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Justified Expectation of Pleasant Surprises

10 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 January 2009 07:26AM

I recently tried playing a computer game that made a major fun-theoretic error.  (At least I strongly suspect it's an error, though they are game designers and I am not.)

The game showed me—right from the start of play—what abilities I could purchase as I increased in level.  Worse, there were many different choices; still worse, you had to pay a cost in fungible points to acquire them, making you feel like you were losing a resource...  But today, I'd just like to focus on the problem of telling me, right at the start of the game, about all the nice things that might happen to me later.

I can't think of a good experimental result that backs this up; but I'd expect that a pleasant surprise would have a greater hedonic impact, than being told about the same gift in advance.  Sure, the moment you were first told about the gift would be good news, a moment of pleasure in the moment of being told.  But you wouldn't have the gift in hand at that moment, which limits the pleasure.  And then you have to wait.  And then when you finally get the gift—it's pleasant to go from not having it to having it, if you didn't wait too long; but a surprise would have a larger momentary impact, I would think.

This particular game had a status screen that showed all my future class abilities at the start of the game—inactive and dark but with full information still displayed.  From a hedonic standpoint this seems like miserable fun theory.  All the "good news" is lumped into a gigantic package; the items of news would have much greater impact if encountered separately.  And then I have to wait a long time to actually acquire the abilities, so I get an extended period of comparing my current weak game-self to all the wonderful abilities I could have but don't.

Imagine living in two possible worlds.  Both worlds are otherwise rich in challenge, novelty, and other aspects of Fun.  In both worlds, you get smarter with age and acquire more abilities over time, so that your life is always getting better.

But in one world, the abilities that come with seniority are openly discussed, hence widely known; you know what you have to look forward to.

In the other world, anyone older than you will refuse to talk about certain aspects of growing up; you'll just have to wait and find out.

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Changing Emotions

22 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 January 2009 12:05AM

Previously in series:  Growing Up is Hard

    Lest anyone reading this journal of a primitive man should think we spend our time mired in abstractions, let me also say that I am discovering the richness available to those who are willing to alter their major characteristics.  The variety of emotions available to a reconfigured human mind, thinking thoughts impossible to its ancestors...
    The emotion of -*-, describable only as something between sexual love and the joy of intellection—making love to a thought?  Or &&, the true reverse of pain, not "pleasure" but a "warning" of healing, growth and change. Or (^+^), the most complex emotion yet discovered, felt by those who consciously endure the change between mind configurations, and experience the broad spectrum of possibilities inherent in thinking and being.

        —Greg Bear, Eon

So... I'm basically on board with that sort of thing as a fine and desirable future.  But I think that the difficulty and danger of fiddling with emotions is oft-underestimated.  Not necessarily underestimated by Greg Bear, per se; the above journal entry is from a character who was receiving superintelligent help.

But I still remember one time on the Extropians mailing list when someone talked about creating a female yet "otherwise identical" copy of himself.  Something about that just fell on my camel's back as the last straw.  I'm sorry, but there are some things that are much more complicated to actually do than to rattle off as short English phrases, and "changing sex" has to rank very high on that list.  Even if you're omnipotent so far as raw ability goes, it's not like people have a binary attribute reading "M" or "F" that can be flipped as a primitive action.

Changing sex makes a good, vivid example of the sort of difficulties you might run into when messing with emotional architecture, so I'll use it as my archetype:

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Growing Up is Hard

28 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 January 2009 03:55AM

Terrence Deacon's The Symbolic Species is the best book I've ever read on the evolution of intelligence.  Deacon somewhat overreaches when he tries to theorize about what our X-factor is; but his exposition of its evolution is first-class.

Deacon makes an excellent case—he has quite persuaded me—that the increased relative size of our frontal cortex, compared to other hominids, is of overwhelming importance in understanding the evolutionary development of humanity.  It's not just a question of increased computing capacity, like adding extra processors onto a cluster; it's a question of what kind of signals dominate, in the brain.

People with Williams Syndrome (caused by deletion of a certain region on chromosome 7) are hypersocial, ultra-gregarious; as children they fail to show a normal fear of adult strangers.  WSers are cognitively impaired on most dimensions, but their verbal abilities are spared or even exaggerated; they often speak early, with complex sentences and large vocabulary, and excellent verbal recall, even if they can never learn to do basic arithmetic.

Deacon makes a case for some Williams Syndrome symptoms coming from a frontal cortex that is relatively too large for a human, with the result that prefrontal signals—including certain social emotions—dominate more than they should.

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