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JohnWittle comments on Seduced by Imagination - Less Wrong

23 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 January 2009 03:10AM

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Comment author: JohnWittle 17 April 2013 04:12:12PM 19 points [-]

This is an interesting thought. I started out a heroin addict with a passing interest in wireheading, which my atheist/libertarian/programmer/male brain could envision as being clearly possible, and the 'perfect' version of heroin (which has many downsides even if you are able to sustain a 3 year habit without slipping into withdrawal a single time, as I was). I saw pleasure as being the only axiomatic good, and dreamed of co-opting this simple reward mechanism for arbitrarily large amounts of pleasure. This dream led me here (I believe the lesswrong wiki article is at least on the front page of the Google results for 'wireheading'), and when I first read the fun theory sequence, I was skeptical that we would end up actually wanting something other than wireheading. Oh, these foolish AI programmers who have never felt the sheer blaze of pleasure of a fat shot of heroin, erupting like an orgasmic volcano from their head to their toes... No, but I did at least realize that I could bring about wireheading sooner by getting off heroin and starting to study neuroscience at my local (luckily, neuroscience specialized) university.

Once I got clean (which took about two weeks of a massively uncomfortable taper), I realized two things: the main difference between a life of heroin and a life without is having choices. A heroin addict satisfies his food and shelter needs in the cheapest way possible and then spends the rest of his money on heroin. The opportunity cost of something is readily available to your mind, "I could get this much heroin with the money instead", instead of being a vague notion of all the other things you could have bought instead. There is something to be said for this simplicity. Which leads me to the second realization: pleasure is definitely relative. We experience pleasure when we go from less pleasure to more pleasure, not as an absolute value of pleasure. The benefit of heroin is that it's a very sharp spike in pleasure for a minute or two, which then subsides into a state where you probably are experiencing larger absolute pleasure, but you can't actually tell the difference. Eventually, some 6-8 hours later, you start to feel cold, clammy, feverish; definitely you experience pain. I remember times where i'd be at 12 hours since my last shot, and feeling very bad, but I would hold out a little longer just so that when I finally DID dose, the difference between the past state of pleasure and the current state would be as large as possible.

In fact, being in the absolute hell of day 2 withdrawal, 24-48 hours since last dose, puking everywhere and defecating everywhere and lying in a puddle of sweat, and then injecting a dose which brought me up to baseline over the course of five-ten seconds, without any pleasure in the absolute sense, was just as pleasurable as going from baseline to a near-overdose.

I am glad to be free of that terrible addiction, but it taught me such straight forward lessons about how pleasure actually works that I think studying the behavior of, say, heroin-addicted primates, would be useful.