My folks raised us in borderline-fundamentalist Christianity, which made the Santa myth nearly as much of a non-starter as I expect it was for those commenters who were raised Orthodox Jewish.
If and when I have children of my own, I intend to use the Santa myth as an exercise in invisible-dragon baiting, nothing more.
I don't think that argument is even valid. After all, I have the option of putting a human in a box. If I do, one hypothesis states that the human will be tortured and then killed. The other hypothesis states that the human will "vanish"; it's not precisely clear what "vanish" means here, but I'm going to assume that since this state is supposed to be identical in my experience to the state in the first hypothesis, the human will no longer exist. (Alternative explanations, such as the human being transported to another universe which I can never reach, are even more outlandish.)
In either case, I am permanently removing a human from our society. On that basis alone, in the absence of more specific information, I choose not to take this option.
I think you will have to come up with a scenario where 'the action coupled with the more complicated explanation' is more attractive than both 'the action with the simpler explanation' and 'no action' in order to make this argument.
I believe he does take medication; I remember him saying his psychologist started him on Abilify and he was terrified that Abilify would cause permanent muscle tics, as apparently it does in rare cases.
As I said to Perplexed, he lives halfway across the continent. I do know his name and mailing address, but I talk with him exclusively over IRC. I know some of the therapies and medicines he's taken, but I don't know what he's taking right now.
Part of my reluctance to take matters into my own hands is that I don't know how to reliably tell a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist from a quack. I can look up what Wikipedia says about a specific therapy like ECT, but how do I know whether what it says is accurate enough to trust my friend's life to it? As the status quo seems unlikely to have a catastrophic turn for the worse, I'm reluctant to do anything that would change it without either a strong confidence in its efficacy or at the very least a strong confidence that it will do no harm.
He lives halfway across the continent, and he has been talking like this for months without doing physical harm to himself. Is it right for me to cause the intrusion into his life such a call would surely bring without stronger evidence that it's necessary?
I have a friend who suffers from severe depression. He has stated on many occasions that he hates himself and wants to commit suicide, but he can't go through with it because even that would be accomplishing something and he can't accomplish anything.
He has a firm delusion that he cannot do anything worthwhile, that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and nothing can possibly be done by anyone about it, and everyone else feels the same way he does, but is repressing it.
This makes talking with him about many subjects exceedingly difficult, as he will ignore or rationalize away actual evidence as being, at best, an exception to the rule of pessimism. It's like talking to a patient with a disorder like somatoparaphrenia, where the ordinary person can see quite obviously that the patient has a problem, but the patient confabulates. He literally cannot see reason on these subjects -- his brain or this deep-seated delusion won't let him.
To the best of my knowledge he has been seeing therapists and psychologists and they have been unable to help him.
How should a rationalist deal with such a situation? Even if Singularity-level technology were available to repair the causes of his depression, he would refuse it if able. If such technology were available, would it be ethical to improve his quality of life against his will by changing his mind? I must confess I am almost at the point of not protesting his desire for suicide; he seems genuinely unhappy, and incapable of changing that fact of his own volition.
Interesting, but the pessimist in me is noting "even a stopped clock is right twice a day".
For every one study like this, there's hundreds of parents yelling that they noticed their kids developed autism right after getting vaccinated, or that they're sure the power lines near their house are affecting their kids' growth, or some other such nonsense.
I think you need to be far less general; not every parent is an expert on their child's behavior, let alone their child's health.
I think the best definition of consciousness I've come across is Hofstadter's, which is something like "when you are thinking, you can think about the fact that you're thinking, and incorporate that into your conclusions. You can dive down the rabbit hole of meta-thinking as many times as you like." Even there, though, it's hard to tell if it's a verb, a noun, or something else.
If we want to talk about it in computing terms, you can look at the stored-program architecture we use today. Software is data, but it's also data that can direct the hardware to 'do something' in a way that most data cannot. There is software that can introspect itself and modify its own code (this is used both for clever performance hacks and for obfuscation).
My view is that consciousness is a property of my thought processes — not every thought will have the same level of introspection, or even introspection at all. It's something that my mind is doing (or isn't doing, depending on what I'm thinking about). The property we ascribe to entities that we call 'consciousness' I would instead term 'the ability to think consciously' or 'the ability to have consciousness'. It seems to me that my thought processes are software running on the hardware that is the human brain. If my mind were uploaded, and its software state written to permanent storage and then stopped running, I would say that this recorded state still has the ability to think consciously, but it is not doing so, since it's not thinking at all, so at that time it is not conscious. (But of course it could be, if started back up.)
That's even more concise, but I think a bit too narrow.
As you mention in your second footnote, the idea of a 'pickup artist' carries unfortunate connotations. I'd suggest you change your headline to something that you won't have to explain "it's not really what you thought when you first heard it".
Perhaps "Optimizing interaction techniques for social enjoyment"? This has the benefit that while the pickup artist is perceived as interested in social engagement as a means to orgasm, practitioners of the techniques you discuss would be perceived as interested in social engagement as an end in itself.