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Four Focus Areas of Effective Altruism

Can preference utilitarians, classical utilitarians and negative utilitarians hammer out some kind of cosmological policy consensus? Not ideal by anyone's lights, but good enough? So long as we don't create more experience below "hedonic zero" in our forward light-cone, NUs are untroubled by wildly differing outcomes. There is clearly a tension between preference utilitarianism and classical utilitarianism; but most(?) preference utilitarians are relaxed about having hedonic ranges shifted upwards - perhaps even radically upwards - if recalibration is done safely, intelligently and conservatively - a big "if", for sure. Surrounding the sphere of sentient agents in our Local Supercluster(?) with a sea of hedonium propagated by von Neumann probes or whatever is a matter of indifference to most preference utilitarians and NUs but mandated(?) by CU.

Is this too rosy a scenario?

Confused as to usefulness of 'consciousness' as a concept

Eli, it's too quick to dismiss placing moral value on all conscious creatures as "very warm-and-fuzzy". If we're psychologising, then we might equally say that working towards the well-being of all sentience reflects the cognitive style of a rule-bound hyper-systematiser. No, chickens aren't going to win any Fields medals - though chickens can recognise logical relationships and perform transitive inferences (cf. the "pecking order"). But nonhuman animals can still experience states of extreme distress. Uncontrolled panic, for example, feels awful regardless of your species-identity. Such panic involves a complete absence or breakdown of reflective self-awareness - illustrating how the most intense forms of consciousness don't involve sophisticated meta-cognition.

Either way, if we can ethically justify spending, say, $100,000 salvaging a 23-week-old human micro-preemie, then impartial benevolence dictates caring for beings of greater sentience and sapience as well - or at the very least, not actively harming them.

[Video Link] PostHuman: An Introduction to Transhumanism

"Health is a state of complete [sic] physical, mental and social well-being": the World Health Organization definition of health. Knb, I don't doubt that sometimes you're right. But Is phasing out the biology of involuntary suffering really too "extreme" - any more than radical life-extension or radical intelligence-amplification? When talking to anyone new to transhumanism, I try also to make the most compelling case I can for radical superlongevity and extreme superintelligence - biological, Kurzweilian and MIRI conceptions alike. Yet for a large minority of people - stretching from Buddhists to wholly secular victims of chronic depression and chronic pain disorders - dealing with suffering in one guise or another is the central issue. Recall how for hundreds of millions of people in the world today, time hangs heavy - and the prospect of intelligence-amplification without improved subjective well-being leaves them cold. So your worry cuts both ways.

Anyhow, IMO the makers of the BIOPS video have done a fantastic job. Kudos. I gather future episodes of the series will tackle different conceptions of posthuman superintelligence - not least from the MIRI perspective.

Group Rationality Diary, August 1-15

This is a difficult question. By analogy, should rich cannibals or human child abusers be legally permitted to indulge their pleasures if they offset the harm they cause with sufficiently large charitable donations to orphanages or children's charities elsewhere? On (indirect) utilitarian grounds if nothing else, we would all(?) favour an absolute legal prohibition on cannibalism and human child abuse. This analogy breaks down if the neuroscientfic evidence suggesting that pigs, for example, are at least as sentient as prelinguistic human toddlers turns out to be mistaken. I'm deeply pessimistic this is the case.

Arguments Against Speciesism

Could you possibly say a bit more about why the mirror test is inadequate as a test of possession of a self-concept? Either way, making self-awareness a precondition of moral status has troubling implications. For example, consider what happens to verbally competent adults when feelings intense fear turn into uncontrollable panic. In states of "blind" panic, reflective self-awareness and the capacity for any kind of meta-cognition is lost. Panic disorder is extraordinarily unpleasant. Are we to make the claim that such panic-ridden states aren't themselves important - only the memories of such states that a traumatised subject reports when s/he regains a measure of composure and some semblance of reflective self-awareness is restored? A pig, for example, or a prelinguistic human toddler, doesn't have the meta-cognitive capacity to self-reflect on such states. But I don't think we are ethically entitled to induce them - any more than we are ethically entitled to waterboard a normal adult human. I would hope posthuman superintelligence can engineer such states out of existence - in human and nonhuman animals alike.

Arguments Against Speciesism

Birds lack a neocortex. But members of at least one species, the European magpie, have convincingly passed the "mirror test" [cf. "Mirror-Induced Behavior in the Magpie (Pica pica): Evidence of Self-Recognition" http://www.plosbiology.org/article/fetchObject.action?representation=PDF&uri=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060202] Most ethologists recognise passing the mirror test as evidence of a self-concept. As well as higher primates (chimpanzees, orang utans, bonobos, gorillas) members of other species who have passed the mirror test include elephants, orcas and bottlenose dolphins. Humans generally fail the mirror test below the age of eighteen months.

Arguments Against Speciesism

Lumifer, should the charge of "mind-killers" be levelled at anti-speciesists or meat-eaters? (If you were being ironic, apologies for being so literal-minded.)

Arguments Against Speciesism

Larks, by analogy, could a racist acknowledge that, other things being equal, conscious beings of equivalent sentience deserve equal care and respect, but race is one of the things that has to be equal? If you think the "other things being equal" caveat dilutes the definition of speciesism so it's worthless, perhaps drop it - I was just trying to spike some guns.

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