This is the same username2 as the sibling.

After spending some time thinking about it, I think there is a constructive response I can make. I believe that brains and the goals they encode are fully malleable, given time and pressure. Everyone breaks under torture, and brainwashing can be used to rewire people to do or want anything at all. If I was actually in a hellish, eternal suffering outcome I'm sure that I would eventually break. I am absolutely certain of that. But that is because the person who breaks is no longer the same as the person who exists now. But the person that exist now and is typing this response would still rather roll the dice on a hellish outcome than accept certain oblivion. Give me the option of a painless death or _, for literally anything in that blank there, and I'll take that outcome.

Does that make sense?

It makes sense as a description of possible future behavior. That is, if you are allowed to press a button now which will commit you to a hellish existence rather than non-existence, you might actually press it. But in this case I say you have a false belief, namely that a hellish existence is better than non-existence. What you call "breaking" would simply be accepting the truth of the matter.

We need a better theory of happiness and suffering

by toonalfrink 1 min read4th Jul 201739 comments


We rationalists know a lot about winning, but we don't know what our terminal goals really are. Such things are handwaved away, as we just mumble something like "QALYs" and make a few guesses about what a five year old would like.

I'd like to dispel the myth that a 5 year old knows what they like. Have you ever seen a kid with a sack of candy? I don't think they really wanted to get nauseous.

"But hold up", you say. "Maybe that's true for special cases involving competing subagents, but most cases are actually pretty straightforward, like blindness and death and captivity."

Well, you may have a point with death, but what if blind people and inmates are actually as happy as the next guy? What's the point of curing blindness, then?

A special case where we need to check our assumptions is animal welfare. What if the substrate of suffering is something in higher-order cognition, something that all but mammals lack?

One could hold that it is impossible to make inferences about another being's qualia, but we can come quite far with introspection plus assuming that similar brains yield similar qualia. We can even correlate happiness with brain scans.

The former is why I've moved to a Buddhist monastery. If (whatever really causes) happiness is your goal, it seems to me that the claim that one can permanently attain a state of bliss is worth investigating.

So, to sum up, if we want to fix suffering, let's find out it's proximal cause first. Spoiler: it's not pain.

(To be continued)