I don't know how limited plasticity is. Speculation: maybe if we put on some color filter glasses that changes red with green or somehow mixes up the colors, then maybe even after a long time we'd still have the experience of the original red, even when looking at outside green material. Okay, let's say it's not plastic enough, we'd still feel an internal red qualia. But in what sense?

What if the brain would truly rewire to recognize plants and moldy fruit etc. in the presence of "red" perception and the original "green" pattern would feed into visceral avoidance of "green" liquids (blood) and would wire into the speech areas in such a way that nominal "green" sensation is extremely linked to the word "red" (for example as measured by these experiments where the words meaning colors are colored with different colors, for example the word blue written in yellow). In this case, how could we say that the person is still "seeing green" when presented with objectively red things? What would be our anticipation under this hypothesis?

Now, I think emotions are the same thing. Of course it could be that the brain architecture cannot rewire itself to start sweating and shouting and producing adrenaline in the presence of the previously pleasure associated pattern. Maybe the two modules are too far away or there is some other physical limitation. Then the question is pointless, it's about an impossible scenario. If the brain can't rewire itself then it still produces the old kind of behavior that is inconsisent with reality so it is observable (e.g. smiling when we would expect a normal person to should actually shout in pain).

I don't think we can view pleasure as simply existing inside the brain without considering the environment. Similarly, the motor cortex doesn't contain the actual information of what the limbs look like. It's a relay station. It only works because the muscles are where they are. You can't tell what a motor neuron controls unless you follow its axon and look at what muscle it is attached to. The neuron by itself isn't a representation of the muscle or that muscles movement. An emotional neural pattern is also only associated with that emotion to the extent that it results in certain responses and is triggered by certain stimuli. Things are not labeled up in the universe. Does the elephant feel like it's using its nose when it's lifting things up? Or does it rather feel like an arm? It isn't a productive line of thinking. If it quacks... It's like asking whether abortion is really a sin, whether "irregardless" is really an English word, whether a submarine can really swim.

When you replace the pattern but keep all behavior and physiological responses normal, then I'd say the person is having the usual emotions that we associate with the responses and behavior that we can observe. The problem isn't about what we anticipate but the fact that we are at edge cases that we haven't encountered yet and we don't have an intuitive idea of how we should interpret such a situation.

I think you should start smaller and slower. Try thinking about animals with simpler brains like worms, and what it means that it is having a certain sensation.

I don't know how limited plasticity is. Speculation: maybe if we put on some color filter glasses that changes red with green or somehow mixes up the colors, then maybe even after a long time we'd still have the experience of the original red, even when looking at outside green material. Okay, let's say it's not plastic enough, we'd still feel an internal red qualia. But in what sense?

That would be an interesting experiment to do. We already know that people can adapt to wearing lenses that invert the picture or shift it laterally. Changing the colours ... (read more)

The mystery of pain and pleasure

by johnsonmx 1 min read1st Mar 201543 comments

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Some arrangements of particles feel better than others. Why?

We have no general theories, only descriptive observations within the context of the vertebrate brain, about what produces pain and pleasure. It seems like there's a mystery here, a general principle to uncover.

Let's try to chart the mystery. I think we should, in theory, be able to answer the following questions:


(1) What are the necessary and sufficient properties for a thought to be pleasurable?

(2) What are the characteristic mathematics of a painful thought?

(3) If we wanted to create an artificial neural network-based mind (i.e., using neurons, but not slavishly patterned after a mammalian brain) that could experience bliss, what would the important design parameters be?

(4) If we wanted to create an AGI whose nominal reward signal coincided with visceral happiness -- how would we do that?

(5) If we wanted to ensure an uploaded mind could feel visceral pleasure of the same kind a non-uploaded mind can, how could we check that? 

(6) If we wanted to fill the universe with computronium and maximize hedons, what algorithm would we run on it?

(7) If we met an alien life-form, how could we tell if it was suffering?


It seems to me these are all empirical questions that should have empirical answers. But we don't seem to have much for hand-holds which can give us a starting point.

Where would *you* start on answering these questions? Which ones are good questions, and which ones are aren't? And if you think certain questions aren't good, could you offer some you think are?

 

As suggested by shminux, here's some research I believe is indicative of the state of the literature (though this falls quite short of a full literature review):

Tononi's IIT seems relevant, though it only addresses consciousness and explicitly avoids valence. Max Tegmark has a formal generalization of IIT which he claims should apply to non-neural substrates. And although Tegmark doesn't address valence either, he posted a recent paper on arxiv noting that there *is* a mystery here, and that it seems topical for FAI research.

Current models of emotion based on brain architecture and neurochemicals (e.g., EMOCON) are somewhat relevant, though ultimately correlative or merely descriptive, and seem to have little universalization potential.

There's also a great deal of quality literature about specific correlates of pain and happiness- e.g., Building a neuroscience of pleasure and well-being and An fMRI-Based Neurologic Signature of Physical Pain. Luke covers Berridge's research in his post, The Neuroscience of Pleasure. Short version: 'liking', 'wanting', and 'learning' are all handled by different systems in the brain. Opioids within very small regions of the brain seem to induce the 'liking' response; elsewhere in the brain, opioids only produce 'wanting'. We don't know how or why yet. This sort of research constrains a general principle, but doesn't really hint toward one.

 

In short, there's plenty of research around the topic, but it's focused exclusively on humans/mammals/vertebrates: our evolved adaptations, our emotional systems, and our architectural quirks. Nothing on general or universal principles that would address any of (1)-(7). There is interesting information-theoretic / patternist work being done, but it's highly concentrated around consciousness research.

 

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Bottom line: there seems to be a critically important general principle as to what makes certain arrangements of particles innately preferable to others, and we don't know what it is. Exciting!

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