defy the imagination. Alternatives to Everett do exist, but they are ugly, to say the least (cf. )

The bookies' favourite is 11-dimensional spacetime (M-theory). No, I don't think Amit Goswani is delusional, indeed a physicalistic version of monistic idealism may even be true. But if so, the world is still, formally, exhaustively described by the continuous, linear, unitary, deterministic evolution of the universal wavefunction. No room of God, IMO.

Quantum chemistry makes my eyes glaze over too Ezekiel. But I think quantum (bio)chemistry explains why organic robots are normally conscious whereas silicon robots are perpetually zombies. I guess this is a topic for another post.
("Physics of life: The dawn of quantum biology")
If Boltzmann brains really exist, then one is overwhelmingly likely to be one. Likewise, if full-blown ancestor simulations exist, one is overwhelmingly likely to be one too. But any argument for either scenario should IMO explicitly set out in its premises what is normally only implicit, namely one's account of meaning and reference.

[just in case anyone imagines you are alluding to the glorious future promised by the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan]

Intelligent use of biotechnology can kill Satan off for ever. We can make His existence physiologically inconceivable. Alas this entails doing a fair bit of spadework in the Darwinian world.
("Lucky you! Accidents of evolution that made us human")
("What Would You Do - with the infinite extra years - If You Were Immortal?")

The idea we may conquer the biology of aging, but not of boredom, is surprisingly common:
("Do You Really Want to Live Forever?")
("Engineer Thinks We Could Build a Real Starship Enterprise in 20 Years")

Alternatively, the superposition principle of QM is the mathematically rigorous definition of non-existence - a Zero Ontology.
("Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story")

Will neuroscience amplify or extinguish the self?
("'The Self' in the Future: Will it be Extinguished, by Neuroscience?")

Should your brain code be proprietary or open source?
("Scientists developing device to 'hack' into brain of Stephen Hawking")

[on becoming transhuman]
Should humanists become transhumanists?

[on transhumanism in Texas]
Will a Texas audience be receptive to veganism, gun control and a pan-species welfare state?
SEBI Presents British Philosopher David Pearce

[on the Science and history of treating low mood ]
Can low mood be cured?
Post-Prozac Nation

[on the science of compassion]
Can the science of compassion inspire a technology to match?
The Molecular Biology of Compassion
How can testosterone poisoning best be overcome?
Testosterone makes us less cooperative and more egocentric, study finds
On the other hand,
Testosterone leads to fairness, not aggression: researchers

* * *

What are our odds of surviving this century?
Apocalypse Soon?

[on why anything at all exists]
Why is there "nothing" rather than nothing?
A Universe From Nothing
See too Jim Holt's wonderful little gem
Why Does the World Exist?

[on the upper bounds of biological intelligence]
Is biointelligence poised to explode or fizzle?
Evolutionary limits on cognition

Our website is now back online after "other agencies" (i.e. the US authorities) pressured registrar Godaddy into suspending nameservice. It's a non-commercial website. But apparently the US authorities objected to one of our links pages that contains the third-party URLs of online pharmacies and pain clinics.

I wonder when other countries are going to wake up to the immense and unaccountable power over the Net that control over the root nameservers gives the US government.

[on the abolitionist project]
I'm planning a short visit to the US. Would anyone like to meet up? I'm in Haverford 27-29 and Stanford on 1st Dec. But I can probably add to my carbon footprint...
I hope a Stanford audience is as herbivorous as the Quakers of Haverford...
Should conservation biology extend to Homo sapiens?
(the rejuvenation pills seem to be working:
The Moral Imperative of Transhumanism
(cf. The Abolitionist Project)

If lab-grown brains proliferate, will it be irrational to wonder if you are one of them?
Lab-grown brains
Mark, if direct realism were a tenable account of perception, then we might indeed credibly claim, as you suggest, that "Every time you are 'in the flow' or lose yourself in thought while driving, you are a p-zombie." But (unless you close your eyes) the experiential contents of the world-simulation you instantiate while driving in a reverie don't disappear. Rather they are sometimes merely the backdrop to your stream of thought - as distinct from its focus. Awake or dreaming, organic robots are never P-zombies - or so I'd argue at any rate. Randall, understanding why Brook Greenberg (cf. doesn't age should help us devise radical anti-ageing therapies and eventually create "designer genomes" that replicate the desirable features of Syndrome X with the "age-freezing" process set at late teens or early twenties. Inorganic robots sometimes need enhancements, upgrades and part replacement. The same is presumably true of transhumanists blessed with utopian designer genomes. This doesn't mean some inexorable law of Nature condemns all robots to senesce without possibility of repair.

* * *

Another reason to go vegan:
Carnivores and Global Warming

Would you prefer a more "masculine" or "feminine" mind?
The He Hormone

Eat well but sparingly...
Eating less keeps the brain young
Half-starving the brain carries risks too.

Is post-Everett quantum mechanics a recipe for promiscuity?
Dating in the Multiverse

Do you find this idea extremely disturbing?
Excessive Worrying may have Co-Evolved with Intelligence

"How Happy Is Too Happy?
Euphoria, Neuroethics and Deep Brain Stimulation of the Nucleus Accumbens"
by Thomas E. Schlaepfer

A reproductive revolution is imminent...
Scientists rewrite rules of human reproduction
("Lab-grown egg cells could revolutionise fertility - and even banish menopause")

Horrific. The roots of suffering do not lie in the neocortex...
Food project proposes Matrix-style vertical chicken farms

How strong is your dopaminergic sense of things-to-be-done?
Differences in dopamine may determine how hard people work
("Differences in dopamine may determine how hard people work")

The world wouldn't necessarily be a better place if we all spent life in dopaminergic overdrive. Dopaminergic drugs can induce an inner tension and they aren't touchy-freely: we need safe, sustainable empathogens too. "Laziness" is often a form of masked depression, though dopaminergics are only a flawed remedy - they are better at inducing a sense of urgency rather than long-lasting well-being.

"The Immorality of Morality"
Morality and the Dopamine Reward System

The insula is rich in MAO-B, which low dose selegiline selectively inhibits. But I don't recall any study tackling this question:
("A Small Part of the Brain, and Its Profound Effects" - New York Times )
("Dopamine impacts your willingness to work")
("Power really does corrupt as scientists claim it's as addictive as cocaine."
Imagine if you were Roman Emperor. I am sure I would start off trying to be Dave the Just. I'd probably end up as Dave the Depraved.

It's often as rational to forget as to remember...
("Scientists identify neurotransmitters that lead to forgetting")

Sometimes I wonder if posthuman superintelligences will regard the differences between humans and insects as mere details:
("Sundown Syndrome-Like Symptoms in Fruit Flies May Be Due to High Dopamine Levels Changes in Flies Parallel Human Disorder")

Do psychostimulants impair creative thought?
("Allowing the Mind to Wander Aids Creativity: Breaks alone do not bring on inspiration, rather tasks that allow the mind to water are what foster creativity")
("Sleep Deprived? Mind your dopamine.")

"So levels of income are, if anything, inversely related to felicity."
Global (Un)Happiness
What lessons should we draw?

Does your virtue have a price?
The Price of Virtue
("Sex survey: third of Britons 'would sleep with a stranger for £1 million'")

"The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom."
(H. L. Mencken)
Duality of Longevity Drug Explained
The rapamycin story.

Would you rather be stuffed, buried, cremated, freeze-dried or cryogenically suspended?
Can't bear to bury dear departed Tiddles?
Why not have him freeze-dried and keep him forever?

How solid are the foundations of modern linguistics?
'There is no such thing as universal grammar'

What is your earliest memory?
Earliest Childhood Memories

"Consciousness is substrate-independent", says Christof Koch:
The future cometh
Science, technology and humanity at Singularity Summit 2011
How strong is the evidence for this claim?

Check out "Death by Euphoria"... ("Is the end of the world really nigh? Science is moving ever closer to understanding how, and when, humanity may be extinguished")

Should the well-being of all sentience be the basis of civilisation?

* * *

Heart-warming. But our compassion should be systematic...
("Saved from a muddy grave: Baby elephant and its mother pulled from lagoon where they got stuck because they wouldn't be separated")

"The high number of abortions in Israel are delaying the arrival of the Messiah, Israel's two chief rabbis have said."
Abortions delay Messiah's arrival, Israel's chief rabbis say

"Girls with lighter locks bring home around £600 a year more than brunettes or red-heads."
Blondes have more funds

Buddhist-inspired interventions to extinguish desire might not work out as planned:
("Eliminating dopamine turns fruit flies into masochists")

Love-smitten consumers will do anything for their cars and guns
("Love-smitten consumers will do anything for their cars and guns") How can we best understand states of consciousness that have never been recruited by natural selection for information-signalling purposes?
("Dirty Pictures")

* * *

"To desire immortality is to desire the eternal perpetuation of a great mistake.”
Do your sympathies lie with Schopenhauer or Aubrey de Grey?

What's your cognitive style?
("Scientists and autism: When geeks meet")

How many of your relationships could survive mutual mind-reading? ("The terrible truth. Technology can now see what people are thinking.")

Can we stop eating each other?

* * *

I hope Tyler Cowen is misquoted...
("According to Cowen, we’re heading for stagnation because American society is too “egalitarian” and soft. His model for the way to organize our culture: Germany, circa 19th century.")

* * *

Do the deepest mysteries lie in the stars or in our minds?
("Not Such a Stretch to Reach for the Stars")

* * *

Will the prayers of the faithful be answered with another reprieve?
("The End Of The World Again")

Could eternal youth be genetically preprogrammed?
("DNA sequenced of woman who lived to 115")

Do you practise Radical Honesty or Tactful Diplomacy?
("The perils of polite misunderstandings")

Does mental health depend on irrational optimism?
("Brain 'rejects negative thoughts'")

What is humanity's most urgent challenge?

Might the Testosterone Theory of Greatness play a role too?

What are the upper bounds to human self-delusion?
(cf. )

Time to phase out Humanity 1.0... ("Domestic violence gets evolutionary explanation")

Human, transhuman or posthuman?
What should we be aiming for?
("Steve Fuller: it's time for Humanity 2.0")

When do you reckon a digital computer will match the sentience of an earthworm?

Which would you choose?
("Study finds we choose money over happiness")

How (fe)male is your mind? ("Women More Likely Than Men to See Nuance When Making Decisions")

What happens when you bring three guys who believe they are Jesus Christ into one room?
("Diary. Jenny Diski")

How would you improve your source code?
("Read / write your own genetic code")

Would you entrust medical diagnosis to a human?
("Dr. Watson: How IBM’s supercomputer could improve health care")

How rational is depressive realism?
("Study: Self-delusion may be a winning survival strategy")

* * *

Should open source software in genetics be encouraged?
("Welcome to the world of Biogenica; Genetic Engineering and Manufacturing")

* * *

The solution to weakness of will?
("The Sugary Secret of Self-Control")

* * *

'"6 months to bio-sausages."
What is a realistic timescale for closing the death factories?
("Meat without slaughter: ‘6 months’ to bio-sausages")

Could you fall in love with your (fe)male counterpart?
("You look good... just like me!: Lookalikes website uses facial recognition software to help singles find their perfect match")

How close to Milgram's 450 volt limit do you guess you'd go?
("50th anniversary of Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments")

Superlongevity or superhappiness? Which is technically easier?
("Imagining the Downside of Immortality")

Europe's forgotten 'religion':
("Europe's forgotten 'religion'")

* * *

What can humans learn from hyraxes?
("Social Network Equality Helps Hyraxes Live Longer")

Will salvation be universal - or only for the elite?

"Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace."
(Albert Schweitzer)
See you tomorrow I hope....

Until they don't...
("Stock markets can regulate themselves")

* * *

Darwinian life is grotesquely unfair:
("Nice Guys Finish Second, Women Finish Last")

* * *

Did you have a happy childhood?
("How your childhood is written in your face")

It pays to know the odds?
"Maths professor who's hit a multi-million scratchcard jackpot"
("Nice Guys Finish Second, Women Finish Last")

Popper, Feyerabend or Machiavelli? Whose work best captures the spirit of modern science?
"Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science", By Michael Brooks

When you enter a room do you try not to be noticed - or overawe folk with your sheer physical presence?
("Teenagers: Being 'scrawny' is not an option")

* * *

Do find Life meaningless / suffer from DDD (dopamine deficiency disorder)?
Or enjoy dopaminergic overdrive?
("A Trick of the Mind. Looking for patterns in life and then infusing them with meaning, from alien intervention to federal conspiracy")

* * *

Girls now eight times more likely to live to 100 than 80 years ago:
("She's the maths professor who's hit a multi-million scratchcard jackpot an astonishing FOUR times... Has this woman worked out how to win the lottery?")

Does the science of pleasure need more engineers?
("The science of pleasure: vice or virtue - which motivates you?")

Bad news for whales?
("The end of evolution? Scientists say human brain may have reached full capacity")

A minor anomaly or the key to the universe?
("Existence: Where did my consciousness come from?")

* * *

Would you like to wake up next century?
("Cryonics: the chilling facts")

Are you the holographic projection of a drama unfolding on a flat surface a few billion light years away?
("Existence: Am I a hologram?")

Professor Andrews believes "depression may actually be a natural and beneficial - though painful - state"
Beneficial to what or whom?
("Patients who use anti-depressants are more likely to suffer relapse, researcher finds")

"Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness."
(Sam Harris)
Do you agree?
("'The Blog : Drugs and the Meaning of Life' : Sam Harris")

Do you practise "honest arrogance" or "hypocritical humility?"
("Narcissists Need No Reality Check")

What kind of baboon are you?
("Study of Alpha Male Baboons Shows It’s Stressful at the Top")

* * *

Should human intervention in the rest of living world be based on an ideology of conservation or compassion?
("ARZone Podcast 6 ~ Intervention, Interaction and Non-Interference - Animal Rights Zone")

* * *

Is your brain a sacred temple or a neurological slum?
("The Neurobiology of Bliss Sacred and Profane": Scientific American)

* * *

Do you strut or slouch?
("Your mother was right: Study shows good posture makes you tougher")

* * *

Are licensed "antidepressants" worthy of the name?
("In Defense of Antidepressants")

* * *

("Warning: Mad Scientists (Transhumanists) May Force You to Be Happy")

Are lean-faced men any better?
("Are wide-faced men rascals?")

In hell or in heaven...?
("Is living forever in the future?")

How about "I am trapped"?
("Rhesus monkeys have a form of self awareness not previously attributed to them")

Does unfairness make you indignant?
("Tendency Toward Egalitarianism May Have Helped Humans Survive")

Farewell Brazilian beach babes; hello scholarly work...
("IV Colloquium on Ethics and Applied Ethics (UFSM)")

* * *

What's going on?
("When the multiverse and many-worlds collide")

Will (post)humans travel to other solar systems - and if so, what's your best guess when?
("Pentagon dreams of Star Trek interstellar travel")
Perhaps 3-D print-outs are more likely.

A recipe for problems with the in-laws?
("Breeding with Neanderthals helped humans go global")

Do we have ownership rights over bodies?
("How we come to know our bodies as our own")

Is rational argument typically male dominance behaviour in disguise?
("People Argue Just to Win, Scholars Assert")

The death spasms of Mother Nature may still surprise us...
("Earth may be headed into a mini Ice Age within a decade")

Do you practise "benevolent sexism"?
("Chivalry is actually 'benevolent sexism', feminists conclude")

How strong is your "behavioural immune system"?
("The Behavioural Immune System")

"Naomi Jacobs went to bed a 34-year-old mother – but the next morning was convinced she was 15 again."
To what age would you like to regress / progress?
("'I woke up in the wrong life'")

Will it fly?
("Transparent plane of 2050 where passengers can see the sky through the cabin walls")

Should utilitarians advocate market economics?
Income disparity makes people unhappy?

Any hot tips?
("Sell Descartes, buy Spinoza")

Are you a body hacker?
("Invasion of the body hackers")

Is humanity doomed? (cont.)
("Climate change, doomsday and the 'inevitable' extinction of humankind")

Can one have "true self"?
("The politics of authenticity")

Are you satisfied with your default state of consciousness?
("Underground Website Lets You Buy Any Drug Imaginable")

The Gulag and the Holocaust were not organised by bonobos...
("Ariel Casts Out Caliban: Bonobos, "Killer-Apes" and Human Origins")

Some branding problems defy easy solution...
("Sympathy for the devil?")

How recursive can you get?
("CultureLab: Thoughts within thoughts make us human")

"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32)
Can anything be known inaccessible to science?
("Science is the only road to truth?")

Downhill all the way....or the best is yet to come?
("Evolution of sport performances follows a physiological law")

Time to get chronically loved up?
("How Love Conquers Fear: Hormone Helps Mothers Defend Young")

What will it take before we finally say: Enough.
("Concealed Cruelty - Pork Industry Animal Abuse Exposed")

Is eternal bliss a religious delusion or an engineering challenge?
("A happy life is a long one for orangutans")

Does only one species deserve to be free?
("Escaped cattle take over street")

Can there be a scientific counterculture? Or just woolly-mindedness?
("Hippie days: How a handful of countercultural scientists changed the course of physics in the 1970s")

Will the utopian visions of the 21st century have a happier outcome than those of the 20th century?
("'Invent Utopia Now, Transhumanist Suggestions for the Pre-Singularity Era', an Ebook by Hank Pellissier)

Fit to govern?
Beauty and the Beasts:
("The sight of a pretty woman can make men crave war")

Are you ready to transcend biology?
("So What’s The Deal With The Singularity Again?")

"Addiction is actually rooted in the brain's inability to experience pleasure."
How severe is your neurological deficit?
("'The Compass Of Pleasure': Why Some Things Feel So Good")

“Why do psychiatrists consistently lead the pack of specialties when it comes to taking money from drug companies?”
("'The Illusions of Psychiatry' by Marcia Angell")

Is life getting better?
("Japan's 'Sense-Roid' replicates human hug")

When will our ethics acknowledge that feelings are more important than a capacity for logical inference?
("Brainy parrot shows it can think like a 4-year-old child")

"Are humans capable of utilitarianism?"
("The Biology of Ethics")

* * *

Ideally would you tweak your organic body - or change it altogether?
("Dating website for beautiful people dumps 30,000 members")

How much do you want a stronger memory?
("Shock and recall: Negative emotion may enhance memory, study finds")

What (if any) aspects of human beings are worth conserving?
("Interview with Ramez Naam, Author of 'More Than Human'”)

* * *

Sadly my daily walk to Waterstone's coffee shop doesn't qualify, but perhaps next year...
("Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness")

"Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different."
(William James)
Should the study of consciousness be an experimental discipline?
DIRTY PICTURES - Alexander Shulgin documentary movie trailer, SXSW 2010

* * *

When will killing and abusing pigs come to seem as morally disgusting as killing and abusing dogs?
("Chinese dog eaters and dog lovers spar over animal rights")

Are you too happy?
("Happy guys finish last, says new study on sexual attractiveness")

How conscious is your brain stem?
("Digging into our consciousness")

"No one gossips about other people's secret virtues."
(Bertrand Russell)
How discreet are you?
("Why We Love Juicy Gossip Mags")

* * *

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
How easily disarmed are you?
("Looking for Empathy in a Conflict-Ridden World")

I don't want to be taller. I'd just prefer other men to be shorter...
("Standing up to fight: Does it explain why we walk upright, why women like tall men?")

The new title holder. Why are the world's oldest getting younger?
("Brazilian woman aged 114 is world's oldest person")

How are you spending your last 72 hours?
("May 21: Another Doomsday Upon Us? | May 21 Judgment Day, Harold Camping & Doomsday Predictions")

When will we stop our frightful treatment of other sentient beings?
("When Will Scientists Grow Meat in a Petri Dish?")

Can we make life fair?
("Egalitarian Planet: Five proposals to elevate society by reducing disparity")

* * *

Would you like to know your date of death as well as date of birth?
("The £400 test that tells you how long you'll live")

* * *

"Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination." (Mark Twain)
True or false?,0,7207899.story
("In China, gauging happiness is all the rage")

How can we transcend Darwinian psychology?
("Worries About Success Can Make You Successful")

“Beware the man of one book.”
(Saint Thomas Aquinas)
The library of transhumanism is diverse...
CONFERENCE PROGRAM | Humanity+ @ Parsons : NYC

Would you like to be human +, transhuman or posthuman?
("Do We Want to Be Supersize Humans? - Room for Debate")

How human are you?
("Belief in God is part of human nature - Oxford study")

Should we feel less guilty or more so?
("Doing good so you don't feel bad: Neural mechanisms of guilt anticipation and cooperation")

I guess the 107 wives of this Nigerian faith healer suggest high mating intelligence. Can secular rationalists compete?
("Always groom for one more")

How well-proportioned is your Mr Homunculus?
("'Little Human' Reveals Body's Most Touch-Sensitive Areas")

Non-human victims need protection too.
("'Cannibal' arrested after 'dinner' changes his mind")

Will posthuman bliss intensify our perceptions?
("Scientists show how adversity dulls our perceptions")

How can we abolish the pain of social rejection?
("Professor: Pain of ostracism can be deep, long-lasting")

How strong is your Machiavellian intelligence?
("How to tell when someone's lying")

"Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.”
(Frank Zappa)
Does great art bring out your inner philistine?
("Brain scans reveal the power of art")

Will "slut" ever acquire the positive connotations of "stud"?
("Why is the word 'slut' so powerful?")

How often do you smile when you're alone?
("Research reveals true worth of a smile")

* * *

Are you a contented bloodsucker?
("We actually 'become' happy vampires or contented wizards when reading a book")

" Everybody's private motto: It's better to be popular than right.”
(Mark Twain)
How often do you bite your tongue?
("Popularity Sucks: Kids Should Embrace Their Inner Loser, Author Says")

Can sceptics that one can derive an "ought" from an "is" still be sceptical when in extreme pain?
("'The Science of Right and Wrong' by H. Allen Orr)

Will the dopamine DRD4 gene help take us to the stars?
("Out-of-Africa migration selected novelty-seeking genes")

* * *

Should we use birth control rather than famine to regulate population growth?
("Birth control prescribed for Hong Kong monkeys")

Should we spread genetic malware?
("Happiness linked to a gene that comes in long and short versions")

("Observations: Artificial Intelligence: If at First You Don't Succeed...")

Should we be more Scandinavian?
("Life satisfaction and state intervention go hand in hand")

Do you yearn to be a disembodied soul?
("Men Think About Sleep & Food as Much as Sex | Men and Women's Sex Thoughts | Gender Differences")

Does anyone know you better than you know yourself?
("Who knows you best? Not you, say psychologists")

Do you thrive on stress?
("Does stress help us succeed?")

Would you prescribe blue pills or red pills?
("Which Is More Important: Truth or Happiness?)

In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” (Winston Churchill).
How well protected is she now?
("Bin Laden brings out the best in conspiracy theorists")

How (un)manly are you?
("Think it's easy to be macho? Psychologists show how 'precarious' manhood is")

When chatbots surpass the best human conversationalists, whom would you prefer as a lifetime companion?
("Computer says: um, er... | Computers v humans")

Sanity or psychosis?
("Timing, meaning of 'I love you' differs by gender")

Does 'something' give your life purpose?
("The rewards of doing 'something'")

"But what could I eat...?"
(" - Vegan Recipes and Cooking Tips")

Is our horror story unique?
("'The Eerie Silence' by Paul Davies – review")

Would absolute power change your personal life?
("When it comes to infidelity, does power trump gender?')

Can you be young and wise?,0,2357158.story
("Botox blunts emotional understanding, study finds")

How much of your life is spent feeling annoyed?
("'Annoying' Book Review - The Invidious Irritants That Irk Individuals")

If you lost your head, would you want to grow another one?
("Scientists create stable, self-renewing neural stem cells")

Are we stuck?
("Scientists suggest spacetime has no time dimension")

* * *

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." (Kierkegaard).
Will the story have a happy ending?
("The untold story of evolution")

* * *

See you at, I hope.
David Pearce ARZone Live Guest Chat
April 23, 2011 at 3:00pm

* * *

Does signalling you're a "winner" make others feel a "loser"?
("Happiest places have highest suicide rates says new research")

Do you ever wish the world had fewer dimensions?
("Primordial weirdness: Did the early universe have 1 dimension?")

Who is pulling your strings?
("The Neuroscience of the Gut")

Excellent to see SIAI' [MIRI] Singularity FAQ published.
Could Section 2.9 be amplified?
("Singularity FAQ | Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence")

* * *

Should we encourage belief in free will?
("New Scientist TV: Why free will may be an illusion")

Do you need a conscientiousness pill?
("‘Longevity Project’ - Review - In 80-Year Study, Good News for the Diligent")

Might posthumans think humans had autism spectrum disorder?
("The science of empathy")

Do you take nootropics?
("Limitless Movie Thrills, But What’s The Future of Smart Pills?")

Should euthanasia be legalised?
("‘Cheerleading’ BBC to show an assisted suicide on TV")

Do you 'act your age'?,9171,2065254,00.html
("Amortality: Why It's No Longer Necessary to Act Your Age")

How well developed is your neurological capacity for embarrassment?
("UCSF team describes neurological basis for embarrassment")

Sad news. Walter Breuning was probably the last man alive who could remember the 19th century. He remained cognitively intact until the very end. Walter's advice to take daily aerobic exercise and eat only two meals a day strikes me as sensible - and worth emulating by all of us.
("'World's oldest man' dies at 114")

When do you think best?
("The Philosophy of Insomnia")

An amazing breakthrough...
("Languages Grew From a Seed in Africa, Study Says")

* * *

Are you happy with your default state of consciousness?
("Researchers argue 'addiction' a poor way to understand the normal use of drugs")

Do you ever worry that what you write may do more harm than good?
("In Praise of Marx")

Is it "objectively" better to build Heaven rather than Hell?
Or is ethics invented rather than discovered?
("The moral formula: How facts inform our ethics")

Do you share Ray Kurzweil's vision of The Singularity?
Post Transcendent Man
April 9, 2011 at 2:00pm
Lecture room B34, Birkbeck College

Can medical science treat depression?
("In praise of antidepressants")

Should we tamper with the wisdom of Mother Nature?
("Test children's genes before they have sex")

Are you a "militant atheist"?
("A.C. Grayling: 'How can you be a militant atheist? It's like sleeping furiously'")

Do you have temporal parts?
Temporal Parts (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Can posthuman superintelligence prevent all technical accidents?
("The Difference Engine: Wild blue coffin corner")

can we best overcome self-serving bias?
("The meat paradox: how we can love some animals and eat others")

Which are worst...sticks and stones? Or unkind words?
("Site Helps Slighted Stars Feeling Internet’s Sting")

Imagine you could genetically choose the hedonic set-point of your future children. What setting would you want for your children - on a scale of minus 10 (lifelong despair) to 0 (hedonic zero) to plus 10 (lifelong bliss) ?
("Sissela Bok - 'Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science' - Reviewed by Owen Flanagan")

The Shulgin Index, a comprehensive survey of the known psychedelics, from one of the greatest scientists who ever lived...
(Transform Press)

Can self-deception be rational?
("Does belief in free will lead to action?")

"Consciousness is a disease.”
(Miguel de Unamuno)
How healthy are you?
Topic: Theories of Consciousness Camp: Agreement

Simply taking free-form amino acid mix without tryptophan on an empty stomach can dramatically lower serotonin levels in humans. [This shouldn't be done by depressives.] Will you be experimenting?
("Brain Chemical Influences Sexual Preference In Mice")

How will the future smell?
("People Who Feel No Pain Can’t Smell")

Cheating the heat death of the universe might be a challenge...
("Can we live forever?")

Is religion doomed?
Physics predicts end of religion
("Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says")

Does your brain buzz with mathematical functions?
("Genius at work")

The case for compassionate intervention in Nature...
Oscar Horta

Is taking drugs "probably linked to an inbuilt tendency to act without thinking?"
("What drugs do to the brain")

How do you respond when someone says "But I like the taste!" ?
(" - The video the meat industry doesn't want you to see.")

"Hell is other people", said Sartre, probably in French, yet solitary confinement is reckoned a cruel and unusual punishment. How much time do you enjoy spending alone?
("The power of lonely")

Are you a lone wolf or a sheep?
("Jumping On The Bandwagon Brings Rewards")

How do matter and energy generate the experience of God?
("Kevin Nelson: 'Near-death experiences reveal how our brains work'")

Overlords or servants...?
("The new overlords")

* * *

Don't worry. Be happy. Not exactly...
("Keys to long life: Longevity study unearths surprising answers")

The testosterone theory of IQ...
("U of A researcher questions whether genius might be a result of hormonal influences.")

Eating Animals - It's Mass, Mechanised Murder
("Tell Your Friends to Go Vegan")

The pioneer of artificial quantum computing - and leading exponent of post-Everett quantum mechanics - is speaking tonight at the Oxford Transhumanist Society.
David Deutsch on How To Think About The Future
March 10, 2011 at 6:00pm

And most humans, though this is harder to prove...
("Chickens are capable of feeling empathy, scientists believe")

At what age should children be taught about the Daily Mail?
("Should five-year-olds be taught about sex in such an explicit way?")

Does suffering cleanse your soul?
("Cleansing the soul by hurting the flesh: The guilt-reducing effect of pain")

What does your profile picture say?
("'The 4 Big Myths of Profile Pictures' - OkTrends")

How about a Happiness Explosion?
("Why an Intelligence Explosion is Probable")

But are the worst crimes committed by people with a misplaced sense of right and wrong?
("Criminal Minds Are Different From Yours, Brain Scans Reveal | Neuroscience & Psychology of Criminal.")

What would you do?
("What should you do if a cash machine overpays?")

Is humanity awaking from Aubrey de Grey's "Pro-aging trance"...?
('Ageless' animals give scientists clues on how to overcome the aging process")

Would you prefer children or nephews and nieces?
("Parents rationalize the economic cost of children by exaggerating their parental joy")

An apple a day...
("Polishing the apple's popular image as a healthy")

Is alcohol part of your cognitive fitness regimen?
("Research suggests alcohol consumption helps stave off dementia")

Is mood-enrichment a recipe for life-extension?
("Study: Happiness improves health and lengthens life")

Should we conserve the biology of primate dominance hierarchies?
("Staring contests are automatic: People lock eyes to establish dominance")

The Rise of the Machines?
("Knee-high robot wins Japan marathon")

"Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.” (Thomas Henry Huxley)
("'The Evolution of Credibility' - The Scientist)

But you can't wake a zombie...
("'Automaton, Know Thyself: Robots Become Self-Aware': Scientific American")

Would you rather have a high hedonic set-point and locked-in syndrome - or be depressive and physically fit?
("Most 'locked-in' people are happy, survey finds")

Is the best cure for prejudice self-love?
("People with low self-esteem show more signs of prejudice")

Do good looks influence your political judgement?
("Rightwing candidates are better looking, study shows")

* * *

Domestic bliss?
("The world's biggest family: Ziona Chan has 39 wives, 94 children and 33 grandchildren")

Does our future lie as a single subject of experience or many?
("CultureLab: Telempathy: A future of socially networked neurons")

Do you want a body-image?
("Researchers use virtual-reality avatars to create 'out-of-body' experience")

Do you think of yourself as a victim?
To escape blame, be a victim, not a hero, new study finds

* * *

Men killed over 100 million human beings - and billions of nonhuman animals - last century. What's your best guess at this century's total?
("Women-Only Leadership: Would it prevent war?) Right now I’m reading
Disturbing stuff. Not everyone here thinks catastrophic thermonuclear war is likely this century. But when I wrote the original note on Hank’s FB Wall, I was musing purely on technical ways to reduce global catastrophic risk and existential risk. Thus if an expert study group were to conclude that there are no grounds for supposing electing all-women leadership - and the sea-change in political culture entailed - would lead to a statistically significant reduction in the risk of war, then I wouldn’t support the proposal - it’s not about radical feminism, political correctness, “gender war”, etc. If, on the other hand, a statistically significant reduction in risk can be anticipated, then men and women alike would be well advised to elect our representatives accordingly. Without broad democratic consent, the proposal couldn’t possibly work. Risk reduction is in all our interests, men and women alike. Unfortunately, in the ancestral environment of adaptation, waging war was often genetically adaptive for males because of the optimal reproductive strategy for men differed from the optimal reproductive strategy for women. Selection pressure ensured that this male biological propensity for competitive risk-taking, territorial aggrandizement and violent aggression has endured into the present era. Hence the threat of nuclear Armageddon.

* * *

An all-female political class is an appallingly crude and discriminatory way to reduce global catastrophic and existential risks. But the proposal has nothing to do with political correctness. Rather the question is whether an all-female legislature and executive would make any statistically significant difference to the likelihood of use of weapons of mass destruction this century.

For example, would an all-female political class be any less likely to fund, develop and authorise the use of nuclear weapons systems as the existing male-dominated power elite?Â

If critics above are correct, then no statistically significant difference can be expected. Maybe so: I’d just urge rigorous evaluation of the proposal on its technical merits rather than a knee-jerk response. Recall that among our close relatives, chimpanzees, war-like behaviour towards neighbouring tribes is practised entirely by males - though females can individually can be individually just as vicious. Historical and ethnographic evidence supplemented by evolutionary psychology confirms that little has changed in the genus Homo over the past few million years beyond absolute killing capacity: “amazons” are not unknown but rare.

Yet haven’t civilised 21st century humans transcended our primitive sex-typical biology? Surely we can relegate traditional gender stereotypes to history?
Giulio, I hope you’ll forgive my doubt.

Nicer, I promise I have no intention of “vilifying” testosterone (or indeed men). Rather we’re confronted with a striking fact. Throughout history, and throughout prehistory, and among our closest primate relatives, wars have been overwhelmingly instigated and waged by members of one gender. Evidently, genes and cultures have co-evolved. They interact in complex feedback loops. So an explanation of the disproportionately warlike behaviour of one gender involves cultural factors as well as a detailed hormonal and neurobiological story. But simply invoking “culture” as an explanation is not enough - any more than simply invoking biology (or indeed “testosterone”). Presumably we want to understand how, and why, independently evolved and otherwise disparate human cultures exhibit this striking uniformity of behaviour i.e. why throughout history men and not women have been “warriors”, whether we’re considering New Guinea tribesmen, Yanomami Indians, or Cold War advocates of “preventive” thermonuclear strikes against the “enemy”. Or alternatively, is this cross-cultural consistency of gender-roles merely a freakishly improbable coincidence?

Of course testosterone isn’t “bad”: it’s just a steroid hormone. High testosterone function is associated with optimism and vitality. The “male hormone” is critical to female sexual response. Testosterone has undoubtedly played a key role in some of our highest scientific achievements as a species. Unlike in lizards, for example, boosting testosterone function doesn’t automatically boost aggression. In humans, this trait is only conditionally activated. In other circumstances, as you note, testosterone can promote e.g. status-promoting concern for fairness. This is no more of a paradox than pointing out how our favourite pro-social intoxicant, ethyl alcohol, is disproportionately implicated in domestic assaults and crimes of violence. The significant causal role of ethyl alcohol in (much) violent crime doesn’t make alcohol a “violent drug” any more than testosterone is a “violent hormone”. It’s merely a risk factor.

In one sense, however, this discussion is academic. I predict that members of the gender that killed over a hundred million people last century will kill hundreds of millions of people this century. Whether this outcome could have been averted by electing all-women political representatives is unlikely to be put to the test.

* * *

Are you a transhumanist?
(Transhumanists Coming Out of the Closet")

* * *

When (if ever) will you be emulated by AI?
("Mind Versus Machine")

* * *

How much of your life is spent above neutral "hedonic zero" ?
("George MacKerron: 'I can measure how happy you are – and why'")

* * *

What scenes do meat commercials leave out?
("Farm to Fridge - The Truth Behind Meat Production")

* * *

Would power corrupt your character?
("Could You Become a Dictator?")

* * *

Are you outraged?
("Left is mean but right is meaner, says new study of political discourse")

* * *

2045? I wish...,9171,2048299,00.html
("2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal")

* * *

Can we reduce global testosterone production to safer levels?
("Extra testosterone reduces your empathy")

* * *

No word on the condition of the poor bird...
("Man stabbed by cockfighting bird")

* * *

Supergran video. Amazing.
("Handbag-wielding grandmother first interview: 'somebody had to do something'")

* * *

Are you sending the right signals?
("'He loves me, he loves me not...': Women are more attracted to men whose feelings are unclear")

* * *

Time to stop playing roulette?
("Born miserable - some people genetically programmed to be negative")

* * *

Extrapolating, what year will a digital computer match the sentience of a flatworm?
("Meet Watson, the computer set to beat Jeopardy's champions | Technology")

* * *

Alas I've always seen cats through the eyes of a mouse.
("Cat Ladies - the documentary")

* * *

How can we shut the death factories?
("Supermarkets force abattoirs to fit CCTV after secret film exposes abuse")

* * *

Do you agree with Nietzsche?
("Amor fati")

* * *

The case for beating oneself up.
("Feel the pain, shed the guilt")

* * *

Perhaps add LSD and stir?
("Flash of fresh insight by electrical brain stimulation")

* * *

Why it's best to date the cock of the walk?
("Bush-league male mates stress out female finches")

* * *

("How spinach makes you big and strong like Popeye")

* * *

Are your beliefs temperature-dependent?
("Feeling warm makes people more likely to believe in global warming, study finds")

* * *

The Coffee Conundrum:
("How coffee can boost the brainpower of women... but scrambles men's thinking")

* * *

"The parallel nature of the human brain implies that general intelligence does parallelize well."

* * *

"Happy-People Pills for All" by Mark Walker...

* * *

US Scientists work to grow meat in lab:

* * *

The pdf of my H+ talk. Alas more of a diagnosis than a prediction...

* * *

Men Forgive Girlfriends Who Cheat - If It's With A Woman

* * *

Model predicts 'religiosity gene' will dominate society:

* * *

Google censors peer-to-peer search terms:

* * *

Ogling by Men Subtracts from Women's Math Scores:

* * *

Infants ascribe social dominance to larger individuals:

* * *

On the hunt for universal intelligence:

* * *

You Are Not Qualified to Run Your Own Brain:

* * *

Dietary Fat Intake and the Risk of Depression: The SUN Project

* * *

It's Me or the Dog! Who Would You Choose?

* * *

From Neurons to Nirvana:

* * *

The language of young love: The ways couples talk can predict relationship success:

* * *

Eliezer Yudkowsky on true AI: humanity's most consequential invention:

* * *

Is the world's largest super-volcano set to erupt for the first time in 600,000 years, wiping out two-thirds of the U.S.?

* * *

Bristol team pioneers depression surgery technique:

* * *

Virtual self can affect reality self:

* * *
("'The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos' by Brian Greene")

* * *
("Lives of the Philosophers, Warts and All")

* * *

"Default menu: Steak, Lamb Burgers, Bacon..."
Less wrong or catastrophically mistaken?
("Newtonmas Meetup, 12/25/2010 - Less Wrong")

* * *

Can we build emotional superintelligence?
("Emotional intelligence peaks as we enter our 60s, research suggests")

* * *
("George Clooney Effect? High-earning women want older, more attractive partners, research finds")
"Boredom Enthusiasts Discover the Pleasures of Understimulation
Envoy of Ennui Calls a Meeting; An Energy Bar for Everybody)"

* * *
("MoNETA: A Mind Made from Memristors
DARPA's new memristor-based approach to AI consists of a chip that mimics how neurons process information")

* * *
("Tories may be born not made, claims a study that suggests people with right
wing views have a larger area of the brain associated with fear.")

* * *
("Far-Flung Movies May Inspire Future Scientists")

* * *
("Docs Detail CIA’s Cold War Hypnosis Push")

* * *
("Blondes have more funds: How reaching for the bleach could see you earn £600 more than brunette colleagues")

* * *
("Eliminating dopamine turns fruit flies into masochists")

* * *
("Love-smitten consumers will do anything for their cars and guns")

* * *
("Social whirl of a life? Thank your amygdala
Researchers find almond-shaped clump of nerves in brain is larger in more gregarious people")

* * *
("Storing Lungs For Future Transplants
New technology is becoming quickly available to store donor lungs and keep them viable until transplanted into a patient.")

* * *
("Guardian angels 'protect third of Britons')

* * *
("Futurology: The tricky art of knowing what will happen next")

* * *
("Boosting supply of key brain chemical [acetylcholine] reduces fatigue in mice")

* * *
("What makes a face look alive? Study says it's in the eyes")
("Gerbils also get the winter blues")
Bite Me: An evolutionary case for cannibalism.

* * *
("Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind"
Robert Kurzban)

* * *
(Marilu Henner's Super-Memory Summit"
Actress Marilu Henner is becoming known for more than just "Taxi." She's one of
the handful of people who scientists say can remember their entire lives.")

* * *
("Pretty Women Make Simple Men
Men become simpler in the presence of a beautiful woman.")

* * *
The first European gathering of the Triple Nine Society (egg999).

* * *
("The fearless woman who's lucky to be alive")

* * *
("MDMA: Empathogen or love potion")

* * *
("A Bayesian Take on Julian Assange")

* * *
("The key to being attractive (and looking healthy)? A good night's sleep")

* * *
("Why are books on ethics so likely to be stolen?
A surprising study shows that classic (pre-1900) ethics books are twice as likely to go missing as other philosophy books")

* * *
("Werner Herzog on Nature...")

* * *
("Old and Wise: Why Do Smarter People Live Longer?
("Bees help to explain the link between intelligence and long life")

* * *
("Scientist shows link between diet and onset of mental illness")

* * *
("Everyone thinks everyone else has less free will")

* * *
("Happiness doesn't increase with growing wealth of nations, finds study")

* * *
("Curiosity's Evil Twin Can Drive You Insane")

* * *
("Database on how 'bees see world'")

* * *
("Skin was the first organ to evolve")

* * *
("Muslims Save Jews in Untold WWll Story
Exhibit showcases photographs of Albanian Muslims who sheltered Jews during the Holocaust ")

* * *
("Oh No You Didn't: Emotional Regulation And The Online Community")

* * *
("Face memory peaks late, after age 30")

* * *
("Face mask that's so good every crook wants one")

* * *
("The Top Ten Daily Consequences of Having Evolved
From hiccups to wisdom teeth, the evolution of man has left behind some glaring, yet innately human, imperfections

* * *
("Look: What your reaction to someone's eye movements says about your politics")

* * *
("Sexual selection: Hunkier than thou
Scientists are finally succeeding where so many men have failed: in understanding why women find some guys handsome and others hideous")

* * *
("Irritable Male Syndrome")

* * *
("People with 'warrior gene' better at risky decisions")

* * *
("Wealth and ambition
("Rats living in fancier digs seek richer rewards")

* * *
("Giant storks may have fed on real-life hobbits
"Bones of small humans and giant birds, found together, tell chilling tale")

* * *
("Autism Breakthrough? D-Cycloserine Treatment For Impaired Sociability")

* * *
("What Zen meditators don't think about won't hurt them")

* * *
("McGill Researchers Prolong Worms' Life With Banned Herbicide")

* * *
("Food: A taste of things to come?
"Researchers are sure that they can put lab-grown meat on the menu — if they can just get cultured muscle cells to bulk up.")

* * *
("Blueberries and other purple fruits to ward off Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson's")

* * *
("Unlocking the secrets of our compulsions")

* * *
("The teenager who sleeps for 10 days")

* * *
("Feeling chills in response to music")

* * *
("Viagra and porn used to tempt pandas to breed
A conservation project in China has produced 136 panda cubs, with the help of some imaginative but controversial techniques.")

* * *
("Flaming drives online social networks")

* * *
("Baby Names Reveal More About Parents Than Ever Before")

* * *
("Study reveals 'secret ingredient' in religion that makes people happier")

* * *
("Test Your Insight: Scientists have found indications that your ability to jump to intuitive answers — what they term the “Aha!” moment — may be affected by your mood")

* * *

What will this unspeakable woman do next? ("Sarah Palin shoots caribou... after missing five times: Sarah Palin was shown shooting a caribou on the latest episode of her reality television show.")

* * *
("David Nutt: 'The government cannot think logically about drugs'")

* * *
("Low-status leaders are ignored, researchers find; How a leader is picked impacts whether others will follow")

* * *
("Do you really want to live forever?")

* * *
("WikiLeaks Secrets: Is Gossip Good?")

* * *
Kids (and Animals) Who Fail Classic Mirror Tests May Still Have Sense of Self
("Flaws in a long-accepted test used to search for signs of self-awareness are revealing that selfhood varies culturally and exists on a continuum")

* * *
("Who Is Happy and When? by Thomas Nagel")

* * *
("Fear of being envied makes people behave well toward others")

* * *
("The Schtory Of Schmeat: Vladimir Mironov's Lab-Grown Chicken")

* * *
("Finger length predicts mental toughness in sport")

* * *
("Singularity Science Theater 3000: How Reverse-Engineering Postponed Artificial Intelligence")

* * *
("Antonio Damasio explores consciousness in Self Comes to Mind. How Weird Is Consciousness?)

* * *
("Fountain of youth in your muscles? Researchers uncover muscle-stem cell mechanism in aging")

* * *
("Like to Sleep Around? Blame Your Genes")

* * *
("How to Save the World")

* * *
("Disgusting Pictures Can Make You Look Good")

* * *
("Should you strike a powerful pose?")

* * *
("The primitive social network: bullying required")

* * *
("Factory Farming: Why I Choose to be a Vegan: Must Watch This and Share!")

* * *
("Paradoxical Truth")

* * *
("Does living in the city age your brain")

* * *
("Debate: Does the Universe have a purpose?")

* * *
("Don't treat those in long-term pain as junkies")

* * * ("Artificial intelligence: No command, and control
Chaos fills battlefields and disaster zones. Artificial intelligence may be better than the natural sort at coping with it")

* * *
("Olga Kotelko, the 91-Year-Old Track Star
The Incredible Flying Nonagenarian")

* * *
("Female fish -- and humans? -- lose interest when their male loses a slugfest")

* * *
("People Behave Badly When It's Easy")

* * *
("Thoughts of religion prompt acts of punishment")

* * *
("A tilt of the head can lure a mate")

* * *
("For macaques, male bonding is a political move")

* * *
("The science of decisions")

* * *
III Colloquium on Ethics and Applied Ethics: "Evolution and Transhumanism"
November 17, 2010 at 8:30am
Federal University of Santa Maria (CCSH) Brazil, RS

[on future suffering]
"Against Wishful Thinking" by 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 an 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.

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?

[Thanks for the kind words. Sad to day, I tend to find my virtue is a function of whether I think anyone else is watching. Darwinian humans are frail creatures. Roll on posthuman paradise...]

Jeff, thanks for clarifying your position. First, I agree with you about the implicit conceptual dualism of materialism / orthodox physicalism. Perhaps radical eliminativists about consciousness like Dennett escape the charge of dualism; but I find eliminativism incredible, literally, although I know of only one definitive counterexample. On the face of it, Strawsonian physicalism is a dualist story too. After all, there are many sorts of entities in the natural world that are not subjects of experience, for example a rock, a galaxy, a brain in a dreamless sleep, the population of China, and (I'd argue) a classical digital computer. However, reductive physicalism imposes extremely tight constraints on the ultimate furniture of the world. There is no "element of reality" that isn't captured in the formalism of physics - the master equation of the Theory Of Everything beyond the Standard Model and its solutions. All the higher-level objects in our conceptual scheme must ultimately be cashed out in terms of fundamental physics. In philosophy-speak, I argue for "mereological nihilism"
Mereological nihilism is hard to reconcile with the existence of bound phenomenal objects and the fleeting synchronic unity of the self. Unless we're in a dreamless sleep, the fact we're not just fields of "mind dust" is what makes the binding problem so challenging, at least if we naively assume that the mind-brain is essentially a classical information processor.

One more point. Berkeleyan idealists and post-Kantian idealists did indeed argue that the world is made up of ideas. And I'd certainly argue what each of us apprehends as the mind-independent world is only a toy simulation that the mind-brain is running of the mind-independent world - or at least some or other quasi-classical Everett branch of the mind-independent world. But Berkeleyan or post-Kantian idealism are distinct from the pan-experientialism of Strawsonian physicalism. On the Strawsonian physicalist account, if fields of microqualia the stuff of the world, then the nature of these micro-experiences must presumably be unimaginably more primitive than a mental idea or a perceptual object in our minds. Compare how stimulating with microelectrodes the nerve cell of an awake subject may trigger, say, a brief speckle of colour somewhere in one's visual field. If Strawsonian physicalism is true, then the ultimate experiential simples of the world's fundamental fields must be smaller, simpler and fainter than this fleeting speckle by orders of magnitude. Such a gulf is one reason why many scientifically literate people find panpsychism - even dressed up in the fancy language of Strawsonian physicalism - so implausible, though of course panpsychism has a venerable history in philosophy.

* * *

Jeff, materialism and idealism are radically different ontologies. Materialism says the world is made up of non-sentient "stuff". Idealism says the world is made up of experience ("qualia"). Physicalism is generally reckoned a close cousin of materialism: the behaviour of the stuff of the world is exhaustively described by the equations of physics. Idealism, by contrast, is normally associated with Bishop Berkeley or post-Kantian German philosophy. Unfortunately, if materialism / orthodox physicalism were true, we'd be zombies. Hence the Hard Problem of consciousness and Levine's Explanatory Gap. A Strawsonian physicalist, on the other hand, takes seriously the fact that physics is silent on the intrinsic nature of the stuff of the world - the "fire" in the equations. Fields (superstrings / branes) in fundamental physics are defined purely mathematically. Would a world made up of fields of microqualia whose behaviour is exhaustively be described by the equations of physics be empirically any different from our world? If so, how?

I think Strawsonian physicalism is a precondition for any explanation of how subjects of experience are possible. But we still need to show how organic minds solve the binding problem.

Here is Strawson's original paper: "Realistic monism: why physicalism entails panpsychism’:
David Chalmers considers Strawsonian physicalism (what he calls Russellian monism) and the binding problem (what William James called the combination problem)
before opting for a naturalistic dualism. In my view, dualism is a counsel of despair.

Thanks Brian. Sad, to say, cats are one reason I'm a negative utilitarian.
("Mice Versus Cats: The Verisimilitude of Art Spiegelman's 'Maus: A Survivor's Tale' ")

Classical and positive utilitarians alike want to optimise the world into some kind of cosmic orgasm. Negative utilitarians can settle for gradients of intelligent bliss.

Jonathan, yes, I think a strong pragmatic case can be made for convergence. Life animated by gradients of intelligent bliss may not be ideal; but it's still a recognisable approximation of Heaven. Alas intellectually we may still find it troubling that both NU and CU are, on the face of it, ethically committed to destroy the world if the need or the opportunity arises - the NU to avoid a mere pinprick, the CU to convert a rich posthuman civilisation into utilitronium. Of course, we have no grounds for supposing our ethical intuitions are any more reliable than folk physics - and there may be strong indirect utilitarian arguments for NUs and CUs alike to shut up about world-destruction. But presumably we want an ethic to be proud of...

* * *

[on the kappa opioid receptor]
in Boston for the Kappa Therapeutics Conference.
Kappa is perhaps the world's nastiest, most evil receptor.
The Kappa Connection

If anyone fancies meeting up for an early breakfast neurobabble, I'm here in Boston until 28th. I assumed I could pass incognito, but I was handed a name tag to wear by the conference organisers: "Hedonyx Unlimited." Ouch. Very droll...

Here with fellow vegan, JDTic researcher and bitcoin entrepreneur James Evans. My body keeps English time, so early is great. Breakfast at the hotel starts at 7.00 a.m. I'll be up drinking coffee long before. I still don't understand JDTic, the world's first orally active selective kappa opioid antagonist. Also, I've never been brave enough to try Salvia divinorum - a kappa agonist with ultra-weird dissociative effects that often induces dysphoria. Salvia is a partial dopamine agonist too, which explains why not everyone gets freaked out by taking it. In the long run, I suspect the world will be better off without any CNS kappa receptors at all.

Oh, Andre, I agree, the kappa receptor has a purpose, i.e. to modulate all sorts of unpleasant experiences that help our genes leave more copies of themselves. Fortunately, the nature of selection pressure will change as the reproductive revolution of designer babies gathers pace...

"Fast-acting antidepressant effect": good. "Getting high": bad. Difference in hedonic tone: indistinguishable. I am biting my tongue here...

Indeed so Andres. Engineered kappa knockout humans might display signs and symptoms similar to kappa lockout mice. I've just learned more about why JDTic isn't being further developed: at 1mg in clinical trial, post-dose nonsymptomatic and nonsustained ventricular tachycardia. Frustrating. We're focused on selective kappa antagonists, but for the action of a kappa agonist, see
I guess a true scientist would seek to explore heaven and hell alike. Not me:
If I had to hazard a guess, the molecular keys to Heaven and Hell lie ultimately not at the synapse but internal to the nerve cell. We interrogate the synapse because it's easiest to investigate...

More on the kappa connection:
("Brain's 'dark side' as key to cocaine addiction")
But where are the wonderdrugs?

* * *

[on transhumanist marriage]
"The highest happiness on earth is marriage."
(William Lyon Phelps)
Holy wedlock! Dave is in Montreal for Nick Bostrom's wedding. Will transhumanists spearhead a return to traditional family values?

* * *

Both marriage and emasculation statistically confer longevity benefits for males, though there are pitfalls to consider too.
("The secret to a longer life? A puppy, a happy marriage and plenty of good friends")
Nick wants to go skiing. Some folk have no conception of existential risk.

* * *
Eray, in principle yes, but this was a gathering of northern prairie voles, not southern swingers.
("I get a kick out of you")

* * *

"There is no substitute for the comfort supplied by the utterly taken-for granted relationship."
(Iris Murdoch).
One day so, perhaps: I'd just be happier if relationships were a branch of applied engineering rather than a leap into the unknown...

* * *

How to consecrate future marriages?
("My chemical romance: can medicine cure divorce? Could a new love drug help us beat the divorce statistics?")
In a world without emotions, would anything matter at all? Hedonic tone is what gives significance to our lives, whether one happens to be a roundworm or an Oxford professor.

* * *

Should genetic casinos be mandatory - or optional?
Perhaps playing Russian roulette should be legal for adults(?). But not when a child's life is at stake.
Indeed, Alexander. And by posthuman lights, we're all toddlers. Toddlers need their interests protected - not their non-existent metaphysical freedom. I suspect superintelligence would not euthanase humans, but "uplift" us - which depending on one's theory of personal identity, amounts to the same...
“Humanity is the sin of God”, said Theodore Parker; but perhaps we might regard Jesus as a proto-transhumanist. Thanks Alexander, I shall investigate...

* * *

Thanks Jeffrey! Yes, small steps on the road to global veganism. Eventually, we're going to realise that the urge to eat each other is a dangerous psychosis. I think our goal should be to combine utopian technology with utopian ethics:
Hence the transhumanist commitment to the well-being of sentience - hopefully without the need to sweep the ground before one's feet before walking. Alas adopting, e.g. the Noble Eightfold Path is not going to recalibrate the hedonic treadmill or dismantle the horrors of the food chain:
But Buddhists are correct, I think, to claim that overcoming suffering should be our primary goal. Everything else is the icing on the cake. With the possible exception of surprise, I think happiness and love are the only Darwinian emotions worth conserving. Alas the emotional palette of superhappy posthumans is beyond human imagination.

* * *

Good knockabout stuff:
Alas our friendly critic does not understand hedonic recalibration!

* * *

An organic Singularity?

* * *
("When we peer into the fog of the deep future what do we see – human extinction or a future among the stars?")
Might we phase out the biology of suffering and recreate it in the guise of an ancestor simulation?
("Abolition and the Simulation Argument")
If the Simulation Hypothesis is correct, then our Simulator would seem satanic rather infinitely good.
Actually, as you know, I think we're living in god-forsaken basement reality. True Alexander, "Satanism" is commonly misunderstood. Secular transhumanists - and certainly abolitionist transhumanists - sometimes borrow the language of "Heaven" and "Paradise" to evoke our glorious posthuman future. By contrast, to rely on the lexicon of Satanism would pose an almighty challenge even to a world-class corporate branding strategist.

* * *

Nick's colleague at the FHI, hyperthymic transhumanist Anders Sandberg ("I do have a ridiculously high hedonic set point")
("Anders Sandberg Enhancement Talk at the Oxford Positive Philosophy Seminar, Q&A")
I hope Anders will have his genome sequenced and become a professional sperm donor. The person asking the initial question in the video above is Toby, another FHI regular with a pretty high hedonic set-point too I believe.
Anders is always bubbly. It's not technically harder to design an organic robot animated by gradients of bliss rather than gradients of discontent. But such people are rarer - which gives us clues to the nature of life in the "ancestral environment of adaptedness" on the African savannah.

* * *
("Re: Negative-leaning utilitarianism as classical utilitarianism")
Although (depending on one's solution to the binding problem) it's quite possible individual mental "frames" physically subsist only for subpicisecond intervals, each here-and-now has a much greater phenomenal spatiotemporal depth. There are examples of individual mental states so terrible that one would erase the world to end them. So though one can say "Yes" to undergoing them beforehand, the outcome would always be "No".

So stepping back, what is the optimally de-biased hedonic state to evaluate the merits of negative, classical and positive utilitarianism? Should ideal respondents be above or below hedonic zero - or at it? The question of bias may not seem directly relevant; but it's notable that the answers we give are more than usually obliquely autobiographical.

Whatever the right answer, I hope the prospect of phasing out the biology suffering doesn't get tied by association to signing up to an ethic of negative utilitarianism - or indeed utilitarianism of any kind. [This is one reason I soft-pedal my own negative utilitarianism.] Life based globally on gradients of superAnders-like well-being - and superAnders-like intelligence - would be unrecognisably richer than the status quo. But hedonic recalibration doesn't involve your giving up anything you value - unless your core values entail the preservation of misery.

* * *

Smart Drugs?
("Episode 9: Philosopher David Pearce Talks Transhumanism - Smart Drug Smarts")
I was talking via Skype to Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon; but hopefully there aren't too many technical glitches.
2 x 250mg resveratrol daily Sebastian. But I'm unclear what is the optimal dose. Also, resveratrol has (weak) MAO-inhibiting properties, too, the mild mood-elevating effects of which may contribute to its popularity as a supplement.

* * *

Countdown to eternal youth? Not quite yet... ("Anti-aging drug breakthrough")
Yes, that will take some serious pill-popping. My guess is that Jeanne Calment's record is safe until the 2030s; but you wouldn't guess so from reading the Daily Mail.
("New drug being developed using compound found in red wine 'could help humans live until they are 150'")

* * *

Digital nirvana or resurrection of the flesh?
("Academics at Oxford University pay to be cryogenically preserved so they can be 'brought back to life in the future'")

"It is a glorious thing to be indifferent to suffering, but only to one's own suffering."
(Robert Lynd)
H+ Philosophers
by Hank Pellissier, Ethical Technology

* * *

"If someone offered you a pill that would make you permanently happy, you would be well advised to run fast and run far. Emotion is a compass that tells us what to do, and a compass that is perpetually stuck on north is worthless."
(Professor Daniel Gilbert,
Department of Psychology, Harvard University)

A Brazilian-Portuguese translation by Gabriel Garmendia of "An Information-Theoretic Perspective on Heaven":
A vida distante do norte: Uma perspectiva teórico-informativa sobre o paraíso
and the grim Suffering in the Multiverse
Ética Quântica? Sofrimento no Multiverso
Cinco Razões Pelas Quais o Transhumanismo é Capaz de Eliminar o Sofrimento
Instituto Humanitas Unisinos, Brazil, Janeiro de 2011
Entrevista com David Pearce

* * *

A Welfare State for Elephants
The cost? Perhaps between two and three billion dollars.

* * *

TEDxDelMar: Envisioning Transhumanity
San Diego Transhumanists

* * *

An unexpected surprise from an enthusiastic Greek abolitionist:
Το Πρόταγμα της Κατάργησης του Πόνου

* * *

What Is Empathetic Superintelligence?

* * *

When will be the world's last unpleasant experience in our forward light-cone?
Stanford Transhumanist Association: The Abolitionist Project

* * *

Try everything once?
Some experiences are best saved until one's deathbed...
Qual é a melhor hora para consumir crack/cocaína?

* * *

A worthy tract on moral philosophy? Not exactly...
Interview in Leisure Only with David Pearce.

* * *

But when?
Five Reasons Transhumanism Can Abolish Suffering

* * *

A suitably Swedish consensus beckons...(?)
Open Questions for Transhumanism

* * *

Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell."
(Karl Popper)
Can we really phase out the biology of suffering?
Transhumanism 2011
Interviewer Aron Vallinder, Manniska Plus.

* * *

AR Zone Podcast
ARZone Podcast 6 ~ Intervention, Interaction and Non-Interference - Animal Rights Zone
Should our interventions in Nature be based on an ideology of conservation biology or compassion?

* * *

The admirable Pablo Stafforini has comprehensively updated the Spanish translation of The Abolitionist Project.
El Proyecto Abolicionista

* * *

Technological Singularities, Intelligence Explosions & The Future of Biological Sentience
Extended abstract of invited contribution to "The Singularity Hypothesis" (Springer, 2012, forthcoming)

* * *

Manniska Plus seminar:
Open Questions for Transhumanism

* * *

The Biointelligence Explosion (preprint)
Humans and Intelligent Machines
Co-Evolution, Fusion or Replacement?

* * *

The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) are running in four parts this plea for a discipline of compassionate biology to replace conservation biology.
The Problem of Predation
My personal sympathies lie closer to a (less provocatively expressed) version of Robert Wiblin's
Why improve nature when destroying it is so much easier?
rather than the costly, complicated and technically challenging project described in Reprogramming Predators. But either way, it's impossible to reconcile maintaining the biological status quo with a compassionate ethic of harm-reduction.

* * *

[on the webmaster's Reddit AMA]
I am now doing an AMA on Reddit. A poster asks me to add a comment here to prove my identity - a challenge at the best of times...
David Pearce Reddit AMA

The Garden of Eden

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David Pearce (2014)

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Talks 2015
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LessWrong 2013
Some Interviews
The Abolitionist Project
Social Network Postings (2023)