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cousin_it comments on Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately - Less Wrong

75 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 April 2009 09:51AM

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Comment author: cousin_it 01 April 2009 11:36:58AM *  5 points [-]

There are two ways you might be wrong. First, the neg-utility of dust specks could approach zero as distance increases, and the neg-utility of torture could approach a nonzero value that's greater than the sum of infinitely many dust specks. Second, I could imagine accepting torture if the victim were sufficiently neurologically distant from me, say on the empathetic level of a fictional character. (Neurological distance is, more or less, the degree of our gut acknowledgement that a given person actually exists. The existence of a googolplex people is quite a leap of faith.) Take your pick.

I still believe proximity solves the dust speck and Pascal's mugging parables. Well, not quite "solves": proximity gives a convincing rationalization to the common-sense decision of a normal person that rationalism so cleverly argues against. Unfortunately scholastics without experiment can't "solve" a problem in any larger sense.

Comment author: randallsquared 01 April 2009 08:34:26PM 2 points [-]

I don't see why anyone would think the dust speck problem is a problem. The simplest solution seems to be to acknowledge that suffering (and other utility, positive or negative) isn't additive. Is there some argument that it is or should be?

Comment author: cousin_it 01 April 2009 09:49:16PM *  2 points [-]

Well, you're right, but I wasn't completely satisfied by such a blunt argument and went on to invent an extra layer of rationalization: justify non-additivity with proximity. Of course none of this matters except as a critique of the "shut up and multiply" maxim. I wouldn't want to become a utility-additive mind without proximity modifiers. Maybe Eliezer would; who knows.