" So it IS okay to kill someone and replace them with an absolutely identical copy, as long as the deceased feels no pain and nobody notices? "
In total uti it is ok. This is counter-intuitive, so this model fixes it, and its no longer ok. Again, that's the reason the penalty is there.
The absolute identical copy trick might be ok, and might not be ok, but this is besides the point. If a completely identical copy is defined as being the same person, then you didn't replace anybody and the entire question is moot. If its not, then you killed someone, which is bad, and it ought to be reflected in the model (which it is, as of now).
It doesn't change your actual happiness, just the future one. If you are literally shot with a sniper rifle while walking in the street with no warning, there is no time in which you are saddened by your death. You just are, and then aren't. What is lost is all the happiness that you would have otherwise experienced. Assume the guy is shot in the head, so there's no bleeding out part.
I'm not sure where the -1000 number comes from. There is no point in which the shot down person feels 1000 less happiness than before. Saying "the act itself is worth -1000" is adding a rule to the model. A hard coded rule that killing someone is -1000. First of all, such a rule doesn't exist in the total uti, and this model fixes it. Second of all, not all killings are equally bad, so you have to come up with a model for that now. Instead, in this model, when someone is killed the total moral utility of the population is reduced by an amount equal to, at least, minimal "life worth living happiness" for every year the killed man had left. That is pretty intuitive and solves things without hard coded rules.
Plus, nobody said "an absolutely identical copy", the problem in total uti is that it follows it is ok to murder someone and replace him with someone of EQUAL HAPPINESS, not equal everything. The same heuristic won't work (because it deals with identity issues like "how do we define who is captain kirk"). In this model, this problem doesn't occur anymore.
The "replace" in the original problem is ending one human and creating (in whatever way) another one. I don't think you understand the scenario.
In total uti (in the human world), it is okay to:
kill someone, provided that by doing so you bring into the world another human with the same happiness. For the sake of argument, lets assume happiness potential is genetically encoded. So if you kill someone, you can always say "that's ok guys, my wife just got pregnant with a fetus bearing the same genetic code as the guy I just murdered". In a model where all you do is sum up the happiness of every individual in the population, this is ok. In Vannesa's model it isn't, and what makes sure it isn't is the penalty.
" I'm extremely saddened to know this. And it makes me feel mean to stick to my theme of "already included in h, no need for another term". The fear of death, expectation of pain, and impact on others are _all_ differences in h which should not be double-counted."
It might be double counted, that's not what I was talking about when I said the model captures this intuition. The existence of h0 does that, it might be that other parts of the model do that as well (I don't think so though). Also, I'm always up for an intelligent discussion and you were not being mean :)
" Also, I very much hope that in a few years or decades, you'll look back and realize you were mistaken in wishing you hadn't been born, and are glad you persevered, and are overall glad you experienced life."
My prior for this is low, since I've been feeling this way for my entire adult life, but one can always hope. Plus, I've actually met and talked to many like minded individuals so I wouldn't discount this intuition as "not worth capturing since its just some small anomaly".
The penalty doesn't reset when you create a new human. You are left with the negative value that the killed human left behind, and the new one starts off with a fresh amount of -u0[new person] to compensate for. If the original human would have been left alive, he would have compensated for his own, original -u0[original person], and the entire system would have produced a higher value.
If you don't think killing is in itself bad then you are not on par with the intuition of almost everybody. Legit.
I personally would rather to have never been born but don't want to commit suicide. There are numerous reasons. Hurting the people who care about me (and wouldn't have if I was not born in the first place), fearing pain or the act of suicide itself, fearing death (both are emotional axioms that a lot of people have, there's no point in debating them rationally) and many other.
Being killed doesn't change your expected happiness, knowing you will be killed does. That's different. If you want to separate variables properly think about someone being gunned down randomly with no earlier indication. Being killed just means ending you prematurely, and denying you the happiness you would have had were you alive. A good model will reflect why that's bad even if you replace the killed person with someone that would compensate for future loss in happiness.
Pragmatically speaking, killing people causes unhappiness because it hurts the people who lost them, but that is reflected in the happiness values of those individuals, and a good model will reflect that killing someone is bad even if know one knows about it.
The birth penalty fixes a lot of unintuitive products of the classic total uti. For example, if you treat every "new" person as catching up to the penalty (which can only be achieved if you at least live with minimal acceptable happiness for your entire life, aka h0), then killing a person and replacing him with someone of equal happiness is bad. Cause the penalty that was not yet caught up with in the killed person remains as a negative quantity in the total utility, a debt, if you will. In total uti, this doesn't apply and it logically follows that there's nothing wrong with killing a person and replacing him with a new person of equal happiness, which is unintuitive.
"I'm also very unsure about the assertion that "happy to exist" and "prefer not to die now" is an important difference [...]" - this is important because there are people that feel they are not happy with existence, and would rather to not have been born at all, but don't want to die now that they do in fact exist. If you don't have this difference you can't capture that intuition. I'm not sure how the N unhappy years argument is relevant to this or how it renders the difference moot. In particular:
" "prefer to continue to live from this point" is equal to "happy to come into existence at this point" "
is in fact false, for a significant amount of people.
This might be trivial, but in the most basic sense noticing where one has blind spots can be done by first noticing where one's behavior differs from how he predicted he would behave, or what the people around him behave. If you thought some task was going to be easy and its not, or that you would get mixed results in predicting something and you don't (even if you think you might be more accurate than average, what's important here is the difference) you might be neglecting something important.
Its kind of similar to the way some expert AI systems try to notice blind spots: they "view" either demonstrations of proper behavior or just recordings of plenty of other agents (probably humans) performing the relevant tasks, and if there's some difference from what they would do, it raises the probability of a blind spot in the model.
Once you find something like that, if you seem to rouse a strong emotional response in yourself when you ask yourself "why am I doing this differently?" that's a non-negligible red flag for a blind spot, IMO.
"This is because planetary physics can be formalized relatively easily" - they can now, and could when they were, but not before. One can argue that we thought many "complex" and very "human" abilities could not be algroithmically emulated in the past, and recent advances in AI (with neural nets and all that) have proven otherwise. If a program can do/predict something, there is a set of mechanical rules that explain it. The set might not be as elegant as Newton's laws of motion, but it is still a set of equations nonetheless. The idea behind Villam's comment (I think) is that in the future someone might say, the same way you just did, that "We can formalize how happy people generally are in a given society because that's relatively easy, but what about something truly complex like what an individual might imagine if we read him a specific story?".
In other words, I don't see the essential differentiation between biology and sociology questions and physics questions, that you try to point to. In the post itself you also talk about moral preference, and I tend to agree with you that some people just have very individually strongly valued axioms that might contradict themselves or others, but it doesn't in itself mean that questions about rationality differ from questions about, say, molecular biology, in the sense that they can be hypothetically answered to a satisfactory level of accuracy.
Then that's an unnecessary assumption about Aboriginals. Take a native Madagascan instead (arbitrary choice of ethnicity) and he might not.
As far as I know it is not true, and certainly not based on any concrete evidence, that humans must see intentional patterns in everything. Not every culture thought cloud patterns were a language for example. In such a culture, the one beholding the sky doesn't necessarily think it displays the actions of an intentful agent recording a message. The same can be true for Chinese scribbles.
If what you're saying was true, it would be a very surprising fact that there are a whole bunch of human cultures in history that never invented writing.
At any rate, if there exists a not-an-anomaly-example of a human that given sufficient time could not learn Chinese in a Chinese Room, the entire argument as a solution to the problem doesn't hold (lets call this "the normal man argument").
If it were enough that there exists a human that *could* learn Chinese in the room, then you could have just given some example of really intuitive learners throughout history or some such.
It is enough for the original Chinese room to show a complete system that emulates understanding
Chinese, but no part of it (specifically the human part) understands Chinese, and therefore you can't prove a machine is "actually thinking" and all that jazz because it might be constructed like the aforementioned system (this is the basis for the normal man argument).
Of course, there are answers to this conundrum, but the one you posit doesn't contradict the original point.