people exist that don't suffer from physical damage because they don't identify with their physical body

Just to clarify: you don't mean that they don't get physical damage, you mean they don't mind getting physical damage?

Do they, then, not bother doing anything to fix any physical damage they incur? That doesn't seem like it's obviously a good tradeoff.

It seems like what you actually want is, roughly, (1) not to feel pain, (2) to be aware of damage, (3) to prefer not to get damaged, and (4) for that preference not to lead to distress when damage occurs. It sounds as if the people you're talking about have managed 2 and 4 but not 1, and on the face of it their way of dealing with 4 seems like it would (if it actually works) break 3.

We need a better theory of happiness and suffering

by toonalfrink 1 min read4th Jul 201739 comments

2


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)