All of ctl's Comments + Replies

That having been established, what could it mean to say that my judgment is a "mistake"? That seems to be a category error. One can't be mistaken in wanting something.

I have never used the word "mistake" by itself. I did say that refusing to become orgasmium is a hedonistic utilitarian mistake, which is mathematically true, unless you disagree with me on the definition of "hedonistic utilitarian mistake" (= an action which demonstrably results in less hedonic utility than some other action) or of "orgasmium" (= a ... (read more)

1Said Achmiz11y
I don't think those are the only two ways to refute the argument. I can think of at least two more: (3) Deny the third step of the argument's structure — the "so we should doubt Eliezer's conclusions" part. Analogical reasoning applied to surface features of arguments is not reliable. There's really no substitute for actually examining an argument. (4) Disagree that construing the hippie's position as constituting any sort of "reasoning" that may or may not be "suspect" is a meaningful description of what's going on in your hypothetical (or at least, the interesting aspect of what's going on, the part we're concerned with). The point I was making is this: what's relevant in that scenario is that the hippie has "keeping her body natural" as a terminal value. If that's a coherent value, then the rest of the reasoning ("and therefore I shouldn't take this pill") is trivial and of no interest to us. Now it may not be a coherent value, as I said; but if it is — well, arguing with terminal values is not a matter of poking holes in someone's logic. Terminal values are given. As for your other points: It's true, you didn't say "mistake" on its own. What I am wondering is this: ok, refusing to become orgasmium fails to satisfy the mathematical requirements of hedonistic utilitarianism. But why should anyone care about that? I don't mean this as a general, out-of-hand dismissal; I am asking, specifically, why such a requirement would override a person's desires: Person A: If you become orgasmium, you would feel more pleasure than you otherwise would. Person B: But I don't want to become orgasmium. Person A: But if you want to feel as much pleasure as possible, then you should become orgasmium! Person B: But... I don't want to become orgasmium. I see Person B's position as being the final word on the matter (especially if, as you say, we're ignoring external consequences). Person A may be entirely right — but so what? Why should that affect Person B's judgments? Why sh

In this case: letting bias and/or intellectual laziness dominate your decision-making process.

So if I wanted to respond to the person dying of a horrible disease who is refusing antibiotics, I might say something like "you are confused about what you actually value and about the meaning of the word 'natural.' If you understood more about about science and medicine and successfully resolved the relevant confusions, you would no longer want to make this decision." (I might also say something like "however, I respect your right to determine what kind of substances enter your body.") I suppose you want me to say that Eliezer is also confused about what he actually values, namely that he thinks he values science but he only values the ability of science to increase human happiness. (I don't think he's confused about the meaning of any of the relevant words.) I disagree. One reason to value science, even from a purely hedonistic point of view, is that science corrects itself over time, and in particular gives you better ideas about how to be a hedonist over time. If you wanted to actually design a process that turned people into orgasmium, you'd have to science a lot, and at the end of all that sciencing there's no guarantee that the process you've come up with is hedonistically optimal. Maybe you could increase the capacity of the orgasmium to experience happiness further if you'd scienced more. Once you turn everyone into orgasmium, nobody's around to science anymore, so nobody's around to find better processes for turning people into orgasmium (or, science forbid, find better ethical arguments against hedonistic utilitarianism). In short, the capacity for self-improvement is lost, and that would be terrible regardless of what direction you're trying to improve towards.

I'm not arguing that people shouldn't decide that. I'm not arguing any kind of "should."

I'm just saying, if you do decide that, you're kind of dumb. And by analogy Eliezer was being kind of dumb in his article.

Okay. What do you mean by "dumb"?

Interesting stuff. Very interesting.

Do you buy it?

That article is arguing that it's all right to value things that aren't mental states over a net gain in mental utility.[1] If, for instance, you're given the choice between feeling like you've made lots of scientific discoveries and actually making just a few scientific discoveries, it's reasonable to prefer the latter.[2]

Well, that example doesn't sound all that ridiculous.

But the logic that Eliezer is using is exactly the same logic that drives somebody who's dying of a horrible disease to refuse antibi... (read more)

Choices can be wrong, and that one is. The hippy is simply mistaken about the kinds of differences that exist between "natural" and "non-natural" things, and about how much she would care about those differences if she knew more chemistry and physics. And presumably if she was less mistaken in expectations of what happens "after you die". As for relating this to Eliezer's argument, a few examples of wrong non-subjective-happiness values is no demonstration that subjective happiness is the only human terminal value. Especially given the introspective and experimental evidence that people care about certain things that aren't subjective happiness.

But the logic that Eliezer is using is exactly the same logic that drives somebody who's dying of a horrible disease to refuse antibiotics, because she wants to keep her body natural. And this choice is — well, it isn't wrong, choices can't be "wrong" — but it reflects a very fundamental sort of human bias. It's misguided.

Very well, let's back up Eliezer's argument with some hard evidence. Fortunately, lukeprog has already written a brief review of the neuroscience on this topic. The verdict? Eliezer is right. People value things other tha... (read more)

You can argue that having values other than hedonistic utility is mistaken in certain cases. But that doesn't imply that it's mistaken in all cases.
0Said Achmiz11y
I surmise from your comments that you may not be aware that Eliezer's written quite a bit on this matter; is a good summary/index ( is one of my favorites). There's a lot of stuff in there that is relevant to your points. However, you asked me what I think, so here it is... The wording of your first post in this thread seems telling. You say that "Refusing to become orgasmium is a hedonistic utilitarian mistake, full stop." Do you want to become orgasmium? Perhaps you do. In that case, I direct the question to myself, and my answer is no: I don't want to become orgasmium. That having been established, what could it mean to say that my judgment is a "mistake"? That seems to be a category error. One can't be mistaken in wanting something. One can be mistaken about wanting something ("I thought I wanted X, but upon reflection and consideration of my mental state, it turns out I actually don't want X"), or one can be mistaken about some property of the thing in question, which affects the preference ("I thought I wanted X, but then I found out more about X, and now I don't want X"); but if you're aware of all relevant facts about the way the world is, and you're not mistaken about what your own mental states are, and you still want something... labeling that a "mistake" seems simply meaningless. On to your analogy: If someone wants to "keep her body natural", then conditional on that even being a coherent desire[1], what's wrong with it? If it harms other people somehow, then that's a problem... otherwise, I see no issue. I don't think it makes this person "kind of dumb" unless you mean that she's actually got other values that are being harmed by this value, or is being irrational in some other ways; but values in and of themselves cannot be irrational. This construal is incorrect. Say rather: Eliezer does not agree that scientific discovery is only an instrument t
I see absolutely no reason that people shouldn't be allowed to decide this. (Where I firmly draw the line is people making decisions for other people on this kind of basis.)

This may be a minor nit, but... is this forum collectively anti-orgasmium, now?

Because being orgasmium is by definition more pleasant than not being orgasmium. Refusing to become orgasmium is a hedonistic utilitarian mistake, full stop.[1] (Well, that's not actually true, since as a human you can make other people happier, and as orgasmium you presumably cannot. But it is at least on average a mistake to refuse to become orgasmium; I would argue that it is virtually always a mistake.)

[1] We're all hedonistic utilitarians, right?

For as long as I've been here, which admittedly isn't all that long. Here's your problem.

We're all hedonistic utilitarians, right?

No. Most of us are preferentists or similar. Some of us are not consequentialists at all.

I'm anti-orgasmium, but not necessarily anti-experience-machine. I'm approximately a median-preference utilitarian. (This is more descriptive than normative)
No thanks. Awesomeness is more complex than can be achieved with wireheading.

[1] We're all hedonistic utilitarians, right?

... no?

I don't think his explanation for why a chair pushes back on your hand is quite right, either. I've mostly been told that material solidness comes from the Pauli exclusion principle, not electrostatic repulsion.

I don't know quantum mechanics, so I don't have a good perspective on the problem, but the electrostatic explanation has always seemed lacking to me. The electric charge in a neutral atom is fairly well-approximated by a symmetric sphere of negative charge with a bunch of positive charge at the center, so two atoms shouldn't experience much electros... (read more)

Pauli exclusion holds neutron stars and atomic nuclei apart. ie. much denser than atomic contact. Even with the clouds overlapping, I think it's mostly electromagnetic. They are too sparse for exclusion to be significant. To get any deeper, we would need someone who understands the source and mechanism of exclusion.
It's mostly this stuff. Dispersion forces involve both pauli exclusion and the electric force, working in sweet harmony. Which is the one that actually pushes the heavy nuclei around and stops your hand? The electric force.
I note Fyenman above is quoted as saying, "There's other forces involved, connected to electrical forces" in the context. One can quibble about how "connected" the Pauli exclusion principle is to electrical forces, but he is explicitly acknowledging there's more going on than just the immediate results of the electromagnetic force, in the midst of an extemporaneous explanation as to what's going on with magnets.
I have never been taught this in particular, but it seems unlikely that the Pauli exclusion principle could do it. It's a symmetry, not a force. From what I understand, if you sent two fermions at each other, assuming they don't otherwise repel, they'd just pass through each other. The Pauli principle would merely guarantee that they do so at an anti-node. You'd never find them at the same spot. You also wouldn't find them at any other anti-nodes that appear along their trajectories, or more accurately, their joint trajectory in configuration space, or still more accurately, their joint waveform in configuration space. In any case, their momentum and energy would be completely unaffected by this. The Pauli principle might be why electrons end up in a pattern in which they repel each other so well, but I don't see what else it can do. If I'm wrong, please correct me, and send me somewhere where I can read more about how it works.

Both the Pauli exclusion principle and electrostatic repulsion contribute. There is a brief discussion of this on Wikipedia, which cites the work of Freeman Dyson.

A more rigorous proof was provided in 1967 by Freeman Dyson and Andrew Lenard, who considered the balance of attractive (electron-nuclear) and repulsive (electron-electron and nuclear-nuclear) forces and showed that ordinary matter would collapse and occupy a much smaller volume without the Pauli principle.[6] The consequence of the Pauli principle here is that electrons of the same spin are ke

... (read more)
I'm not a physicist, but when I looked into this, I found this well-written article: The Stability of Matter: From Atoms to Stars It goes into lots of detail of what's happening with a single hydrogen atom, then a large atom, then bulk matter. It doesn't require quantum physics knowledge from a reader, but it does require mathematical maturity, and isn't easy reading. The short of it is that you're right, the Pauli exclusion principle is more important than electrostatic repulsion.