"But hold up", you say. "Maybe that's true for special cases involving competing subagents, ..."

I don't see how the existence of subagents complicates things in any substantial way. If the existence of competing subagents is a hindrance to optimality, then one should aim to align or eliminate subagents. (Isn't this one of the functions of meditation?) Obviously this isn't always easy, but the goal is at least clear in this case.

It is nonsensical to treat animal welfare as a special case of happiness and suffering. This is because animal happiness and suffering can be only be understood through analogical reasoning, not through logical reasoning. A logical framework of welfare can only be derived through subjects capable of conveying results since results are subjective. The vast majority of animals, at least so far, cannot convey results, so we need to infer results on animals based on similarities between animal observables and human observables. Such inference is analogical and necessarily based entirely on human welfare.

If you want a theory of happiness and suffering in the intellectual sense (where physical pleasure and suffering are ignored), I suspect what you want is a theory of the ideals towards which people strive. For such an endeavor, I recommend looking into category theory, in which ideals are easily recognizable, and whose ideals seem to very closely (if not perfectly) align with intuitive notions.

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)