891 Comments

I think I remember one of your articles where you said something like (very sorry if I misquote/don't represent your opinion, all mistakes mine) you have a bigger impact by preventing poor babies from eating lead than increasing education spending in places with lots of poor people.

I've been thinking a lot about meditation and jhanas recently, and if teaching everyone how to reach jhanas could solve a lot of problems like the opiod crisis, and this article seems to be the same idea, but at the biological level.

It gives me lots of hope for the future.

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In case it can give you some extra hope, many Far Out team members are interested, or even directly involved in supporting research concerning the deep end of contemplative practices and psychedelic therapies. Insights from these studies have a direct relevance to the suffering abolitionist project, and pair well with the biotech-focused efforts.

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Thanks, you're doing a wonderful job!

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As someone who has used both (in a context of the multi agent theory of mind) to greatly reduce suffering, I'm both glad to hear it and skeptical that the benefits can be mainstreamed. But as you'll observe from my other comments I am skeptical in general (likely due to suffering as a child*).

*this is phrased as a joke

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Are you aware of SEMA labs? They're onto something: https://cbs.arizona.edu/news/visit-sema-lab-shinzen-young

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Have you spoken with the Jhanatech folks?

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Interestingly, per a recent article in the NYT, making children do "mindfulness training" seems to be useless or even slightly worse. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/06/health/mental-health-schools.html

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My immediate guess is that it being compelled rather than chosen would be a factor.

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What about the Dark Night? or in general negative side effects of mediation (eprc or Willoughby Britton are doing research there).

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How qualified are those teachers?

Do the students want to do this/what are they taught?

School is trash in basically every area, would we expect it to be good in this area where the qualifications of the teachers are probably even worse.

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If this would just work it would be awesome but I don't think it tells us much about higher level practices. Very cool though to know that this doesn't just work at least in this way.

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Jhanas are very different from mindfulness!

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Over the years, I've heard many wonderful reports about the benefits of jhanas and other meditational disciplines. Sadly, what one rarely hears are stories of anhedonic or melancholic depressives who try meditation and find their mood lifts. Indeed, meditation can make some forms of meditation worse. In short, if it works, do it. But alas meditation alone isn't going to fix the problem of suffering.

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May 15·edited May 15

Until zero-suffering long-termists start talking about population collapse and dysgenics, I'm not going to take them seriously.

I'm also pretty sure I've read about children born without pain receptors who wind up doing crazy things like shoving pencils through their kneecaps because there's no negative feedback. Pain actually does exist for a reason.

EDIT: For the sake of completeness, no, I didn't read the full article before commenting. I'm annoyed by this entire topic so it was something of a hot take. I still think that generalising from weird outlier samples to a program of wholescale biosphere re-engineering is insane, that corrective feedback for people's behaviour in the broader sense is indistinguishable from negative hedonic utility, and that the whole idea is a pipe dream when your civilisation is currently in a state of slow-motion collapse.

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Did you read the full article?

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Why? Does it talk about population collapse and dysgenics?

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No but it does talk about children born without the ability to feel pain and the fact that they often die from failing to avoid dangerous behaviours. Seemed odd to me that you brought them up as if it was some sort of counter to Scott's post when he already specifically raised and discussed that issue.

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Alright, fair enough, but I still don't see how you get to zero suffering until the pain receptors are switched off. Even responding to social stigma could be viewed as 'painful.'

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Please read the article before commenting. That was addressed too.

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Which part? The generalisation from Jo, a sample size of one?

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Woah, you are commenting without reading the whole article on a *Scott Alexander* essay? Do you also climb without a rope in mountains you visit the first time, eat weird mushrooms you picked without identifying, and cross twelve-lane roads without checking for traffic?

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May 15·edited May 15

I don't think the article substantially rebuts the point I'm making. Any kind of corrective feedback for a person's behaviour can be regarded as 'painful' under a sufficiently tortured definition of the word. Like... what's the zero-suffering-activist's answer to law-enforcement? Are we going to incarcerate people who commit serious crimes without any reduction in their hedonic utils score?

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Perhaps not, but you'd be more persuasive just crying mea culpa in this part of the comments, carefully reading the whole article and then starting a new, more carefully nuance top level comment. The earth over here has been scorched and if you double down you'll end up sounding like a troll or an undergrad.

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What are you recommending I do, precisely? Edit the original comment?

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"Do you also climb without a rope in mountains you visit the first time, eat weird mushrooms you picked without identifying, and cross twelve-lane roads without checking for traffic?"

Were I born without pain receptors or the usual experience of pain and thus as a result never developed anxiety, dread, or apprehension about my actions and activities, why wouldn't I do that?

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You might still read about the high risks of these activities and decide that taking some precautions is worthwhile, based on a risk analysis? I'm not convinced that being anxious is necessary for rational action.

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> Cameron seems to be somewhere between pain insensitivity and asymbolia; she’s had some very mild stove-related accidents, but always seems to figure out the situation in time. She hasn’t lost the ability to sweat. She hasn’t lost the ability to smell. The only Special Bonus Side Effect the London team was able to find is that apparently her wounds heal perfectly cleanly, without scars.

That does not seem to affect Cameron in particular, though I don't know if everyone could "figure out the situation in time".

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If your ultimate goal is zero suffering, you're going to have to knock out pain receptors eventually. Also, suffering evolved in a more general sense as part of homeostatic feedback mechanisms intended to keep you alive.

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How about a goal of much less suffering?

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May 15·edited May 15

All the roads that lead to that outcome are going to involve raising birthrates and preserving human talent. (Unless the plan here is to abolish the ageing process, which would eventually create its own problems.)

A goal of *less* suffering in the broader sense might be achievable, but this isn't what David Pierce is arguing for. He wants *zero* suffering of any description.

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I think you are hung up on semantics here. Pierce may not mean zero suffering quite as literally or extremely. To be clear - I don't claim to know what his actual position is, but there seem to be more reasonable interpretations to what you are suggesting.

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Before creating a no-pain biosphere, it makes sense genetically to aim for a low-pain biosphere for human and nonhuman animals (https://www.gene-drives.com) alike. Compare high-functioning genetic outliers (not quite as unusual as Jo Cameron) who, if asked, say things like "oh, pain, it's just a useful signalling mechanism".

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Your premise is false. You don't have to knock out pain receptors. You have to recalibrate them, so they send information without also sending suffering, e.g. "Take your hand off the hot stove," instead of "AAIIEEEE!!"

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Don't pain receptors work by providing sufficient motivation? I currently have an agonising shoulder condition, so I don't move my shoulder. If it was just information relaying that I had a shoulder problem, I'd likely ignore it or forget it and move my shoulder, injuring myself anew.

Evolution has done a pretty uneven and sometimes bad job in calibrating our pain system, no doubt, but I'd be surprised, at least, if lots of these circuits aren't doing useful work.

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Is it a rotator cuff tear? I think I've got one of those right now -- have had one before and I recognize the feeling. Yesterday tossed a small practically weightless toy for the cat to chase, and it sort of clicked and slid inside and hurt so bad I felt sick for about a minute.

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Ah, hope it gets better soon. No, mine is calcific tendonitis, which is basically small deposits of bone forming inside the supraspinatus. It is like I've been stabbed by a calcium dagger and the blade broke off inside the shoulder head.

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Replacing intelligence, you mean? Well, maybe; if the agony was half would you move your shoulder? A quarter?

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Maybe a very self-controlled person could unfailingly keep a limb the right degree of still, without requiring pain, based on their long term goal of having healthy limbs, but even then we'd need some additional feedback system to replace pain so we knew there was a problem in the first place. I'm all for someone devising such a system.

In my case, if the pain was a quarter its current level, I think I would move my shoulder a little bit more, but then again that'd probably be good for my recovery. The pain does seem to be way over the top. But I'd be wary of the unforeseen possibilities of just quartering all pain. I think we'd want to be more strategic about which pains to reduce and when.

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It would be nice to be able to "turn the knob" on suffering. Turn 8/10 pain into 4/10 pain, 4/10 pain into 2/10 pain, etc. Then the signaling would always be there, but would never be strong enough to cause more than brief suffering.

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This is why it makes sense to study the outliers that seem to have the best "reduction in total suffering" to "adaptive functioning" ratio, and the case of Jo Cameron is certainly among them.

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"Jo Cameron dislikes Boris Johnson, what a radical political fireband", written without a trace of irony.

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I hope that the diversity of sociopolitical views of the team members, coupled with approximating what's generally considered a high cause neutrality (think: anaesthesia, crisis relief) is at least somewhat reassuring. We do not interfere with the personal views of the low-suffering genome owners, and do not encode any specific views on UK politics. :)

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This is clearly a point of her having political opinions at all, instead of just a total laizzes-faire attitude to any and all things in her life.

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Less of this sort of uncharitableness on ACX please? Especially in response to a good-faith response by the team itself.

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That is not what Scott wrote. What he actually said was " lack the righteous anger necessary to fuel political engagement, but in fact she has strong political opinions (she doesn’t like Boris Johnson)." His point was not that she was radical and vehement, it was that she was able to feel angry disapproval of a government figure. How radical or correct or original her politics are is completely irrelevant to the question he's addressing, which is whether she is sort of emotionally numb and can't feel indignation about things she sees as bad government.

I'm sure you're not too dumb to remember what Scott said, so you're just lying here to try to make him look bad. Listen, there's no way you can make him look anywhere near as bad as you look so far here. You don't read the article, you run your mouth anyhow, when people ask you to read it you ask them instead to summarize it, and now you're putting up things Scott didn't say, and didn't even mean inside of *quotation marks* and them jeering at them. You're being a major asshole.

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Agreed. My knee-jerk reaction is that Jo Cameron is a counterexample to the idea that the hedonic treadmill is universal and inescapable, and that a consistent set of experiences for a period of time always settled down to "meh" for everyone, with only _changes_ making us happier or unhappier. And counterexamples are _very_ important!

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The negative feedback mechanisms of the hedonic treadmill can operate even in paradise. Jo Cameron experiences hedonic adaption like the rest of us; but Jo's unusually high hedonic set-point means she's always enjoyed a much higher default quality of life. What's tantalizing is the possibility that just a handful of genetic tweaks might do the same for future life.

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Many Thanks! Excellent point. I was thinking of the default model being that more or less the same set-point was linked to the hedonic treadmill for everyone. Yes, Jo Cameron proves that "same set-point" is false, but as you pointed out, this is indeed separable from _dynamics_, from

>The negative feedback mechanisms of the hedonic treadmill can operate even in paradise.

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Thanks. Twenty years ago I wrote https://www.gradients.com/ ("An information-theoretic perspective on Heaven") about a world where the ancient pleasure-pain axis has been superseded by a pleasure-superpleasure axis. It's still my tentative prediction for the future of sentience.

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Re: the first point, as an intentional initiative with a narrowed focus, we heavily prioritize the neutral robustness while conducting the exploratory research - we want to ensure that the outcomes, including potential interventions, will be net positive under numerous reasonable ethical assumptions and game-theoretic arrangements. This should not interfere with adaptive functioning or giving a consideration to challenges in other domains.

Re: the second point, it has been addressed both in the article and in the FAQ section on our website. Happy to answer any further questions you may have!

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May 15·edited May 15

"This should not interfere with adaptive functioning or giving a consideration to challenges in other domains."

This seems to be an elaborate way of saying that "preventing civilisational collapse is someone else's job." I just... I don't get how people with supposedly long-term goals and priorities don't treat these topics more seriously. It's like your house is burning down and you're talking about the most comfortable way to arrange the furnishings.

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May 15·edited May 15

I think he's saying "we're intentionally targeting treatments that don't interfere with adaptive functioning". "This should" in the sense of "we are working to", not "we expect to".

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May 15·edited May 15

I'm already sufficiently annoyed with effective altruists in general, especially after the SBF debacle, so extending that principle out to the biosphere in general looks like the textbook definition of telescopic philanthropy.

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I'm not sure how much the SBF fiasco was intrinsic to effective altruism, but this points at an interesting question.

A lot of the problem, as I understand it, isn't so much that effective altruism was a scammy environment as that it was a gullible environment. A focus on rationalism didn't lead to enough willingness to be skeptical in face of attractive claims. People may well be working on getting better at being less vulnerable. I wouldn't necessarily have heard about it.

To tie it back to the topic, does feeling pain have anything to do with not falling for scammers? Jo Cameron seems to have enough good sense to not be looted, but has she run into capable scammers?

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May 15·edited May 15

The problem with Jo Cameron isn't Jo Cameron. It's the accelerationist progressive left doing what they always do and fishing out cherry-picked counterexamples to normative standards which they will then use to dismantle traditional constraints on human action- or, in this case, the constraints imposed by millions of years of biology- before any comprehensive and rigorous long-term study of the wider social side-effects could possibly be mounted. And when the bill comes due, it will always be someone else's fault.

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Based on the existing datapoints (e.g. activism of Jo Cameron, engagement of deeply realized meditators in social issues), it seems that removing a large portion of involuntary suffering while maintaining adaptive behavior should a) increase people's capacity to support other important causes, b) increase people's confidence in the net positivity of existence, or at least further support pro-existence stances.

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I just want to add that, based on personal experience with changed happiness set points in my life (mine used to be extremely high!), this statement seems trivially true to me. I've maintained a lot of my high-happiness-setpoint stances even after it crashed (partially due to biological issues, partially because my mother died and it made my brain start obsessively pattern-matching absences, which it hadn't done before), since they all still make perfect sense, but it takes remarkable work to maintain them emotionally, and I don't think I would have started with them if I had not had the high-happiness-setpoint around the times I was establishing my attitudes toward life and people.

Which is to say, I would definitely take something that could give me my old happiness set point back, and I have reason to believe it would make me a better person.

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Or, "Long-range prediction of non-linear phenomena is... untenable." AGI - possibly LLMs - might be our post-biological descendants. Mass drivers on equatorial mountains throwing us into orbit might let us colonize the Earth-Mars asteroid belt, giving us several orders of magnitude more lebensraum and consequently provoking population increase. Open borders might raise reproductive rates significantly... There are a lot of current approaches to preventing civilizational collapse; closing your eyes and covering your ears and shouting at the top of your voice that no one is doing anything is, among other things, untrue.

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A more modest proposal might be uterine replicators; if women didn't have to be pregnant for nine months per child people might have more kids.

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People seem to shift it to "but I can't afford a kid" so I doubt it. Even if one of you doesn't have to be pregnant for nine months, you might well decide "two is as much as we want because any more is too expensive".

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Wealth's increasing pretty rapidly. It's unevenly distributed, I know, but some people can definitely afford several kids.

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Could you repeat the question?

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This makes me deliriously happy (no joke intended). Finally some material progress on The Hedonist Imperative! May all the fans-of-suffering, the too-invested-in-sour-grapes, and every one holding the transparently evil position that suffering is good, meritorious, something to protect and strive for... Well. May they all update and adopt the Obviously Correct position that Superhappiness is Optimal.

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Thank you. When our project attracted substantial attention, we obtained some constructive and greatly appreciated feedback that we quickly incorporated into our roadmap. Simultaneously, the most frequent talking points of the critics seemed to be grounded in the inability/unwillingness to imagine adaptive functioning devoid of negative valence, and/or in assigning value to the suffering even if it was both maladaptive and involuntary. We, obviously, challenge this position, and are glad that this discussion if finally taking place on a larger scale.

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I suspect that for many of us skeptics it's not inability or unwillingness per se, just bayes unfortunately filtered through SDB. Most are too squeamish to say out loud that e.g. reducing child mortality likely does make a society less fit in other ways we value. Where we need to be convinced is that the next intervention will be the one that finally reduces suffering without corresponding cost.

I'm happy to admit the possibility of being trapped in a local optima, here, but the philosophical point isn't 'is suffering good?' but 'will this next attempt at alleviating it be overly blithe again as usual?'.

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We mostly think suffering useful given the rest of how a human is organized. It's at least 'lindy'. This question more concerns one's priors on interventionism than one's sour grapes.

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it's not that suffering is good. It's that suffering exists, so how can we mitigate it, and make use of it, given that we are very likely to suffer at some time in some way?

See Christina's story above. Painkillers did nothing for her, so she coped with the pain by pacing around the room. Finding ways to use suffering is like that: pacing, rather than lie crying curled up in a ball, because either way we're going to feel the pain.

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removing the pain is still very obviously better.

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Oh, definitely. But if you're in a situation where there's no way of removing it and you have to undergo it anyway, then finding coping strategies work better for you.

Imagine Jo *had* to go to work the day after her husband killed himself because the job wouldn't give her time off, she needed the money, etc. Then "well better pull myself together and get on with it, anyway he's better off now" is an attitude that enables survival. Being so upset you're non-functional, even for a short while, is harmful. We all think that her attitude is unusual because we generally have the social support that says "okay, you are grieving and this is natural so you can have some time for that", hence we find her lack of grief unusual or even unsettling.

But if it was literally "work or die", then we'd understand Stoicism in that situation. Same way with "okay, suffering happens, how do we make use of it?" in theology and so forth.

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We who live to Suffer thank you. All we're asking for is Validation.

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of course we have to figure out a way that sadomasochism could still work; I mean, it's Fun

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May 16·edited May 16

Switch it to be about power rather than pain? Being able to compel someone to do something humiliating (but not physically painful) is still exerting power over them, and you get the bonus of forcing them to do something they don't want to do, because it emotionally/mentally distresses them?

"You WILL file your taxes on time before the deadline, heh-heh-heh1"

"NOOOOO, Master, anything but that! And you've even withheld my dose of Adderall so I can't focus!"

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May 15·edited May 15

Good grief! I've been in so, so many debates - in pubs, in professional or academic settings, even on military operations - where I've argued for _exactly_ this (honestly, uncannily so!) to entirely universal derision ‒ and until this post I genuinely supposed I was the only person in the world who had such beliefs. Very, very glad to read this ‒ thanks most awfully, Scott!

(But still a tiiiny bit disappointed to get through the whole post without seeing the phrase "Immanetise the Eschaton"...)

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Same, although I was lucky enough to find this stuff many years ago when I was around 18 or so; I was pretty elated to find that I was not, in fact, the only one to see that suffering is bad (so to speak, heh).

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*pulls you aside at a Bay Area House Party*

See the big new thing is Biblical Transhumanism. We know that the Bible is the literal word of God and infallible in every way, right? And we know that early Genesis people could live to over 900 years old. So that gives us a divinely-revealed research direction - long lifespans are clearly possible, we just need to undo whatever went wrong genetically after Noah, probably some kind of inbreeding problem caused by the population bottleneck there. And pain is probably preventable or at least highly mitigatable too! When god curses Adam and Eve he tells Eve "I will terribly sharpen your birth pangs, in pain shall you bear children." We're not sure yet whether this means childbirth specifically can be made less painful or if all pain can and - hey wait, where are you going? I was just about to invite you to my new Church of Transhumanism, we take up offerings for medical research every sunday!

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author
May 15·edited May 15Author

The lion eating straw image is literally just Isaiah 11:7

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It's honestly a bit sad how many people don't pick up on that...

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May 16·edited May 16

Biblical literacy as part of the cultural background is declining, and you can't expect kids to pick up on it in school because that would be The Government Privileging One Religion Over Another and Establishing Christianity.

But mostly because they're reading 'modern, relevant' texts that no longer use such imagery. If the family doesn't go to church (or even if it does), they're not hearing such texts read and they don't know where these references come from, then, when they encounter them.

Even more so for those from a non-Christian (culturally or not) background who reasonably can't be expected to recognise such themes.

EDIT: Or non-Jewish background, because Judaism would also be familiar with the Old Testament (duh).

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I hear you. It's a bit sad to see how thoroughly misunderstood the Establishment Clause has become over the past couple centuries. Far too many people these days don't understand that by definition, you cannot "establish Christianity" for the simple reason that there is no such thing as "The Church of Christianity," various individual religions laying claim to that honor notwithstanding.

The original Congress that adopted the First Amendment, containing several of the people who helped debate on and draft the Bill of Rights, might open Monday's session with a prayer by a Methodist chaplain, then Tuesday's with a Presbyterian chaplain, Wednesday's with a Lutheran chaplain, and so on. That's a far cry from the mess we find ourselves in today, where we have a de facto Established Church of Atheism.

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Anyone know of a good Christian/Biblical mythology book I can read to my kids? There's plenty of them for Greek/Norse/Roman/etc., but I haven't seen a good Biblical one written from an outsider perspective but serious enough that my kids would recognize references such as the lion laying with the lamb.

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Take them to Sunday school!

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That's an intriguing concept. Would you be interested in presenting on it at an upcoming Innovation Forum?

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Post-biological descendants e.g. AGI - maybe LLMs - brain uploads et cetera. More modestly, uterine replicators; no more biological births.

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The bit about

> her wounds heal perfectly cleanly, without scars.

...definitely gave me that "loophole in an otherwise ubiquitous ancient curse" vibe.

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Scarless wound healing seems to me to be something much more interesting and beneficial to explore than "can we all become pain-free, carefree, super-happies?"

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May I push back at such a description? Other things being equal, the more one loves life, the more zealously one wants to protect and preserve it. Consider the transhumanist polymath Anders Sandberg, for example ("I do have a ridiculously high hedonic set-point"). It's no coincidence that all people I know involved in x-risks studies and prevention are themselves blessed with unusually high hedonic set-points. Sure, their lives aren't blighted by anxiety, but they _do_ care - probably more so than folk whose feelings about Life are at best ambivalent.

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Agreed. I'm in the position of probably having a somewhat lower hedonic set-point than most people (though, objectively, luckier than most people). As a somewhat grouchy 65 year old, I tend to look at x-risks rather fatalistically.

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Indeed. I have a friend in the AI safety community who half-seriously likes to suggest I know ASI will probably kill us but hide this recognition because of my negative utilitarianism. Not so (I think digital zombies are cognitively crippled https://www.hedweb.com/social-media/full-spectrum-superintelligence.pdf). Yet anyone who understands the nature of the severe mental and physical pain endemic to Darwinian life can be forgiven for wondering if an insentient world tiled with paperclips (etc) would really be worse.

In practice, I think fixing the problem of suffering is up to us.

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Many Thanks!

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There's a theory that the human visual cortex has special processing to pick out ripe fruit, naked humans, and snakes. The snake processing is clearly a later addition, after the Fall. Tracing that back might lead to the fear and suffering areas, although possibly also to free will.

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tangentially related Scott "More than 50% of EAs probably believe Enlightenment is real. This is a big deal right?" https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/poZ3p2Zum4im2LSGb/more-than-50-of-eas-probably-believe-enlightenment-is-real

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We do (assuming a precise operational definition).

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After receiving a pointing out instruction from Loch Kelly a year ago my life hasn't been the same. I used to say I was an 8/10 happy, but now I'm like a 10/10. The problem is that i wouldn't trade 1 day of my current life for 5 days of my previous (i.e. 1 day now is worth more than 5 days then). This leads me to think that experiencing nonduality doesnt interact with traditional wellbeing. Anyway, I basically can't believe how well I am. Its very strange talking about it (I rarely do, online)

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What is a pointing out instruction?

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It's an instruction intended to give insight at a lower level than traditional knowledge (like koans). Instead of learning a fact, you might change your schemas. I've heard this phase only in the context of non-duality, in which case it would be intended to erode the perception of being a self.

A common pointing out instruction that leaps to mind would be something along the lines of "look for the looker".

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Or recursive questions; for example: What do you want? gets you pretty basic answers along the lines of fame, success, wealth, happiness et cetera. What do you want to want? gets you abruptly much closer to your best self. What do you want to want to want? is hard to parse; you could rephrase it as What would your best self want to want? and you start get more interesting answers. This approach can be applied to a range of questions.

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Are you Mr. Morden?

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Very interesting. What was pointed out to you?

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Hi Marcel :) Good question! A few things actually. Firstly, my true nature (the context in which all conscious content appears), then, the nondual nature between context and content (i.e. they're actually made of the same thing anyway), and then the ground of being from which all this arises (love).

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> The problem is that i wouldn't trade 1 day of my current life for 5 days of my previous (i.e. 1 day now is worth more than 5 days then).

Isn't that good? I'm confused why you call this a "problem". Did you reverse the numbers or something?

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Sorry I was unclear. It is great that I’ve had this perceived improvement in wellbeing. But the problem is either the 10 point scale isn’t sensitive enough or I’m lying to myself about something to do with my experience.

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Are you assuming that the scale should be linear or something?

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I'm extremely unsure. But it seems from my experience there is at least a 5x difference between 8/10 and 10/10. Some things I feel now for hours a day, that may not be captured by 10 point scales: deeply well, completely safe, boundless, timeless (in one sense, impermanent in another), interconnected, loving.

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EA is a quasi-buddhist new religious movement? Wow. I didn't know that. You're telling me now for the first time.

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It is not. Different EAs believe different things, and there is nothing like a unified push towards any given world model or cause area. But I do think that EAs are vastly more likely than genpop to believe in the utility/attainability of enlightenment.

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Yes, fair. EA is a broad umbrella. But, like you said, there are trends. And whether "Enlightenment" exists at all is a theological claim on par with "the resurrection of Jesus actually happened". Even whether things like Jhanas *exist* is tricky to answer (and I've had meditative experiences that seem to fit the "Jhana" description - doesn't mean I was actually in a "Jhana" state or that such a state exists.)

If there was an ostensibly secular group where nonetheless over half of the members think the Resurrection probably happened, I'd be comfortable calling that "quasi-christian".

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This seems much closer to "did Jesus exist as a historical figure" than "did Jesus rise three days later". We have actual modern day accounts of enlightenment as well as people who have apparently reproduced it in conditions we can independently verify. Surely, this counts as being more likely than something that violates the second law of thermodynamics?

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"If there was an ostensibly secular group where nonetheless over half of the members think the Resurrection probably happened, I'd be comfortable calling that "quasi-christian"."

May I refer you to the cryonics movement, which thinks it can deliver the resurrection of the body, no religion required? 😀

Though if you read through comments on this site, I think the emphasis is now shifting to brain preservation so it can be digitally 'sliced' and imaged and an upload created (someone on here did have a recent comment about that).

Secular re-creation of religious promises, via technology!

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>May I refer you to the cryonics movement, which thinks it can deliver the resurrection of the body, no religion required? 😀

But with _much_ lower claimed odds of it actually working. _Many_ things would have to go just right. E.g. see this brief discussion I and John Wittle had: https://www.astralcodexten.com/p/desperately-trying-to-fathom-the/comment/54893721

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One other thing about Pearce: he describes himself as a "negative utilitarian" and has said things to the effect that, if all life on Earth were about to be instaneously and painlessly destroyed, he'd be "overjoyed" about the impending end of all suffering. (I also think he claims that he advocates "paradise engineering" as the solution to suffering instead of ecocide on strictly practical rather than ethical grounds - destroying the world would be harder to accomplish for the simple reason that just about everyone would be trying to stop you from doing it.)

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Far Out team members are united by the shared priority of minimizing the maladaptive and involuntary suffering, but have diverse views and perspectives on religious, cultural, and philosophical manners, including the axiological asymmetry of pain and pleasure, as well as the net positivity of the world's existence. That being said, we are pro-existence, at least (but very often not only) due to unknown unknowns, irreversibility, and/or pragmatic reasons.

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Some forms of suffering are so bad you would end the whole world to make it stop. I would indeed be overjoyed if such suffering were to end - even if the price were to be no sentience at all. However, (1) on consequentialist NU grounds, I urge enshrining in law the sanctity of human and sentient nonhuman life; (2) the abolitionist project is in no way inseparable from the NU ethic of a minority of its advocates; and (3) a strong case can be made that the biology of involuntary suffering is itself a serious x-risk - or will be an x-risk later this century and beyond. For example, how many of the c. 800,000 people who take their own lives each year would take the rest of the world down with them if they could? A suffering-free world of passionate life lovers will be safer in every sense. Let's act accordingly.

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Good for him for being consistent with his views. Ecocide is the logical end point of utilitarianism. But why stop at sterilizing Earth? Send AI and robots to end all life in the Universe. The Utilitarian Jihad.

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On the face of it, classical utilitarianism dictates launching an omnicidal utilltronium shockwave. As a negative utilitarian, I'm more bioconservative. Genome reform can create life based entirely on information-sensitive gradients of bliss. Maximising the cosmic abundance of bliss will be nice, but it's not an obligation in the same way as eradicating suffering.

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Why would ecocide be the logical end point of utilitarianism? I understand why it would be the end point for (a very strong) negative utilitarianism, but classical utilitarianism also values positive emotions. Utilitarians are often criticised for the repugnant conclusion, the exact opposite of killing everyone.

I personally think creating new happy lives is extremely valuable and hope I can have four or more children to give them the gift of living a happy life. At least partly, I have these beliefs because I am a utilitarian.

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Well, you could chemically alter factory animals to not feel pain, or you could raise them freely in natural environments. Proper rotational grazing with symbiotic cycles of cows, poultry, etc can be very efficient. We could feed the world without factory animal farms. Or factory animal farms could be improved: I have experimented with quail in outdoor cages, and they can be very healthy and quite happy together being social animals.

In my view, the majority of suffering comes from things we could fix. So let’s focus on that first. I am happy. Pretty much always, whether things are going good or not in my life. I’ve also been on a primal raw meat diet for years, and I feel radiantly healthy. Pain and suffering is not very common in healthy people compared to the wider population.

Finally, this philosophy is well and good, but pain is a warning system the body uses to tell us when we are approaching death (damage to body/psyche). Since death cannot be mitigated, I have little interest in making the path there more comfortable.

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We tend to think about it in terms of synergistic multidirectional efforts. From our FAQ:

"Given the complexity of the topic, limited tractability and impact of specific sets of interventions, diversity of moral views, and high uncertainty levels, we are in favor of a multi-directional approach to improve the fate of farmed and wild nonhuman animals. Most (if not all) of our team members are vegans or reducetarians, supportive of the development of cultured meat and plant-based alternatives, and in favor of measures making farming/transport/slaughter less inhumane, hoping that these synergistic value streams will lead to a large-scale change in the global attitudes about this cause area. We are driven by the universal, non-speciesist concern about the suffering of sentient beings, though we also fully respect those who want to support us primarily or exclusively with regard to the first, human-centered project. The introduction of modified lines should not be used as a convenient moral justification for mistreating animals; simultaneously, from the consequentialist and pragmatic standpoint, we recognize the limited outcomes of narrower and more isolated approaches, often driven by very noble intentions. The global meat industry continues to have a significant compound annual growth rate, driven largely by the steadily improving economic status of developing countries with different cultural and legal contexts, so the introduction of modified lines through market forces may constitute a very important piece of the puzzle where other strategies, due to the existing roadblocks, fail to produce (yet) a significant impact."

There is a strong evidence base indicating the widespread presence of overlooked and often extreme suffering that cannot be effectively mitigated, related to physical and mental health issues, aging, social and military conflicts, substance abuse, relationship problems, financial struggles, and existential matters, often entrapping people in vicious cycles (https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/12/24/how-bad-are-things/).

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I agree with your argument that we could prevent most suffering by treatment of animals (and people). I'd go further and argue that the extreme solutions like banning meat-eating and ending pain distract from achieving the simpler goals.

If people were to treat meat as a rare luxury, we would dramatically reduce meat consumption and animal suffering and factory farming would become unnecessary. Most importantly, we could win political support from people who might support eating less meat but would oppose a total ban.

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author

"Well, you could chemically alter factory animals to not feel pain, or you could raise them freely in natural environments. Proper rotational grazing with symbiotic cycles of cows, poultry, etc can be very efficient. We could feed the world without factory animal farms. Or factory animal farms could be improved: I have experimented with quail in outdoor cages, and they can be very healthy and quite happy together being social animals. "

There are already free-range farms (see eg https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/SnGqab3noXLmJzQCs/lower-suffering-egg-brands-available-in-the-sf-bay-area ). But they cost more, so very few people buy from them. It's politically impossible to mandate them, because it would increase the price of all animal goods by quite a lot.

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I just bought gree range eggs from local farmer at the farmers market for $5. Is that too expensive? Very yellow orange yolks, not watery.

That's 84g protein and around half of daily calories. Eggs are cheap food. This is high quality cheap food.

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Free range is a meaningless descriptor that can apply to a warehouse with a small outdoor corridor. Yes, it is indeed cheap to grow chickens in a warehouse, exceedingly so.

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May 15·edited May 15

>But they cost more, so very few people buy from them. It's politically impossible to mandate them, because it would increase the price of all animal goods by quite a lot.

We regularly mandate things that increase costs of entire industries (relative to the absence of the mandate), such as airplane safety. The trick is, of course, to force every market participant to adhere to the rules. With airplanes, that is relatively simple because it is much easier to enforce the rules because there are far fewer airports, operators, and airplanes than there are animal farmers and e.g. cows. In the end, it comes down to enforcability of the rules. A higher price of meat for everyone would just result in a new equilibrium, but unequally enforced rules would be inherently unjust and unacceptable.

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Washington State has mandated free-range for at least eggs

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Signaling without suffering?

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One approach is less likely to succeed than many... It's a false dilemma; you could do rotational grazing AND pain research.

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This reminds me of Brandon Sanderson, the well-known Fantasy author (my favorite author as well).

He often says about himself that he is very steady emotionally, unlike other people, and that he is almost always an emotional 7 out of 10 with almost no outside events impacting this.

And no kidding - he once did the whole "hot wings" challenge with his fellow podcast host, and he said ahead of time that spicy food barely affects him, and indeed he got to the spiciest things with seemingly not feeling them at all.

FWIW, as far as I can tell, he's a wonderful human being.

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If the hope is for no loss if we go for zero suffering, then it may not be achievable. There are types of pleasure which are entangled with suffering. For me, it's hot spices.

I had covid, and my taste of taste was weird for a few years. Some foods I'd normally like tasted nasty, and my enjoyment of particular food might vary strongly over 12 hours or so. And I couldn't enjoy hot spices.

It's finally all back to normal with hot spices being the last thing to sort itself out and I'm pleased, but part of hot spice pleasure is something about pain.

Of course, it's not just hot spices. For some people, it's various sorts of physical endurance, and there's also S&M.

I'd trade my enjoyment of hot spices for enjoying life in general more, but I don't know that everyone would make that sort of trade.

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It seems fair to say that we'd benefit from having tools that allow individuals to explore different tradeoffs in this space. I don't think we're anywhere close to the Pareto frontier.

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Are you sure you're not enjoying the positive valence endorphin rush rather than the pain itself?

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As somebody who loves spicy food:

The endorphin rush is pretty hard to achieve; I've hit it two or three times, and only by hitting levels of heat/pain comparable to the time I poured boiling water on myself. This is just barely shy of the level of heat where I just stop feeling anything at all - the nerves get exhausted or run out of some chemical and just stop transmitting.

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Really? I got an endorphin rush from 2x spicy buldak ramen (with no milk available)

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It's hard to disentangle them.

It's probably not a full-on endorphin rush, just rather moderate pleasure.

Would any marathoners care to weigh in on the question?

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Has he had his genome sequenced?

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I think I remember Tyler Cowen describing his emotional disposition similarly. I believe in one of his blog posts he describes feeling very few extreme emotions, positive or negative, but had a very steadily content baseline that rarely deviates regardless of circumstances.

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Two clicks in and yep, *he's a super-villain*;

"An adequate theory of value should be as true in the gas chambers of Auschwitz as in the philosopher’s study. In my view, Darwinian life is an abomination: life on Earth is virulent, self-replicating biological malware churning out suffering without end. Any sensitive soul should be appalled."

"One candidate solution to the problem of suffering is to engineer human extinction via radical anti-natalism."

https://www.hedweb.com/quora/2015.html#antinatal

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Homie only turned onto making suffering extinct when he realised people would try to stop him if he made *life* extinct.

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To paraphrase the other comment, out goal is to positively contribute to the minimization of the maladaptive and involuntary suffering, with different team members having different philosophical views, including the axiological asymmetry of pain and pleasure. That being said, we are pro-existence and anti-extinction, at least (but very often not only) due to unknown unknowns, irreversibility, and/or pragmatic reasons. We will heavily emphasize it in our public communication.

It might be worth adding that we are, well, happy to be incapable of ending the world. On a purely personal note, chatting with David, one of the gentlest and kindest souls I know, give me a sense of meaningful life worth living.

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Holy shit what a fucking cop out answer.

"Our members have diverse views as to whether omnicide is the best course of action." Really now? That you remind us you're incapable of ending the world doesn't give much reassurance (most don't *need* to remind people of this).

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What kind of answer would you then consider as satisfactory? Not a single team member is advocating for the omnicide, we focus on specific types of research and interventions intended to make lives of sentient beings better (just like pain research labs or animal welfare projects), and we are explicitly pro-existence.

It's natural for philosophers to openly reflect on the nature of hedonic tone and utility in the cosmic context, and the aforementioned quote from the 2015 high-decoupling-style musings of David does not include what he said later in the same answer, for example:

"(...) Creating a hyperthymic civilisation sounds almost as impractical as global anti-natalism. But CRISPR genome-editing, synthetic gene drives, and the new technologies of reproductive medicine will shortly turn the level of suffering in the biosphere into an adjustable parameter. Bioethicists need to acquaint themselves with what's technically feasible (cf. Genetically designing a happy biosphere). (...)"

It is important to account for the entire context and the writing convention.

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Given a stated goal that would necessarily impact the whole world and overturn many longstanding assumptions, I for one am far more inclined to trust a group who'd admit to carefully considering the "everyone dies" option and rejecting it for specific, principled reasons, over one which failed to address it or did so with the slightest hint of dishonesty. http://freefall.purrsia.com/ff2400/fc02318.htm

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Your use of quotation marks implies that you found this passage somewhere. I certainly don’t see it in the comment you are replying to. Citation needed?

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I took the line "with different team members having different philosophical views" and rephrased it to make clear which particular "different philosophical views" team members had.

It was not a quote, but a "restatement in my own words" - also not a quote, even though I used quotation marks.

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Then you shouldnta used quotation marks. Jesus.

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I was trying to find a half-rembered quote which I think *should* be Flannery O'Connor, something to the effect that an excess of sentimentality leads to cruelty, but I haven't been able to find it.

What Google did lead me to was this Wikipedia article, and the more the Far Outs peddle their stock answers, the more I'm going "Okay, the writers were correct":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentimentality

""A sentimentalist", Oscar Wilde wrote, "is one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it." In James Joyce's Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus sends Buck Mulligan a telegram that reads "The sentimentalist is he who would enjoy without incurring the immense debtorship for a thing done."

...In the mid-18th century, a querulous lady had complained to Richardson: "What, in your opinion, is the meaning of the word sentimental, so much in vogue among the polite...Everything clever and agreeable is comprehended in that word...such a one is a sentimental man; we were a sentimental party". What she was observing was the way the term was becoming a European obsession—part of the Enlightenment drive to foster the individual's capacity to recognise virtue at a visceral level. Everywhere in the sentimental novel or the sentimental comedy, "lively and effusive emotion is celebrated as evidence of a good heart". Moral philosophers saw sentimentality as a cure for social isolation; and Adam Smith indeed considered that "the poets and romance writers, who best paint...domestic affections, Racine and Voltaire; Richardson, Maurivaux and Riccoboni; are, in such cases, much better instructors than Zeno" and the Stoics.

By the close of the century, however, a reaction had occurred against what had come to be considered sentimental excess, by then seen as false and self-indulgent especially after Schiller's 1795 division of poets into two classes, the "naive" and the "sentimental"—regarded respectively as natural and as artificial."

See me in the shoes of the querulous lady!

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I've often had the thought that it would be much better if nothing existed. But since most people don't seem to think that way, I wonder if maybe I'm secretly a biologically abnormal supersufferer (someone who experiences suffering way more intensely than average in many situations, opposite people like Jo Cameron), and so my basic empathic assumption about how awful most lives are is just wrong?

It would certainly explain why so many people disagree with antinatalism and are averse to legalizing assisted suicide, meanwhile I've felt that both positions were obviously morally justified and net-positive from the moment I heard about them. Maybe the level of suffering that makes those views "obvious" is just so far outside the realm of the average person's experience that they can't imagine any reasonably-likely-to-happen situation that would make it obvious to them.

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Yes the band of people who believe life should not exist AND who haven't removed themselves from it, is probably very narrow. Your analysis of suffering vs will to exist is likely far, far towards the end of whatever curve that is on.

If you had actually done yourself in then your actions would match your world view and while it might be upsetting, it wouldn't be unheimlich or uncanny in the same way.

Living things, if they have wants, are designed in the main part, to want to be alive. To be the member of a vast crowd of sentient beings who want to be alive and to be actively arguing; "I probably shouldn't exist, and neither should any of you", will strike them as disturbing, sinister, frightening and strange. It is deeply against what the vast majority intuitively feel to be so and even stranger in that it is seemingly unacted upon (the strange one has not killed themselves, yet).

In popular fiction its the ideology of Kaecillius in the film 'Dr Strange', who leagues with the ruler of the Dark Dimension to end time and thence all existence and suffering. In DC comics the hypervillian ruler of the dark planet Apokalips seeks endlessly the Anti-Life equation. Its Supervillain vibes. Its the guy that Superman punches.

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Well, I'm still alive because attempting to die doesn't guarantee success, and things can always get much worse if you fail. Also dying by itself seems like it would hurt a lot without access to sedatives and painkillers. Basically aversion to suffering is why I think life isn't worth living but also aversion to suffering is why I'm still alive. And the fact that this dilemma can happen is behind my perspective that both antinatalism and legalizing assisted suicide are obviously good and right.

Superficially I'm not too abnormal, so I imagine there *could* be tons of people like me who try to improve their lives and act like they don't want to die, but it's just because they're afraid of suffering more than they already are, not because they actually enjoy life. Maybe the only evidence that a person is living a serious net-negative life of this sort would be that, if you ask them, they seem to be absolutely convinced that they would rather have not been born and they say they would take painless suicide if it were an option.

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I’m of the same mind. To me, dying, or not living, seem like reasonable alternatives to suffering. I eventually landed on rejecting anti-natalism for similar reasons to those you touched on earlier: that based on the popular resistance to life-ending alternatives to suffering, I concluded I must have an atypical reaction to suffering and could not in good conscience support such irreversible measures, though I strongly believe that providing more end-of-life options to those who report chronic misery is a moral good.

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Personally I find this world view strange. For me to want to end my life I imagine I would have to suffer quite a lot. I think my instinctive will to live is quite strong, and I could handle quite a bit of suffering before tipping over to net negative. I also assume that this applies to most people (as well as animals), which makes me very skeptical of anyone who wants to end the world to stop suffering. Similarity or consensus bias applies I suppose.

On a scale from 1-10 where 10 is the most happy, how happy would you say you are on an average day?

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1? I wouldn't characterize most of my days as happy at all. For about a decade I've a near-constant headache that feels like a sort of contained seizure, lots of sensory sensitivities that cause a constant background fight/flight reaction that has to be continually suppressed to avoid screaming, and I tend to be in pain with no obvious cause much of time. If there's a variety of discomfort, I'm probably experiencing some form of it at any given moment.

I didn't have all of that going on at a noticeable level when I was a kid though, and even then I had a negative appraisal of life and a favourable attitude toward ending it, so it's possible that I experience good things as less good than most people regardless of added discomfort.

I'd like to think there's something detectably medically wrong with me that could be treated, and I spent a lot of time trying to get tests done to figure it out, but they've all come back as perfectly fine and I evidently don't *look* like there could be anything wrong with me since in person everyone has always tended to treat me like I'm exaggerating or malingering. Most of the medical-ish labels that best describe me are things like "multiple chemical sensitivity" that are commonly regarded by professionals as somewhere between psychosomatic and made-up.

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Sorry to hear that you are in such a condition. That sounds pretty bad, and I can certainly understand your other sentiments based on this. I have my problems as well, though not anywhere near the scale of yours. Over 4-5 years I had frequent episodes that felt like they could be heart-attacks and other diffuse and strange symtoms. Same as you, I got tested a lot, but the doctors find nothing. Luckely those have mostly stopped, but I still get very tired and have periods of brain fog. Starting excersising a lot is what have helped me the most.

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Its always been evident that these types always turn into supervillains.

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Personally I tend to think of the division between existence and non-existence as cutting across the solution-space of possible entities, sort of like a political border divides physical territories. Some beings die, or fail to be born, who would have preferred to live; others live who would prefer to not; many more seem content enough to stay on whichever side they currently are, or even try to move further away from the border (to the extent that they can) so as to avoid being caught by its frequent and unpredictable shifting.

Perhaps existence and non are at war, in some esoteric sense. Perhaps if the border could be deliberately rearranged so that people were more consistently on the side they prefer, and surrounded by those happiest to have them as neighbors, that war would end, or at least de-escalate.

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I feel like this too. Although my drive towards NU and antinatalism is more from being horrified by the suffering of others I perceive, rather than my own. Although I do wonder if I generally felt happier more of the time, I wouldn't see the world this way I suppose

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Would you call Gautama Buddha a super-villain? (“I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering") Either way, I argue _against_ efilism / hard antinatalism:

https://www.antinatalism.com/hard/antinatalism-selectionpressure.pdf

Most people who favour phasing out the biology of involuntary suffering via genome reform aren't NU. (Indeed, I co-founded the World Transhumanist Association back in 1998 with a pioneer of existential risk as a serious academic discipline!)

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He's trolling all of us, you especially. He took one quote out of context and posted a very inflammatory and negative comment based on that.

But yes, you do have to reply to him seriously, since others are watching. Thanks!

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Thanks. Wise words. More generally, phasing out the biology of involuntary mental and physical pain is potentially consistent with a wide range of secular and religious traditions - including the most life-affirming. So it would be a shame if the wider abolitionist project gets sidetracked by discussion of NU.

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I don't think it's trolling. Someone who would destroy all life on earth can be described as a supervillain with the sole caveat that they lack the capability. It is useful to point this out under an article trying to raise funds and awareness: do I want to raise funds and awareness to someone who might decide to violate my wish to go on living?

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I am absolutely not trolling and I am saying what I believe to be true.

It seems pretty central to me that we are dealing with someone who's basic premise is that life itself should not exist, and then they stepped back from that idea due to practicalities. My quote wasn't out of context, its what he actually believes. I respect him for owning it. He talks around it and tries to contextualise it but doesn't deny that its what he actually thinks.

You are dealing with someone who thinks that life should not exist. That should be a big deal when considering the entirety of their philosophy. To me its seems like a lot of you are being mildly crazy by refusing to notice a giant and simple truth.

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If we're willing to rewrite our genetic source code and reprogram the biosphere, then life on Earth could be sublime. What's morally objectionable isn't life per se, but the horrors of pain-ridden Darwinian life. Maybe we differ here. But critically, you can believe that on balance life on Earth is on balance a priceless gift and wholeheartedly support the abolitionist project to make it better.

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The number of people who consider "pain-ridden Darwinian life" to be morally objectionable is so tiny that it should give you pause. When your preferences are so out of whack with the rest of humanity, I doubt your ideas of how to make the life "better" align with theirs.

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How much weight do you give the perspectives of the c. 800,000 people who take their own lives each year? The estimated 10 times that number who try and fail? The hundreds of millions of people world-wide who suffer from chronic depression or pain disorders? Critically, however, the case for using biotech to phase out the biology of involuntary suffering no more depends on whether its proponents are e.g. NU or CU than the case for pain-free surgery.

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I don't think it is that rare, I know at least 3 people thinking it that I know from an unrelated way.

Why do you think it is that rare ?

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I really feel like you are falling victim of some cognitive bias here; 'wanting life to not exist' is obviously deeply enmeshed with a whole range of negative thoughts and feelings, because it usually comes with anger, wanting to inflict violence, wanting to hurt; it seems like this means you are unable to perceive of the concept of 'wanting life to not exist' entirely because of wanting to end suffering, in a way that is entirely disengaged from all the usual attachments.

I broadly feel quite similar to David Pearce here; right now there will be thousands of people (at least) in unimaginable, terrible pain - I feel utterly horrified by this, and I really feel that endorsing others living and being pretty happy, so that these people continue suffering intensely (ie choosing that vs 'pressing the red button') is at best short sighted and thoughtless, and at worst pretty sadistic.

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I am not deeply read enough in Buddhism to answer with wisdom but key differences would be;

- Does this person think that life should not exist, and begin with that premise.

- Buddha did believe in something like an immortal soul I think? And varied layers of afterlife depending on what kind of Buddhism you believe in, with a peasants afterlife where you get to meet your family and then later a kind of philosophers afterlife where you abandon selfhood and are freed from the wheel and become one with the eternal but *something* continues on.

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It's quite a stretch to construe the Buddha's teachings on ending suffering as suggesting efilism in any way. The Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path as the way to end suffering.

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I think the route to fixing the problem of suffering lies in genome reform, not efilism. The precise views of the historical Gautama Buddha are inevitably speculative. But Buddha seems to have been a pragmatist: if it works, do it. Biotech and genome reform are transformative technologies that promise to fix the problem of suffering for ever.

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Efilism has made it much easier to get your tax returns in on time. I don’t know why you guys are disparaging it. Do you work for H&R Block?

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Suffering is the first noble truth of the Buddha. Proposing the elimination of suffering from the human genome will result in an organism that is not human. Expect resistance from those of us trained in the humanities. What you are proposing has allure and attractiveness, but it is fundamentally inhuman.

To suffer, to struggle against suffering, perhaps to transcend suffering, these are fundamental not only to humanity, but I would argue that such struggle is inherent in some degree in all forms of life on our planet. I'm not saying suffering is the sum total of existence and meaning, just that it is a fundamental part.

I believe that suffering is part of what drives the behaviors, selections, and evolutions on this planet. Part of me honors and thanks you for helping us imagine what life could be without it, and parts of me recoil at the unnaturalness of it.

I imagine that the beings you propose creating via genome reform will not suffer as they decide that humans like me are an existential liability.

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"inhuman"? I guess you're speaking figuratively. But are rare people who essentially never suffer really any less human than the rest of us? What about people who essentially _always_ suffer? And if the outliers were indeed somehow less human, would it matter?

"unnaturalness"? Look around. Compared to naked apes on the African savannah, our whole civilization is "unnatural." Wearing clothes is "unnatural". Pain-free surgery is "unnatural". Why should this matter?

Or let's try another tack. Imagine if we were to encounter an advanced civilisation whose lives are underpinned entirely by genetically programmed gradients of bliss. Would you urge them to revert to ancestral horrors? I'm guessing not. But why? To what extent are apologists for suffering victims of status quo bias?

Motivation? Yes, suffering and the promise of happiness alike can motivate. But all too often, suffering crushes the spirit. Information-sensitive gradients of bliss can motivate at least as powerfully as misery and despair.

Alas critics frequently approach this debate by asking whether they would want to get rid of the biological capacity to suffer in themselves. But as the technology matures, and the biology of suffering increasingly becomes optional, I think the real question to ask is whether we are entitled to inflict a genetic vulnerability to coercive misery on _others_.

"Existential liability"? Or tragic victim of late Darwinian life?

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May 16·edited May 16

> Would you call Gautama Buddha a super-villain?

A similar idea crossed my mind a few years ago. The idea in other comments that there are "super sufferers" is also tickling and would fit Gautama as his sheltered upbringing led to overreaction.

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May 15·edited May 15

In early childhood I thought that this was entirely self-evident, and lack of public prominence of it was due to the same sort of taboo that prevents open discussion of sex. I still think that it's self-evident, but nowadays it seems more likely to me that the majority of people have some kind of lower-level kludge in their mind preventing them from acknowledging it, because lack of such kludge would obviously have a negative effect on reproductive success.

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Another possibility you should consider is that you are an extreme outlier and most people just straight up strongly disagree with you.

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This doesn't seem to contradict what I said. I described what I considered the most likely source of that disagreement.

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It seems mostly self-evident to me too, I think there is at least some taboo (probably more than for open discussion of sex), even if there are probably other reasons too.

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Wow. Yes, if you want people to support you, maybe don’t sound like Mr. Smith from the Matrix?

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May 15·edited May 15

I've meditated before on the preponderance of suffering over pleasure within the domain of life, but instead of deriving from this an imperative to destroy life, I derive from it an imperative to swamp that suffering with as much engineered happiness as possible. Here's a post I previously made on the matter:

Because pain is a more direct and simple motivating principle than pleasure, we should expect net suffering to predominate within the domain of life, with this suffering increasing for every moment life continues to exist. Even if we were able to eliminate all life on earth this moment, the past net suffering would still have occurred, and there is likely life with the same negative utilitarian calculus countless other places in the universe. The only way to take this preponderance of suffering and make it so that it has been worthwhile is to use our opportunity of conscious and intelligent existence and take the dumb matter of the universe and construct as many new minds designed specifically to feel constant pleasure as possible out of it. Given how much more non-conscious matter there is in the universe than the relatively tiny amount currently engaged in conscious awareness, this would be able to swamp and overcome the net suffering of life and turn the universe from a place of net suffering into a place of net pleasure. So, it should be the moral imperative of all who love pleasure and loathe suffering to direct the technological progress of civilization towards the end of constructing as many minds experiencing constant pleasure as possible out of the matter of the universe. Unlike human minds, these artificial minds could be constructed specifically so they never tire or bore of pleasure, and every moment until the heat death of the universe is as joyous as the first. This may seem like a simple idea, but its importance cannot be overstated, as this program of converting the universe into minds experiencing pleasure is the only way to undo and reverse the natural tendency of the universe towards being a place of net suffering, and instead turn it into a realm of joy and contentment. The technological and philosophical abilities of humankind and any superintelligences we create should be directed towards this end of figuring out how to construct and propagate such minds, as no cause that we could engage in is more worthy.

Note that I am not a negative utilitarian. I believe that what matters is net pleasure: pleasure minus suffering. I believe this because I think that we can derive from conscious experience that pleasure can be directly and immediately felt as a good unto itself, and suffering as an evil unto itself. I don't take the negative utilitarian position of prioritizing minimizing pain before maximizing pleasure because I believe that when we experience "mixed states" where we're experiencing pleasure and pain simultaneously, it's whether the net pleasure is positive or negative that determines whether we regard this as a good or bad experience as a whole, and if the net pleasure is positive we don't regard this as a bad experience merely from the fact that some pain is present along with the greater quantity of pleasure. So, taken to a universal level, we can see that a universe with simultaneous pleasure and suffering is in a similar mixed state, and we can improve that state by increasing pleasure, not just by minimizing pain. So, the moral imperative in a world where life entails suffering is not to eliminate that suffering by eliminating life, but to overwhelm it with pleasure on a scale far beyond what life could ever naturally achieve itself.

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I disagree because, based on my conscious experience, there is a level of pain/discomfort/suffering that mostly cancels out the capacity for genuine enjoyment of anything no matter how much enjoyable stuff you add. The unpleasantness just poisons everything. So naturally I'm a negative utilitarian, focused mainly on minimizing the far end of unhappiness. But more generally in my experience pain and pleasure don't add very nicely at any level. If a person gets a splinter (-1) while eating a really good slice of cake (+1), the experience doesn't end up being the same as if nothing happened. It's good in some ways and bad in other ways and that's all that can be said about it. Or that's how it goes for me.

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It makes more sense to me to think of utility as a scale that reflects how happy one is with life and how much one wants to live. Then one could say that there is a point on that scale where life value becomes negative, and one would prefer to not exist - maybe similar to what you call net suffering. However I disagree that net negative utility can have been predominating in the state of life. If that was the case, I would have expected most people to prefer suicide over life - perhaps adjusted for the difficulty and stigma of committing suicide. This is not supported by the evidence. I would say that biological life are infused with a strong will to live, and are willing to suffer quite a bit before utility becomes net negative. I'm not really sure how it makes sense to just look at suffering and pleasure, as if that is somehow numerical values, state that the net is the only thing that matters, and conclude that life is not worth living. If I have a preference for living, I have net positive utility - It doesn't matter how much I'm suffering!

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Investigation into mutant healing factor: checks out.

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CW: suicide, animal suffering (maybe even a bit infohazardous, probably skip if you are suicidal)

So, I've expressed efilist views before on Zvi's blog. They often come from a place of depression and anger about the world, combined with a very pessimistic interpretation of Meditations on Moloch. I'm trying to stop believing these views, mostly because of Eliezer's "The Lens that Sees Its Own Flaws", but I do have some thoughts that might help clarify my view of efilism as well as answer a few comments in this thread.

First, if your goal really is to kill all life on Earth, killing yourself first is obviously a bad way of accomplishing this. Thus, efilism and suicidal intent don't necessarily imply each other.

Second, if we can say that evolution is selecting for anything at all, it's selecting for ongoing survival of the species of the world, and both suicidal and efilist (and anti-natalist, now that I think of it) views would be selected out over time.

I think we observe this in practice; even with the tragic 700,000 suicides per year globally (actually tragic, I'm not being sarcastic or snide here, I promise), suicide is actually pretty hard to do. People can have suicidal thoughts for years before doing it, some quick Wiki searching shows only about a 50% success rate even for attempts, and even the most blackpilled suicide advocates on the Internet, when asked why they haven't committed suicide yet, will often say how hard it is and how likely it is to fail in a life-altering way. It's actually really hard to kill yourself, and I do genuinely believe that is a very good thing.

Suffering is also kind of weird in a Darwinian sense. Pain evolved as a protection mechanism and suffering probably followed. But we know there's no group selection, every living thing is mostly out for itself and maybe its offspring, and we humans are one of a very few species that organize and help each other on this scale. Suffering is inflicted, en masse, onto other living things. Bacteria and parasites consume animals from the inside, carnivores eat their prey alive at times, and humans factory farm and, per Eliezer, have that little off-switch for their empathy named "outgroup" that makes awful, unconceivable atrocities when they're done against yours into rightful, just actions when done against someone who isn't yours.

Meditations on Moloch was depressing, to say the least. Multipolar traps, incentive gradients, short-term wins that become coordination traps that force everyone to sacrifice values to keep competitive. To me, there was no aspect of existence that Moloch would not leave alone, no joy or value or sacred duty that wouldn't be optimized away, and even if you stand up for your principles, you'd just lose to someone who didn't. More natural selection, culminating in, as Scott has written, the Disneyland with no children.

Efilism just seemed like the natural response. if Moloch guarantees infinite optimized suffering in enough time, if every good thing about life and nature would be optimized away, then there is no reason to keep anything around, knowing that joy will hit 0 and suffering would be unbounded.

But I was too pessimistic. Rereading "The Lens that Sees Its Own Flaws" made me realize that humans are the only things - ever - that have been able to reflect on their own minds and notice mistakes. We still run on instinct a lot of the time, but we can override it. Our minds quietly make all sorts of rational errors, but we can try to notice those moments and train against them. And even the coordination problems seem like they won't always hold forever.

Also, P.S. to any true efilists: false vacuum decay is cooler, faster, and more total than any anti-natalism could hope to achieve. And for anti-efilists, it also has the convenient property of being probably impossible to engineer, making it a perfect wild goose chase for the efilists.

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Why focus on a very probably physically impossible project, when this post is about a much more plausible, and better, project.

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Well, yeah, the impossibility is kinda the point. Use it to distract the efilists with something that would accomplish exactly what they want while also being impossible. It's easier than trying to convince them they're wrong.

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I assume it is sort of a joke, but my point was to remind the efilists there is actually something possible that would accomplish exactly what they want, and it is the subject of this article.

And they don't really need to believe it has a great chance to work, it just needs to have a greater chance than any other plans they have, and they mostly not have any plan with any chance to work.

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True, every efilist I've heard of objects to suffering, not life itself, they just view the two as inseparable. I don't think I'm onboard with removing suffering - we wouldn't want an animal to be happy as its being gored and eaten alive - but reducing the causes of suffering is something I can get behind. And, no, not via vacuum decay.

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May 21·edited May 21

Maybe you wouldn't, but I absolutely would, and I think you would too, if you were the one being gored, eaten alive, and agonizing.

Edit: I think I misunderstood what you mean, do you mean you would want them to be happy if they are eaten, but not want them to be eaten even if they are happy (if this is it, I think it is much more reasonable than my first read) ?

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But could it be that these folks are just deferring suffering to older age, where a lifetime of avoiding suffering thus leaves one with zero coping skills just when it becomes hardest? It's hard to not view this as another form of the peculiar American aversion to talking about death?

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If we were to extrapolate from the example of Jo Cameron (which is a single but meaningful datapoint), she discovered her condition in 60s, and seems to have a decent health status and satisfying life outcomes for a 76-years old person. The emphasis on suffering minimization and adaptiveness is to be maintained throughout the entire lifespan.

Studying and skilfully relating to the issues of personal identity, including the termination of the closed individualist identity, is certainly within our scope of interest, just not the central focus of The Far Out project.

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That seems pretty dry, doesn't it? How much experience do you have with the travails of the elderly in general and in specific? In other words, if you're just shoving all the suffering into the last years of life, is that, then, not a question of "eliminating suffering" but rather increasing the "brisance" of old age?

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What do you mean by "she discovered her condition in 60s"?

Was she previously unaware of her inability to feel pain /did she assume everyone's subjective experience of mental stability was the same as hers?

Or do you mean that she was in her 60s when the gene link was identified?

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Surprisingly hard to find an isolated Far Side cartoon, so I guess you get a whole article alongside it. https://formerpastor.substack.com/p/a-cumulative-attack-of-the-willies

An argument that painlessness is deferring suffering to old age is like arguing that making people rich is deferring poverty to old age. That's not how it works. There's not a quota of suffering you have to get through in life. In fact suffering gains interest like debt; the more you have, the more you'll have in future.

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I'm not buying that somehow the mechanisms used to induce the inability to suffer continue to work in the presence of natural breakdown of the body by age. It's just as likely that it works up to a point, the gradually or different, it doesn't.

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At which point you're at normal levels, not "everything you would have otherwise suffered the last 50 years" levels.

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The point is not that you're experiencing "everything otherwise suffered". Instead you're experiencing "normal" without 50 years of experience with dealing with it. That's what I mean by brisance. Same state, but with the decline experienced rapidly and all the more vividly.

And that's just one scenario. One can imagine others. Such as if you were able to sell inhibition of suffering, what if it's a drug you have to take every X days or it wears off, and you feel "normal" all the more vividly since you know what it's like without suffering. Nobody will exploit that for gain...

That starts to sound like heroin 2.0?

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I don't see why it would be a problem to first experience it at 70 instead of 20, or whichever years we're using. The adjustment period would be the same.

The second paragraph is the current state of things; the older you get the more pills you take to feel normal, many of them more than once a day. But if you could replace every side effect medication with a dose of Heroin 2.0, that sounds like a deal.

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It sounds like your imagining that "suffering" is a natural, basic feature of existence, and "not suffering" can only happen because of some special extra structure on top of that. But suffering is, like any experience, produced by a complex mechanism that is itself subject to external forces and decay. Why not instead not buy that the mechanisms used to induce suffering continue to work etc.? You know they must break down at some point, since the dead don't suffer, and if those mechanisms can survive up to almost the very end why shouldn't others?

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>There's not a quota of suffering you have to get through in life.

Very much agreed!

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I am curious to know the source for the claim that Jo Cameron lacks dangerous pain insensitivity. According to this article: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/01/13/a-world-without-pain she did not notice having broken a bone (a very dangerous sympton of pain insensitivity!)

I would also like to know where the claim that her wounds heal without scars comes from. No article I read mentions this, and this one: https://nypost.com/2023/05/24/i-dont-feel-pain-scientists-say-my-rare-gene-could-change-medicine/ specifically shows the scars on her hands from the many injuries sustained as a result of pain insensitivity.

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The Wikipedia article on FAAH says of Cameron that "The frequent burns and cuts suffered due to her hypoalgesia healed quicker than average with little or no scarring" with three references.

One is an article from the British Journal of Anaesthesia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6676009/ which says "She reported numerous burns and cuts without pain, often smelling her burning flesh before noticing any injury, and that these wounds healed quickly with little or no residual scar" but also "On clinical examination, she had multiple scars around the arms and on the back of her hands". It also mentions that IN MICE FAAH deletion produces "accelerated skin wound healing" along with various other things similar to what Jo Cameron reports.

The next is an article in the NYT https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/health/woman-pain-anxiety.html of which I can only read the opening section which mentions in passing that "her body heals quickly".

The third is an article in the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/mar/28/scientists-find-genetic-mutation-that-makes-woman-feel-no-pain says "They found two notable mutations. Together, they suppress pain and anxiety, while boosting happiness and, apparently, forgetfulness and wound healing." which may or may not be claiming that Jo Cameron specifically heals quickly.

I'm not sure whether after all this I believe that Jo Cameron actually heals unusually quickly or not.

Another thing that at least two of these articles mention is that FAAH is involved in _memory_. BJA article: Jo Cameron "reported long-standing memory lapses (e.g. frequently forgetting words mid-sentence and placement of keys)". FAAH deletion IN MICE produces "short-term memory deficits". Guardian article, as quoted above, lists "forgetfulness" as something produced by Cameron's mutations.

I am not sure that I would trade worse memory for immunity to pain, anxiety and depression, even if there weren't a risk of e.g. breaking bones and not noticing. (Of course someone who suffers more pain, anxiety and depression than I do might make a different tradeoff.)

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Regarding the enhanced wound healing capacity, this paper might be of interest: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27412859/

As for Jo's adaptive and risk-averse functioning, it is certainly way better than in typical, dangerous cases of the congenital insensitivity to pain, and worse when compared to the average. Still, the ratio of "cumulative hedonic tone benefits" to the "trade-off in adaptive responses and potentially in memory" is unusually high - certainly high enough to consider cases like Jo a great starting point for the exploratory research.

It is worth noting that we do not currently consider Jo to be the ultimate and optimal model to exactly replicate, but her genome and phenomenology continues to warrant particular attention in the research and intervention design.

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