Giving What We Can, 80,000 Hours, and Meta-Charity

Disclaimer: I’m somewhat nervous about posting this, for fear of down-voting on my first LW post, given that this post explicitly talks in a positive light about organisations that I have helped to set up. But I think that the topic is of interest to LW-ers, and I’m hoping to start a rational discussion. So here it goes…

Hi all,

Optimal philanthropy is a common discussion topic on LW. It’s also previously been discussed whether ‘meta-charities’ like GiveWell — that is, charities that attempt to move money to other charities, or assess the effectiveness of other charities — might end up themselves being excellent or even optimal giving opportunities.

Partly on the basis of the potentially high cost-effectiveness of meta-charity, I have co-founded two such charities: Giving What We Can and 80,000 Hours. Both are now open to taking donations (info here for GWWC and here for 80k). In what follows I’ll explain why one might think of Giving What We Can or 80,000 Hours as a good giving opportunity. It’s of course very awkward to talk about the reasons in favour of donating to one’s own organization, and the risk of bias is obvious, so I’ll just briefly describe the basic argument, and then leave the rest for discussion. I hope I manage to give an honest picture, rather than just pitching my own favourite idea: we really want to do the most good that we can with marginal resources, so if LW members think that giving to meta-charity in general, or GWWC or 80k in particular, is a bad idea, that’s important for us to know. So please don’t be shy in raising comments, questions, or criticism. If you find yourself being critical, please try to suggest ways in which GWWC or 80k could either change its activities or provide more information such that your criticisms would be addressed.

What is Giving What We Can?

Giving What We Can encourages people to give more and to give more effectively to causes that fight poverty in the developing world.  It encourages people to become a member of the organisation and pledge to give at least 10% of their income to the charities that best fight extreme poverty, and it provides information on its website about how people can give as cost-effectively as possible.

What is 80,000 Hours?

80,000 Hours provides evidence-based advice on careers aiming to make a difference, through its website and through on-one-one advice sessions. It encourages people to use their careers in an effective way to make the world a significantly better place, and aims to help its members to be more successful in their chosen careers. It provides a community and network for those convinced by its ideas.

What are the main differences between the two?

The primary differences are that 80,000 Hours focuses on how you should spend your time (especially which career you should choose), whereas Giving What We Can focuses on how you should spend your money. Giving What We Can is focused on global poverty, whereas 80,000 Hours is open to any plausibly high-impact cause.

Why should I give to either?

The basic idea is that each of the organisations generates a multiplier on one’s donations. By giving $1 to Giving What We Can to fundraise for the best global poverty charities, one ultimately moves significantly more than $1 to the best global poverty charities.  By giving $1 to 80,000 Hours to improve the effectiveness of students’ career paths, one ultimately moves significantly more than $1’s worth of human and financial resources to a range of high-impact causes, including global poverty, animal welfare improvement, and existential risk mitigation.

How are you testing this?

Last March we did an impact assessment for Giving What We Can. Some more info is available here, and I can provide much more information, including the calculations, upon request. As of last March, we’d invested $170 000’s worth of volunteer time into Giving What We Can, and had moved $1.7 million to GiveWell or GWWC top-recommended development charities, and raised a further $68 million in pledged donations.  Taking into account the facts that some proportion of this would have been given anyway, there will be some member attrition, and not all donations will go to the very best charities (and using data for all these factors when possible), we estimate that we had raised $8 in realised donations and $130 in future donations for every $1’s worth of volunteer time invested in Giving What We Can. We will continue with such impact assessments, most likely on an annual basis.

We have less data available for 80,000 Hours, but things seem if anything more promising. A preliminary investigation (data from 26 members, last May) suggested that the average member was pledging $1mn; 34% of were planning to donate to existential risk mitigation, 61% to global poverty reduction. Member recruitment currently stands at roughly one per day. 25% of our members state that their career has been ‘significantly changed’ by 80,000 Hours. A little more information is available here.

Why might I be unconvinced?

Here are a few considerations that I think are important (and of course that’s not to say there aren’t others).

First, the whole idea of meta-charity is new, and therefore not as robustly tested as other activities. Even if you find the idea of meta-charity compelling, you could plausibly reason that most compelling arguments to new and optimistic conclusions have been false in the past, an so on inductive grounds treat this one with suspicion.

Second, you might have a very high discount rate. Giving $1 to either GWWC or 80k generates benefits in the future. So working out its cost-effectiveness involves an estimate of how one should value future donations versus donations now. That’s a tricky question to answer, and if you have a high enough discount rate, then the investment won’t be worth it.

Third, you might just think that other organisations are better. You might think that other organisations are better at resource-generation (even if that’s not their declared aim). Or you might think that it’s better just to focus on more direct means of making an impact.

Finally, you might just have a prior against the idea that one can get a significant multiplier on one’s donations to top charities. (One might ask: if the idea of meta-charity is so good, why don’t many more meta-charities exist than currently do?) So you might need to see a lot more hard data (perhaps verified by independent sources) before being convinced.

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I am skeptical of 80,000 hours and the general concept of "earning to give" because I suspect very few people will actually be able to execute this correctly. What tracking programs (if any) do you have to ensure that people actually follow up on their plans?

That being said, your cause seems a noble one and I wish you well.

Thanks for this, this is a common response to earning to give. However, we already have a number of success stories: people who have started their EtG jobs and are loving them.

It's rare that someone had their heart set on a particular career, such as charity work, then completely changes their plans and begins EtG. Rather, much more common is that someone is thinking "I really want to do [lucrative career X], but I should do something more ethical" or that they think "I'm undecided between lucrative career X, and other careers Y and Z; all look like good options." It's much easier to convince these people.

We certainly want to track behaviour. We will have an annual survey of members, to find out what they are doing, and how much they are giving, and so on. If someone really isn't complying with the spirit of 80k, or with their stated goals, then we'll ask them to leave.

I'm not surprised that people are doing this now, but I will be surprised if most of them are still doing it in five years, much less in the actual long term.

That being said, if the organization can maintain recruitment of new people, a lot of good will still be done even under this assumption.

Possible consideration: meta-charities like GWWC and 80k cause donations to causes that one might not think are particularly important. E.g. I think x-risk research is the highest value intervention, but most of the money moved by GWWC and 80k goes to global poverty or animal welfare interventions. So if the proportion of money moved to causes I cared about was small enough, or the meta-charity didn't multiply my money much anyway, then I should give directly (or start a new meta-charity in the area I care about).

A bigger possible problem would be if I took considerations like the poor meat eater problem to be true. In that case, donating to e.g. 80k would cause a lot of harm even though it would move a lot of money to animal welfare charities, because it causes so much to go to poverty relief, which I could think was a bad thing. It seems like there are probably a few other situations like this around.

Do you have figures on what the return to donation (or volunteer time) is for 80,000 hours? i.e. is it similar to GWWC's $138 of donations per $1 of time invested? It would be helpful to know so I could calculate how much I would expect to go to the various causes.

Hey,

80k members give to a variety of causes. When we surveyed, 34% were intending to give to x-risk, and it seems fairly common for people who start thinking about effective altruism to ultimately think that x-risk mitigation is one of or the most important cause area. As for how this pans out with additional members, we'll have to wait and see. But I'd expect $1 to 80k to generate significantly more than $1's worth of value even for existential risk mitigation alone. It certainly has done so far.

We did a little bit of impact-assessment for 80k (again, with a sample of 26 members). When we did, the estimates were even more optimistic than for GWWC. But we'd like to get firmer data set before going public with any numbers.

Though I was deeply troubled by the poor meater problem for some time, I've come to the conclusion that it isn't that bad (for utilitarians - I think it's much worse for non-consequentialists, though I'm not sure).

The basic idea is as follows. If I save the life of someone in the developing world, almost all the benefit I produce is through compounding effects: I speed up technological progress by a tiny margin, giving us a little bit more time at the end of civilisation, when there are far more people. This benefit dwarfs the benefit to the individual whose life I've saved (as Bostrom argues in the first half of Astronomical Waste). Now, I also increase the amount of animal suffering, because the person whose life I've saved consumes meat, and I speed up development of the country, which means that the country starts factory farming sooner. However, we should expect (or, at least, I expect) factory farming to disappear within the next few centuries, as cheaper and tastier meat substitutes are developed. So the increase in animal suffering doesn't compound in the same way: whereas the benefits of saving a life continue until the humanity race (or its descendants) dies out, the harm of increasing meat consumption ends only after a few centuries (when we move beyond farming).

So let's say the benefit to the person from having their live saved is N. The magnitude of the harm from increasing factory farming might be a bit more than N: maybe -10N. But the benefit from speeding up technological progress is vastly greater than that: 1000N, or something. So it's still a good thing to save someone's life in the developing world. (Though of course, if you take the arguments about x-risk seriously, then alleviating global poverty is dwarfed by existential risk mitigation).

Is saving someone from malaria really the most cost-effective way to speed technological progress per dollar? Seems like you might well be better off loaning money on kiva.org or some completely different thing. (Edit: Jonah Sinick points me to 1, 2, 3, 4 regarding microfinance.)

Some thoughts from Robin Hanson on how speeding technological progress may affect existential risks: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/12/tiptoe-or-dash-to-future.html. I'd really like to see more analysis of this.

It would be good to have more analysis of this.

Is saving someone from malaria really the most cost-effective way to speed technological progress per dollar?

The answer is that I don't know. Perhaps it's better to fund technology directly. But the benefit:cost ratio tends to be incredibly high for the best developing world interventions. So the best developing world health interventions would at least be contenders. In the discussion above, though, preventing malaria doesn't need to be the most cost-effective way of speeding up technological progress. The point was only that that benefit outweighs the harm done by increasing the amount of farming.

The basic idea is as follows. If I save the life of someone in the developing world, almost all the benefit I produce is through compounding effects: I speed up technological progress by a tiny margin, giving us a little bit more time at the end of civilisation, when there are far more people. This benefit dwarfs the benefit to the individual whose life I've saved (as Bostrom argues in the first half of Astronomical Waste). Now, I also increase the amount of animal suffering, because the person whose life I've saved consumes meat, and I speed up development of the country, which means that the country starts factory farming sooner. However, we should expect (or, at least, I expect) factory farming to disappear within the next few centuries, as cheaper and tastier meat substitutes are developed. So the increase in animal suffering doesn't compound in the same way: whereas the benefits of saving a life continue until the humanity race (or its descendants) dies out, the harm of increasing meat consumption ends only after a few centuries (when we move beyond farming).

This is purely speculative. You have not presented any evidence that (a) the compounding effects of donating money to alleviate poverty outweigh the direct effects, or that (b) this does not create enough animal suffering to outweigh the benefits. And it still ignores the fact that animal welfare charities are orders of magnitude more efficient than human charities.

The magnitude of the harm from increasing factory farming might be a bit more than N: maybe -10N.

It's almost certainly more like -10,000N. One can determine this number by looking at the suffering caused by eating different animal products as well as the number of animals eaten in a lifetime (~21000).

On (a). The argument for this is based on the first half of Bostrom's Astronomical Waste. In saving someone's life (or some other good economic investment), you move technological progress forward by a tiny amount. The benefit you produce is the difference you make at the end of civilisation, when there's much more at stake than there is now.

It's almost certainly more like -10,000N I'd be cautious about making claims like this. We're dealing with tricky issues, so I wouldn't claim to be almost certain about anything in this area. The numbers I used in the above post were intended to be purely illustrative, and I apologise if they came across as being more definite than that.

Why might I worry about the -10,000N figure? Well, first, the number you reference is the number of animals eaten in a lifetime by an American - the greatest per capita meat consumers in the world. I presume that the number is considerably smaller for those in developing countries, and there is considerably less reliance on factory farming.

Even assuming we were talking about American lives, is the suffering that an American causes 10,000 times as great as the happiness of their lives? Let's try a back of the envelope calculation. Let's accept that 21000 figure. I can't access the original source, but some other digging suggests that this breaks down into: 17,000 shellfish, 1700 other fish, 2147 chickens, with the rest constituting a much smaller number. I'm really not sure how to factor in shellfish and other fish: I don't know if they have lives worth living or not, and I presume that most of these are farmed, so wouldn't have existed were it not for farming practices. At any rate, from what I know I suspect that factory farmed chickens are likely to dominate the calculation (but I'm not certain). So let's focus on the chickens. The average factory farmed chicken lives for 6 weeks, so that's 252 factory farmed chicken-years per American lifetime. Assuming the average American lives for 70 years, one American life-year produces 3.6 factory farmed chicken years. What should our tradeoff be between producing factory farmed chicken-years and American human-years? Perhaps the life of the chicken is 10x as bad as the American life is good (that seems a high estimate to me, but I really don't know): in which case we should be willing to shorten an American's life by 10 years in order to prevent one factory-farmed chicken-year. That would mean that, if we call one American life a good of unit 1, the American's meat consumption produces -36 units of value.

In order to get this estimate up to -10 000 units of value, we'd need to multiply that trade-off of 277: we should be indifferent between producing 2770 years of American life and preventing the existence of 1 factory farmed chicken-year (that is, we should be happy letting 4 vegan American children die in order to prevent 1 factory farmed chicken-year). That number seems too high too me; if you agree, perhaps you think that fish or shellfish suffering is the dominant consideration. Or you might bring in non-consequentialist considerations; as I said above, I think that the meat eater problem is likely more troubling for non-consequentialists.

At any rate, this is somewhat of a digression. If one thought that meat eater worries were strong enough that donating to GWWC or 80k was a net harm, I would think that a reasonable view (and one could give further arguments in favour of it, that we haven't discussed), though not my own one for the reasons I've outlined. We knew that something animal welfare focused had been missing from CEA for too long and for that reason set up Effective Animal Activism - currently a sub-project of 80k, but able to accept restricted donations and, as it grows, likely to become an organisation in its own right. So if one thinks that animal welfare charities are likely to be the most cost-effective charities, and one finds the meta-charity argument plausible, then one might consider giving to EAA.

I think that calculation makes sense and the -36 number looks about right. I had actually done a similar calculation a while ago and came up with a similar number. I suppose my guess of -10,000 was too hasty.

It may actually be a good deal higher than 36 depending on how much suffering fish and shellfish go through. This is harder to say because I don't understand the conditions in fish farms nearly as well as chicken farms.

It's almost certainly more like -10,000N. One can determine this number by looking at the suffering caused by eating different animal products as well as the number of animals eaten in a lifetime (~21000).

I think Will is assuming that animal suffering has a fairly low moral weight compared to human suffering. Obviously, considerations like this scale directly depending on how you weight that. But I think most people would agree that animal suffering is worth less than human suffering, it's just a question of whether the multiplier is 1/10, 1/100, 0, or what.

Even if one assigned exactly zero terminal value to non-sapient beings (as IIRC EY does), it takes a hella more resources to grow 2000 kcal's worth of lamb than to grow 2000 kcal's worth of soy, and if everyone wanted to live on the diet of an average present-day American I don't think the planet could handle that; so until we find a way to cheaply grow meat in a lab/terraform other planets, eating meat amounts to defecting in an N-player Prisoner's Dilemma. (But the conclusion “...and therefore we should let people born from the wrong vagina die from malaria so they won't eat meat” doesn't feel right to me.)

(EDIT: I'm not fully vegetarian myself, though like the author of the linked post I eat less meat than usual and try to throw away as little food as possible.)

(Edited to remove the mention of the Tragedy of Commons -- turns out I was using that term in a non-standard way.)

It's not the tragedy of the commons because farms are privately owned. There might be some aspects like that (e.g. climate change) but "resources used" is in general a problem whose costs are fully internalised and can thus be dealt with by the price system.

I don't know much economics so I might be talking through my ass, but doesn't consuming more meat cause the price of meat to increase if the cost of producing meat stays constant, incentivizing farmers to produce more meat? (The extreme example is that if nobody ate meat nobody would produce meat as they would have no-one to sell it to, and if everybody only ate meat nobody would grow grains for human consumption.) And what about government subsidies?

Yes, the price would go up until no-one else wanted to eat meat. No extra planets required, and no market failure.

Still trying to wrap my head around this... [Off to read Introduction to Economic Analysis by R. Preston McAfee. Be back later.]

Tragedies of the commons only occur when the costs of your decisions are bourne by you. But that's not the case here; buying more meat means you have to pay more, compensating the farmer for the increased use of his resources.

Yes, you slightly increase the cost of meat to everyone else. You also slightly reduce the price of the other things you would otherwise have spent your money on. But it is precisely this price-raising effect that prevents us from accidentally needing three earths: long before that, the price would have risen sufficiently high that no-one else would want to eat meat. This is the market system working exactly as it should.

If it were the case that meat farming caused unusually large amounts of pollution, there might be a tragedy of the commons scenario. But it would have nothing to do with the amount of resources required to make the meat.

The idea that eating stuff that requires 100 units of energy to be grown when I could easily live on stuff that requires 1 unit of energy instead is totally unproblematic so long as I pay for it still sounds very counter-intuitive to me. I think I have an idea of what's going on, but I'm going to finish that introductory economics textbook first because I might be badly out of whack.

It's problematic only to the extent that you could otherwise have spent the money on even more useful things.

30,000 kcal's worth of soy arguably is more useful than 100 kcal's worth of lamb. That's my point.

The grain has a higher mass and lower value-density, so you're going to have a harder time shipping it long distances at a worthwhile price.

You'll also need to pay for either the live lamb to be shipped (very troublesome) or for refrigerated lamb cuts in smaller refrigerator cars which is both more expensive than a big metal bucket for grain and also much more time-sensitive and perishable (arranging continued power for refrigeration). I'm not sure how the transportation costs would net out.

Does that outweigh the two orders of magnitude (according to the numbers given in the blog post linked to in the ancestor) between the energy cost of growing them? There likely are foodstuffs more energy-dense than grains but nowhere near as energy-expensive as meat. (Well, there's seed oil, but I don't think one could have a reasonably balanced diet getting most of the calories from there so that doesn't count.)

Given that meat is being produced and shipped around on a commercial scale, I'd say some people value meat more than enough to outweigh the increased cost of production, yes. Consider that there are factors other than energy in food quality, such as amino acid ratios.

Given that meat is being produced and shipped around on a commercial scale,

ISTM that meat is usually produced relatively near where it's sold, probably because of what Gwern says.

I'd say some people value meat more than enough to outweigh the increased cost of production, yes.

That's not what I meant to ask. You said something about grains costing more energy for shipment per unit food energy value which as far as I could tell had nothing to do with how much people valued stuff. What I meant to ask was whether you think that, counting both production and shipment, meat costs less energy per unit food energy value than grains, because that's what your comment seemed to imply. (And while I'm not sure what you were using “some people value X” as an argument for, keep in mind that some people are willing to spend tens or sometimes even hundreds of dollars for a ticket to a football match -- not to mention stuff like heroin.)

Consider that there are factors other than energy in food quality,

I think those are vastly overrated -- for almost any ‘reasonable’ diet composition, they are second-order effects at best. They certainly don't outweigh two orders of magnitude between food energy values. (Of course, people like to advertise their cheese as only containing 10% of fat without telling you the total food energy value of 100 grams of the stuff, so this point is rarely emphasized.) I'm going to add links to earlier comments of mine where I talk about this, when I find them.

such as amino acid ratios.

It is possible to get quite decent amino acid ratios from a vegetarian diet, or even from a vegan diet (though it's harder). (This is probably one of the reason why I picked soy rather than oats as an example, even though the latter has an even higher food energy value per energy cost.)

If you'd rather have lots of soy why did you buy the lamb? Economics can't save you from making irrational decisions.

You might say that you prefer the lamb but poor people would prefer the lamb, and society is biased in favour of poor people. But then this is a distribution of initial wealth problem, as all efficient outcomes can be achieved by a competitive equilibrium - not a tragedy of the commons problem at all.

You might say that you prefer the lamb but poor people would prefer the lamb, and society is biased in favour of poor people.

Er... The first instance of "lamb" was supposed to be "soy" and both instances of "poor" were supposed to be "rich", right?

Eeek. slightly clearer"

You prefer the resources be spent on lamb for you to eat, but poor people prefer that you bought soy because then there'd be leftover resources to be spent on soy for them. Also, your welfare calculations are generally biased in favour of poor people because of diminishing returns to money.

You prefer the resources be spent on lamb for you to eat, but poor people prefer that you bought soy because then there'd be leftover resources to be spent on soy for them.

Yes (provided that's a generic “you”). If you wouldn't call that a tragedy of commons, then the two of us are just using the term with two slightly different meanings.

Different people in the Western world spent a different amount of their resources on buying foot. If I spent 150€ instead of 300€ on buying food, the food industry has less resources to produce food. I don't automatically donate those 150€ on buying foot for people in the third world.

The EU produces so much foot that it delibrately throws food away to raise food prices. Simply shipping surplus food to Africa had the problem of wrecking their food markets. It also produces transportation costs. As a result we do ship some of the surplus food to Africa and simply throw away other food.

Soy is cheaper than meat. When you propose that people buy soy instead of buying meat you propose to defund the agricultural sector.
If the EU wanted to produce more food than it does currently it could move more economic resources into the agricultural sector.

Yes, that's the original meaning. I was using it in the generalized sense of ‘N-player prisoner's dilemma where N is large’, which I think I've seen before on LW.

I think Will is assuming that animal suffering has a fairly low moral weight compared to human suffering.

I don't think Will is making any such assumption. His argument does not rely on any moral claim about the relative importance of human versus non-human forms of suffering, but instead rests on an empirical claim about the indirect effects that saving a human life has on present non-human animals, on the one hand, and on future sentient beings, on the other hand. He acknowledges that the benefit to the person whom we save might be outweighed by the harm done to the animals this person will consume. But he adds that saving this life will also speed up technological progress, and as a consequence increase the number of future posthuman life-years to a much greater degree than it increases the expected number of future animal life-years. As he writes, "whereas the benefits of saving a life continue until the humanity race (or its descendants) dies out, the harm of increasing meat consumption ends only after a few centuries (when we move beyond farming)."

Of course, someone like Brian Tomasik might counter that, by increasing present meat consumption, we are contributing to the spread of "speciesist" memes. Such memes, by influencing future decision-makers with the power to do astronomical amounts of evil, might actually have negative effects that last indefinitely.

Thanks benthamite, I think everything you said above was accurate.

I was only addressing the point I directly quoted, where MTGandP was questioning the multiplicative factor that Will suggested. I was merely pointing out why that might look low!

I agree that the argument is still pretty much in force even if you put animals pretty much on parity.

I think most people give way too small a multiplier to the weight of animal suffering. A non-human animal may not be able to suffer in all the same ways that a human can, but it is still sufficiently conscious such that its experiences in a factory farm are probably comparable to what a human's experiences would be in the same situation.

What should be objective grounds for such a multiplier? Not all suffering is valued equally. Excluding self-suffering (which is so much subjectively different) from the discussion, I would value the suffering of my child as more important than the suffering of your child. And vice versa.

So, for any valuation that would make sense to me (so that I would actually use that method to make decisions), there should be some difference between multipliers for various beings - if the average homo sapiens would be evaluated with a coefficient of 1, then some people (like your close relatives or friends) would be >1, and some would be <1. Animals (to me) would clearly be <1 as illustrated by a simple dilemma - if I had to choose to kill a cow to save a random man, or to kill a random man to save a cow, I'd favor the man in all cases without much hesitation.

So an important question is, what should be a reasonable basis to quantitatively compare a human life versus (as an example) cow lifes - one-to-ten? one-to-thousand? one-to-all-the-cows-in-the-world? Frankly, I've got no idea. I've given it some thought but I can't imagine a way how to get to an order of magnitude estimate that would feel reasonable to me.

I wouldn't try to estimate the value of a particular species' suffering by intuition. Intuition is, in a lot of situations, a pretty bad moral compass. Instead, I would start from the simple assumption that if two beings suffer equally, their suffering is equally significant. I don't know how to back up this claim other than this: if two beings experience some unpleasant feeling in exactly the same way, it is unfair to say that one of their experiences carries more moral weight than the other.

Then all we have to do is determine how much different beings suffer. We can't know this for certain until we solve the hard problem of consciousness, but we can make some reasonable assumptions. A lot of people assume that a chicken feels less physical pain than a human because it is stupider. But neurologically speaking, there does not appear to be any reason why intelligence would enhance the capacity to feel pain. Hence, the physical pain that a chicken feels is roughly comparable to the pain that a human feels. It should be possible to use neuroscience to provide a more precise comparison, but I don't know enough about that to say more.

Top animal-welfare charities such as The Humane League probably prevent about 100 days of suffering per dollar. The suffering that animals experience in factory farms is probably far worse (by an order of magnitude or more) than the suffering of any group of humans that is targeted by a charity. If you doubt this claim, watch some footage of what goes on in factory farms.

As a side note, you mentioned comparing the value of a cow versus a human. I don't think this is a very useful comparison to make. A better comparison is the suffering of a cow versus a human. A life's value depends on how much happiness and suffering it contains.

A life's value depends on how much happiness and suffering it contains.

I personally treat lives as valuable in and of themselves. It's why I don't kill sad people, I try to make them happier.

The suffering that animals experience in factory farms is probably far worse (by an order of magnitude or more) than the suffering of any group of humans that is targeted by a charity. If you doubt this claim, watch some footage of what goes on in factory farms.

Most people would argue that animals are less capable of experiencing suffering and thus the same amount of pain is worth less in an animal than a human.

EDIT:

Then all we have to do is determine how much different beings suffer. We can't know this for certain until we solve the hard problem of consciousness, but we can make some reasonable assumptions. A lot of people assume that a chicken feels less physical pain than a human because it is stupider. But neurologically speaking, there does not appear to be any reason why intelligence would enhance the capacity to feel pain.

Do you also support tiling the universe with orgasmium? Genuinely curious.

I personally treat lives as valuable in and of themselves.

Why? What sort of life has value? Does the life of a bacterium have inherent value? How about a chicken? Does a life have finite inherent value? How do you compare the inherent value of different lives?

It's why I don't kill sad people, I try to make them happier.

Killing people makes them have 0 happiness (in practice, it actually reduces the total happiness in the world by quite a bit because killing someone has a lot of side effects.) Making people happy gives them positive happiness. Positive happiness is better than 0 happiness.

Most people would argue that animals are less capable of experiencing suffering and thus the same amount of pain is worth less in an animal than a human.

I don't care what most people think. The majority is wrong about a lot of things. I believe that non-human animals [1] experience pain in roughly the same way that humans do because that's where the evidence seems to point. What most people think about it does not come into the equation.

Do you also support tiling the universe with orgasmium?

Probably. I'm reluctant to make a change of that magnitude without considering it really, really carefully, no matter how sure I may be right now that it's a good thing. If I found myself with the capacity to do this, I would probably recruit an army of the world's best thinkers to decide if it's worth doing. But right now I'm inclined to say that it is.

[1] Here I'm talking about animals like pigs and chickens, not animals like sea sponges.

I personally treat lives as valuable in and of themselves.

Why? What sort of life has value? Does the life of a bacterium have inherent value? How about a chicken? Does a life have finite inherent value? How do you compare the inherent value of different lives?

I must admit I am a tad confused here, but intelligence or whatever seems a good rule of thumb.

It's why I don't kill sad people, I try to make them happier.

Killing people makes them have 0 happiness (in practice, it actually reduces the total happiness in the world by quite a bit because killing someone has a lot of side effects.) Making people happy gives them positive happiness. Positive happiness is better than 0 happiness.

Oh, yes. Nevertheless, even if it would increase net happiness, I don't kill people. Not for the sake of happiness alone and all that.

Most people would argue that animals are less capable of experiencing suffering and thus the same amount of pain is worth less in an animal than a human.

I don't care what most people think. The majority is wrong about a lot of things. I believe that non-human animals [1] experience pain in roughly the same way that humans do because that's where the evidence seems to point. What most people think about it does not come into the equation.

The same way, sure. But introspection suggests I don't value it as much depending on how conscious they are (probably the same as intelligence.)

Do you also support tiling the universe with orgasmium?

Probably. I'm reluctant to make a change of that magnitude without considering it really, really carefully, no matter how sure I may be right now that it's a good thing. If I found myself with the capacity to do this, I would probably recruit an army of the world's best thinkers to decide if it's worth doing. But right now I'm inclined to say that it is.

Have you read "Not for the Sake of Happiness (Alone)"? Human values are complicated.

I must admit I am a tad confused here, but intelligence or whatever seems a good rule of thumb.

  1. I was asking questions to try to better understand where you're coming from. Do you mean the questions were confusing?

  2. Are you saying that moral worth is directly proportional to intelligence? If so, why do you think this is true?

But introspection suggests I don't value it as much depending on how conscious they are (probably the same as intelligence.)

Why not? Do you have a good reason, or are you just going off of intuition?

Have you read "Not for the Sake of Happiness (Alone)"?

Yes, I've read it. I'm not entirely convinced that all values reduce to happiness, but I've never seen any value that can't be reduced to happiness. That's one of the areas in ethics where I'm the most uncertain. In practice, it doesn't come up much because in almost every situation, happiness and preference satisfaction amount to the same thing.

I'm inclined to believe that not all preferences reduce to happiness, but all CEV preferences do reduce to happiness. As I said before, I'm fairly uncertain about this and I don't have much evidence.

Yes, I've read it. I'm not entirely convinced that all values reduce to happiness, but I've never seen any value that can't be reduced to happiness. That's one of the areas in ethics where I'm the most uncertain. In practice, it doesn't come up much because in almost every situation, happiness and preference satisfaction amount to the same thing.

You can probably think of a happiness-based justification for any value someone throws at you. But that's probably only because you're coming from the privileged position of being a human who already knows those values are good, and hence wants to find a reason happiness justifies them. I suspect an AI designed only to maximise happiness would probably find a different way that would produce more happiness while disregarding almost all values we think we have.

It's difficult for me to say because this sort of introspection is difficult, but I believe that I generally reject values when I find that they don't promote happiness.

You can probably think of a happiness-based justification for any value someone throws at you.

But some justifications are legitimate and some are rationalizations. With the examples of discovery and creativity, I think it's obvious that they increase happiness by a lot. It's not like I came up with some ad hoc justification for why they maybe provide a little bit of happiness. It's like discovery is responsible for almost all of the increases in quality of life that have taken place over the past several thousand years.

I suspect an AI designed only to maximise happiness would probably find a different way that would produce more happiness while disregarding almost all values we think we have.

I think a lot of our values do a very good job of increasing happiness, and I welcome an AI that can point out which values don't.

With the examples of discovery and creativity, I think it's obvious that they increase happiness by a lot.

The point is that's not sufficient. Like saying "all good is complexity, because for example a mother's love for her child is really complex". Yes, it's complex compared to some boring things like carving identical chair legs out of wood over and over for eternity, but compared to, say, tiling the universe with the digits of chaitin's omega or something, it's nothing. And tiling the universe with chaitin's omega would be a very boring and stupid thing to do.

You need to show that the value in question is the best way of generating happiness. Not just that it results in more than the status quo. It has to generate more happiness, than, say, putting everyone on heroine forever. Because otherwise someone who really cared about happiness would just do that.

I think a lot of our values do a very good job of increasing happiness, and I welcome an AI that can point out which values don't.

And they other point is that values aren't supposed to do a job. They're meant to describe what job you would like done! If you care about something that doesn't increase happiness, then self-modifying to lose that so as to make more happiness would be a mistake.

You need to show that the value in question is the best way of generating happiness.

You're absolutely correct. Discovery may not always be the best way of generating happiness; and if it's not, you should do something else.

And the other point is that values aren't supposed to do a job.

Not all values are terminal values. Some people value coffee because it wakes them up; they don't value coffee in itself. If they discover that coffee in fact doesn't wake them up, they should stop valuing coffee.

With the examples of discovery and creativity, I think it's obvious that they increase happiness by a lot.

The point is that's not sufficient.

What is sufficient is demonstrating that if discovery does not promote happiness then it is not valuable. As I explained in my sorting sand example, discovery that does not in any way promote happiness is not worthwhile.

must admit I am a tad confused here, but intelligence or whatever seems a good rule of thumb.

I was asking questions to try to better understand where you're coming from. Do you mean the questions were confusing?

No, I mean I am unsure as to what my CEV would answer.

Are you saying that moral worth is directly proportional to intelligence? If so, why do you think this is true?

Because I'll kill a bug to save a chicken, a chicken to save a cat, a cat to save an ape, and an ape to save a human. The part of me responsible for morality clearly has some sort of criteria for moral worth that seems roughly equivalent to intelligence.

But introspection suggests I don't value it as much depending on how conscious they are (probably the same as intelligence.)

Why not? Do you have a good reason, or are you just going off of intuition?

... both?

Have you read "Not for the Sake of Happiness (Alone)"?

Yes, I've read it. I'm not entirely convinced that all values reduce to happiness, but I've never seen any value that can't be reduced to happiness. That's one of the areas in ethics where I'm the most uncertain. In practice, it doesn't come up much because in almost every situation, happiness and preference satisfaction amount to the same thing.

Fair enough. Unfortunately, the area of ethics where I'm the most uncertain is weighting creatures with different intelligence levels.

Thing like discovery and creativity seem like good examples of preferences that don't reduce to happiness IIRC, although it's been a while since I thought everything reduced to happiness so I don't recall very well.

I'm inclined to believe that not all preferences reduce to happiness, but all CEV preferences do reduce to happiness. As I said before, I'm fairly uncertain about this and I don't have much evidence.

Not sure what this means.

Are you saying that moral worth is directly proportional to intelligence? If so, why do you think this is true?

Because I'll kill a bug to save a chicken, a chicken to save a cat, a cat to save an ape, and an ape to save a human. The part of me responsible for morality clearly has some sort of criteria for moral worth that seems roughly equivalent to intelligence.

But why is intelligence important? I don't see its connection to morality. I know it's commonly believed that intelligence is morally relevant, and my best guess as to why is that it conveniently places humans at the top and thus justifies mistreating non-human animals.

If intelligence is morally significant, then it's not really that bad to torture a mentally handicapped person.

I believe this is false: a mentally handicapped person suffers physical pain to the same extent that I do, so his suffering is just as morally significant. The same reasoning applies to many species of non-human animal. What matters is not intelligence but the capacity to experience happiness and suffering.

... both?

So then what is your good reason that's not directly based on intuition?

Thing like discovery and creativity seem like good examples of preferences that don't reduce to happiness IIRC, although it's been a while since I thought everything reduced to happiness so I don't recall very well.

Discovery leads to the invention of new things. In general, new things lead to increased happiness. It also leads to a better understanding of the universe, which allows us to better increase happiness. If the process of discovery brought no pleasure in itself and also didn't make it easier for us to increase happiness, I think it would be useless. The same reasoning applies to creativity.

Not sure what this means.

You mentioned CEV in your previous comment, so I assume you're familiar with it. I mean that I think if you took people's coherent extrapolated volitions, they would exclusively value happiness.

I'll kill a bug to save a chicken, a chicken to save a cat, a cat to save an ape, and an ape to save a human. The part of me responsible for morality clearly has some sort of criteria for moral worth that seems roughly equivalent to intelligence.

But why is intelligence important? I don't see its connection to morality. I know it's commonly believed that intelligence is morally relevant, and my best guess as to why is that it conveniently places humans at the top and thus justifies mistreating non-human animals.

Well, why is pain important? I suspect empathy is mixed up here somewhere, but honestly, it doesn't feel like it reduces - bugs just are worth less. Besides, where do you draw the line if you lack a sliding scale - I assume you don't care about rocks, or sponges, or germs.

If intelligence is morally significant, then it's not really that bad to torture a mentally handicapped person.

Well ... not as bad as torturing, say, Bob, the Entirely Average Person, no. But it's risky to distinguish between humans like this because it lets in all sorts of nasty biases, so I try not to except in exceptional cases.

I believe this is false: a mentally handicapped person suffers physical pain to the same extent that I do, so his suffering is just as morally significant. The same reasoning applies to many species of non-human animal. What matters is not intelligence but the capacity to experience happiness and suffering.

I know you do. Of course, unless they're really handicapped, most animals are still much lower; and, of course there's the worry that the intelligence is ther and they just can't express it in everyday life (idiot savants and so on.)

So then what is your good reason that's not directly based on intuition?

Well, it's morality, it does ultimately come down to intuition no matter what. I can come up with all sorts of reasons, but remember that they aren't my true rejection - my true rejection is the mental image of killing a man to save some cockroaches.

Discovery leads to the invention of new things. In general, new things lead to increased happiness. It also leads to a better understanding of the universe, which allows us to better increase happiness. If the process of discovery brought no pleasure in itself and also didn't make it easier for us to increase happiness, I think it would be useless. The same reasoning applies to creativity.

And yet, a world without them sounds bleak and lacking in utility.

You mentioned CEV in your previous comment, so I assume you're familiar with it. I mean that I think if you took people's coherent extrapolated volitions, they would exclusively value happiness

Oh, right.

Ah ... not sure what I can say to convince you if NFTSOH(A) didn't.

Well, why is pain important?

It's really abstract and difficult to explain, so I probably won't do a very good job. Peter Singer explains it pretty well in "All Animals Are Equal." Basically, we should give equal consideration to the interests of all beings. Any being capable of suffering has an interest in avoiding suffering. A more intelligent being does not have a greater interest in avoiding suffering [1]; hence, intelligence is not morally relevant.

Besides, where do you draw the line if you lack a sliding scale - I assume you don't care about rocks, or sponges, or germs.

There is a sliding scale. More capacity to feel happiness and suffering = more moral worth. Rocks, sponges, and germs have no capacity to feel happiness and suffering.

And yet, a world without [discovery] sounds bleak and lacking in utility.

Well yeah. That's because discovery tends to increase happiness. But if it didn't, it would be pointless. For example, suppose you are tasked with sifting through a pile of sand to find which one is the whitest. When you finish, you will have discovered something new. But the process is really boring and it doesn't benefit anyone, so what's the point? Discovery is only worthwhile if it increases happiness in some way.

I'm not saying that it's impossible to come up with an example of something that's not reducible to happiness, but I don't think discovery is such a thing.

[1] Unless it is capable of greater suffering, but that's not a trait inherent to intelligence. I think it may be true in some respects that more intelligent beings are capable of greater suffering; but what matters is the capacity to suffer, not the intelligence itself.

There is a sliding scale. More capacity to feel happiness and suffering = more moral worth. Rocks, sponges, and germs have no capacity to feel happiness and suffering.

This sounds like a bad rule and could potentially create a sensitivity arms race. Assuming that people that practice Stoic or Buddhist techniques are successful in diminishing their capacity to suffer, does that mean they are worth less morally than before they started? This would be counter-intuitive, to say the least.

Assuming that people that practice Stoic or Buddhist techniques are successful in diminishing their capacity to suffer, does that mean they are worth less morally than before they started?

It means that inducing some typically-harmful action on a Stoic is less harmful than inducing it on a normal person. For example, suppose you have a Stoic who no longer feels negative reactions to insults. If you insult her, she doesn't mind at all. It would be morally better to insult this person than to insult a typical person.

Let me put it this way: all suffering of equal degree is equally important, and the importance of suffering is proportional to its degree.

A lot of conclusions follow from this principle, including:

  • animal suffering is important;
  • if you have to do something to one of two beings and it will cause greater suffering to being A, then, all else being equal, you should do it to being B.

Well, why is pain important?

It's really abstract and difficult to explain, so I probably won't do a very good job. Peter Singer explains it pretty well in "All Animals Are Equal." Basically, we should give equal consideration to the interests of all beings. Any being capable of suffering has an interest in avoiding suffering. A more intelligent being does not have a greater interest in avoiding suffering [1]; hence, intelligence is not morally relevant.

No, my point was that your valuing pain is itself a moral intuition. Picture a pebblesorter explaining that this pile is correct, while your pile is, obviously, incorrect.

There is a sliding scale. More capacity to feel happiness and suffering = more moral worth. Rocks, sponges, and germs have no capacity to feel happiness and suffering.

So, say, an emotionless AI? A human with damaged pain receptors? An alien with entirely different neurochemistry analogs?

Well yeah. That's because discovery tends to increase happiness. But if it didn't, it would be pointless. For example, suppose you are tasked with sifting through a pile of sand to find which one is the whitest. When you finish, you will have discovered something new. But the process is really boring and it doesn't benefit anyone, so what's the point? Discovery is only worthwhile if it increases happiness in some way.

No. I'm saying that I value exporation/discovery/whatever even when it serves no purpose, ultimately. Joe may be exploring a randomly-generated landscape, but it's better than sitting in a whitewashed room wireheading nonetheless.

[1] Unless it is capable of greater suffering, but that's not a trait inherent to intelligence. I think it may be true in some respects that more intelligent beings are capable of greater suffering; but what matters is the capacity to suffer, not the intelligence itself.

Can you taboo "suffering" for me?

I've avoided using the word "suffering" or its synonyms in this comment, except in one instance where I believe it is appropriate.

No, my point was that your valuing pain is itself a moral intuition.

Yes, it's an intuition. I can't prove that suffering is important.

So, say, an emotionless AI?

If the AI does not consciously prefer any state to any other state, then it has no moral worth.

A human with damaged pain receptors?

Such a human could still experience emotions, so ey would still have moral worth.

An alien with entirely different neurochemistry analogs?

Difficult to say. If it can experience states about which it has an interest in promoting or avoiding, then it has moral worth.

No. I'm saying that I value exporation/discovery/whatever even when it serves no purpose, ultimately. Joe may be exploring a randomly-generated landscape, but it's better than sitting in a whitewashed room wireheading nonetheless.

Okay. I don't really get why, but I can't dispute that you hold that value. This is why preference utilitarianism can be nice.

... oh.

You were defining pain/suffering/whatever as generic disutility? That's much more reasonable.

... so, is a hive of bees one mind of many or sort of both at once? Does evolution get a vote, here? If you aren't discounting optimizers that lack consciousness you're gonna get some damn strange results with this.

so, is a hive of bees one mind of many or sort of both at once?

Many. The unit of moral significance is the conscious mind. A group of bees is not conscious; individual bees are conscious.

(Edit: It's possible that bees are not conscious. What I meant was that if bees are conscious then they are conscious as individuals, not as a group.)

If you aren't discounting optimizers that lack consciousness you're gonna get some damn strange results with this.

A non-conscious being cannot experience disutility, therefore it has no moral relevance.

A non-conscious being cannot experience disutility

Er... Deep Blue?

Deep Blue cannot experience disutility (i.e. negative states). Deep Blue can have a utility function to determine the state of the chess board, but that's not the same as consciously experiencing positive or negative utility.

Okay, I see what you mean by “experience”... but that makes “A non-conscious being cannot experience disutility” a tautology, so following it with “therefore” and a non-tautological claim raises all kind of warning lights in my brain.

Unless you can taboo "conscious" in such a way that that made sense, I'm gonna substitute "intelligent" for "conscious" there (which is clearly what I meant, in context.)

The point with bees is that, as a "hive mind", they act as an optimizer without any individual intention.

I'm gonna substitute "intelligent" for "conscious" there

I don't see that you can substitute "intelligent" for "conscious". Perhaps they are correlated, but they're certainly not the same. I'm definitely more intelligent than my dog, but am I more conscious? Probably not. My dog seems to experience the world just as vividly as I do. (Knowing this for certain requires solving the hard problem of consciousness, but that's where the evidence seems to point.)

(which is clearly what I meant, in context.)

It's clear to you because you wrote it, but it wasn't clear to me.

Well yes, that's the illusion of transparency for you. I assure you, I was using conscious as a synonym for intelligent. Were you interpreting it as "able to experience qualia"? Because that is both a tad tautological and noticeably different from the argument I've been making here.

Whatever. We're getting offtopic.

If you value optimizer's goals regardless of intelligence - whether valuing a bugs desires as much as a human's, a hivemind's goals less than it's individual members or an evolution's goals anywhere - you get results that do not appear to correlate with anything you could call human morality. If I have misinterpreted your beliefs, I would like to know how. If I have interpreted them correctly, I would like to see how you reconcile this with saving orphans by tipping over the ant farm.

If ants experience qualia at all, which is highly uncertain, they probably don't experience them to the same extent that humans do. Therefore, their desires are not as important. On the issue of the moral relevance of insects, the general consensus among utilitarians seems to be that we have no idea how vividly insects can experience the world, if at all, so we are in no position to rate their moral worth; and we should invest more into research on insect qualia.

I think it's pretty obvious that (e.g.) dogs experience the world about as vividly as humans do, so all else being equal, kicking a dog is about as bad as kicking a human. (I won't get into the question of killing because it's massively more complicated.)

I would like to seehow you reconcile this with saving orphans by tipping over the ant farm.

I cannot say whether this is right or wrong because we don't know enough about ant qualia, but I would guess that a single human's experience is worth the experience of at least hundreds of ants, possibly a lot more.

you get results that do not appear to correlate with anything you could call human morality.

Like what, besides the orphans-ants thing? I don't know if you've misinterpreted my beliefs unless I have a better idea of what you think I believe. That said, I do believe that a lot of "human morality" is horrendously incorrect.

I think it's pretty obvious that (e.g.) dogs experience the world about as vividly as humans do, so all else being equal, kicking a dog is about as bad as kicking a human.

This isn't obvious to me. And it is especially not obvious given that dogs are a species where one of the primary selection effects has been human sympathy.

You make a good point about human sympathy. Still, if you look at biological and neurological evidence, it appears that dogs are built in pretty much the same ways we are. They have the same senses—in fact, their senses are stronger in some cases. They have the same evolutionary reasons to react to pain. The parts of their brains responsible for pain look the same as ours. The biggest difference is probably that we have cerebral cortexes and they don't, but that part of the brain isn't especially important in responding to physical pain. Other forms of pain, yes; and I would agree that humans can feel some negative states more strongly than dogs can. But it doesn't look like physical pain is one of those states.

If ants experience qualia at all, which is highly uncertain, they probably don't experience them to the same extent that humans do. Therefore, their desires are not as important.

GOSH REALLY.

I think it's pretty obvious that (e.g.) dogs experience the world about as vividly as humans do, so all else being equal, kicking a dog is about as bad as kicking a human. (I won't get into the question of killing because it's massively more complicated.)

Once again, you fail to provide the slightest justification for valuing dogs as much as humans; if this was "obvious" we wouldn't be arguing, would we? Dogs are intelligent enough to be worth a non-negligable amount, but if we value all pain equally you should feel the same way about, say, mice, or ... ants.

I would like to see how you reconcile this with saving orphans by tipping over the ant farm.

I cannot say whether this is right or wrong because we don't know enough about ant qualia, but I would guess that a single human's experience is worth the experience of at least hundreds of ants, possibly a lot more.

Huh? You value individual bees, yet not ants?

Like what, besides the orphans-ants thing? I don't know if you've misinterpreted my beliefs unless I have a better idea of what you think I believe. That said, I do believe that a lot of "human morality" is horrendously incorrect.

How, exactly, can human morality be "incorrect"? What are you comparing it to?

you fail to provide the slightest justification for valuing dogs as much as humans

See my reply here.

if we value all pain equally you should feel the same way about, say, mice, or ... ants.

Not if mice or ants don't feel as much pain as humans do. Equal pain is equally valuable, no matter the species. But unequal pain is not equally valuable.

Huh? You value individualbees, yet not ants?

I worded my comment poorly. I didn't mean to imply that bees are necessarily conscious. I've edited my comment to reflect this.

How, exactly, can human morality be "incorrect"? What are you comparing it to?

Well I'd have to get into metaethics to answer this, which I'm not very good at. I don't think such a conversation would be fruitful.

GOSH REALLY.

Yes, really. You seemed to think that I believe ants were worth as much as humans, so I explained why I don't believe that.

Firstly, I thought you said we were discussing disutility, not pain?

Secondly, could we taboo consciousness? It seems to mean all things to all people in discussions like this.

Thirdly, you claimed human morality was incorrect; I was under the impression that we were analyzing human morality. If you are working to a different standard to humanity (which I doubt) then perhaps a change in terminology is in order? If you are, in fact, a human, and as such the "morality" under discussion here is that of humans, then your statement makes no sense.

Assuming the second possibility, you're right; there is no need to get into metaethics as long as we focus on actual (human) ethics.

Not if mice or ants don't feel as much pain as humans do. Equal pain is equally valuable, no matter the species. But unequal pain is not equally valuable.

What conceivable test would verify if one organism feels more pain than another organism?

Good question. I don't know of any such test, although I'm reluctant to say that it doesn't exist. That's why it's important to do research in this area.

Some kind of brain scans? Probably not very useful on insects, etc, but would probably work for, say, chickens vs. chimpanzees.

Some kind of brain scans? Probably not very useful on insects, etc, but would probably work for, say, chickens vs. chimpanzees.

Okay, say you had some kind of nociceptor analysis machine (or, for that matter, whatever you think "pain" will eventually reduce to). Would it count the number of discrete cociceptors or would it measure cociceptor mass? What if we encountered extra-terrestrial life that didn't have any (of whatever it is that we have reduced "pain" to)? Would they then count for nothing in your moral calculus?

To me, this whole things feels like we are trying to multiply apples by oranges and divide by zebras. Also, it seems problematic from an institutional design perspective, due to poor incentive structure. It would reward those persons that self-modify towards being more utility-monster-like on the margin.

Well, there's neurologically sophisticated Earthly life with neural organization very different from mammals', come to that.

I'm not neurologist enough to give an informed account of how an octopus's brain differs from a rhesus monkey's, but I'm almost sure its version of nociception would look quite different. Though they've got an opioid receptor system, so maybe this is more basal than I thought.

I remember reading that crustaceans don't have the part of the brain that processes pain. I don't feel bad about throwing live crabs into boiling water.

Really? I remember reading the opposite. Many times. If you're regularly boiling them alive, have you considered researching this?