Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Comment author: cousin_it 02 July 2017 08:02:10AM *  0 points [-]

We could certainly make agents for whom pleasure and pain would use equal resources per util. The question is if human preferences today (or extrapolated) would sympathize with such agents to the point of giving them the universe. Their decision-making could look very inhuman to us. If we value such agents with a discount factor, we're back at square one.

Comment author: CarlShulman 03 July 2017 06:54:19PM 1 point [-]

That's what the congenital deafness discussion was about.

You have preferences over pain and pleasure intensities that you haven't experienced, or new durations of experiences you know. Otherwise you wouldn't have anything to worry about re torture, since you haven't experienced it.

Consider people with pain asymbolia:

Pain asymbolia is a condition in which pain is perceived, but with an absence of the suffering that is normally associated with the pain experience. Individuals with pain asymbolia still identify the stimulus as painful but do not display the behavioral or affective reactions that usually accompany pain; no sense of threat and/or danger is precipitated by pain.

Suppose you currently had pain asymbolia. Would that mean you wouldn't object to pain and suffering in non-asymbolics? What if you personally had only happened to experience extremely mild discomfort while having lots of great positive experiences? What about for yourself? If you knew you were going to get a cure for your pain asymbolia tomorrow would you object to subsequent torture as intrinsically bad?

We can go through similar stories for major depression and positive mood.

Seems it's the character of the experience that matters.

Likewise, if you've never experienced skiing, chocolate, favorite films, sex, victory in sports, and similar things that doesn't mean you should act as though they have no moral value. This also holds true for enhanced experiences and experiences your brain currently is unable to have, like the case of congenital deafness followed by a procedure to grant hearing and listening to music.

Comment author: cousin_it 02 July 2017 05:12:31AM *  0 points [-]

Comparing pains and pleasures of similar magnitude?

My point was comparing pains and pleasures that could be generated with similar amount of resources. Do you think they balance out for human decision making? For example, I'd strongly disagree to create a box of pleasure and a box of pain, do you think my preference would go away after extrapolation?

Comment author: CarlShulman 02 July 2017 06:38:40AM *  1 point [-]

"My point was comparing pains and pleasures that could be generated with similar amount of resources. Do you think they balance out for human decision making?"

I think with current tech it's cheaper and easier to wirehead to increase pain (i.e. torture) than to increase pleasure or reduce pain. This makes sense biologically, since organisms won't go looking for ways to wirehead to maximize their own pain, evolution doesn't need to 'hide the keys' as much as with pleasure or pain relief (where the organism would actively seek out easy means of subverting the behavioral functions of the hedonic system). Thus when powerful addictive drugs are available, such as alcohol, human populations evolve increased resistance over time. The sex systems evolve to make masturbation less rewarding than reproductive sex under ancestral conditions, desire for play/curiosity is limited by boredom, delicious foods become less pleasant when full or the foods are not later associated with nutritional sensors in the stomach, etc.

I don't think this is true with fine control over the nervous system (or a digital version) to adjust felt intensity and behavioral reinforcement. I think with that sort of full access one could easily increase the intensity (and ease of activation) of pleasures/mood such that one would trade them off against the most intense pains at ~parity per second, and attempts at subjective comparison when or after experiencing both would put them at ~parity.

People will willingly undergo very painful jobs and undertakings for money, physical pleasures, love, status, childbirth, altruism, meaning, etc. Unless you have a different standard for the 'boxes' than used in subjective comparison with rich experience of the things to be compared I think we just haggling over the price re intensity.

We know the felt caliber and behavioral influence of such things can vary greatly. It would be possible to alter nociception and pain receptors to amp up or damp down any particular pain. This could even involve adding a new sense, e.g. someone with congenital deafness could be given the ability to hear (installing new nerves and neurons), and hear painful sounds, with artificially set intensity of pain. Likewise one could add a new sense (or dial one up) to enable stronger pleasures. I think that both the new pains and new pleasures would 'count' to the same degree (and if you're going to dismiss the pleasures as 'wireheading' then you should dismiss the pains too).

" For example, I'd strongly disagree to create a box of pleasure and a box of pain, do you think my preference would go away after extrapolation?"

You trade off pain and pleasure in your own life, are you saying that the standard would be different for the boxes than for yourself?

What are you using as the examples to represent the boxes, and have you experienced them? (As discussed in my link above, people often use weaksauce examples in such comparison.)

Comment author: cousin_it 21 June 2017 04:32:41PM *  1 point [-]

Yeah. One sign of asymmetry is that creating two universes, one filled with pleasure and the other filled with pain, feels strongly negative rather than symmetric to us. Another sign is that pain is an internal experience, while our values might refer to the external world (though it's very murky), so the former might be much easier to achieve. Another sign is that in our world it's much easier to create a life filled with pain than a life that fulfills human values.

Comment author: CarlShulman 01 July 2017 06:50:01PM 1 point [-]

"one filled with pleasure and the other filled with pain, feels strongly negative rather than symmetric to us"

Comparing pains and pleasures of similar magnitude? People have a tendency not to do this, see the linked thread.

"Another sign is that pain is an internal experience, while our values might refer to the external world (though it's very murky"

You accept pain and risk of pain all the time to pursue various pleasures, desires and goals. Mice will cross electrified surfaces for tastier treats.

If you're going to care about hedonic states as such, why treat the external case differently?

Alternatively, if you're going to dismiss pleasure as just an indicator of true goals (e.g. that pursuit of pleasure as such is 'wireheading') then why not dismiss pain in the same way, as just a signal and not itself a goal?

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 24 February 2017 11:03:44PM 0 points [-]

world total and per capita GDP

Did you mean world to modify GDP? If you did, that's really confusing, because GDP ("domestic") is specifically local. If you concatenate "world GDP" is pretty clear what you mean, but if you separate that like this, it is natural to parse it as "world and national," which is probably not what you mean, since that is pretty much the error Phil is talking about. Your links are careful to always concatenate, though.

Comment author: CarlShulman 02 March 2017 01:55:45AM 0 points [-]

I meant GWP without introducing the term. Edited for clarity.

Comment author: CarlShulman 19 February 2017 08:28:29PM *  5 points [-]

If you have a constant population, and GDP increases, productivity per person has increased. But if you have a border on a map enclosing some people, and you move it so it encloses more people, productivity hasn't increased.

Can you give examples of people confirmed to be actually making the mistake this post discusses? I don't recall seeing any.

The standard economist claim (and the only version I've seen promulgated in LW and EA circles) is that it increases gross world product (total and per capita) because migrants are much more productive when they migrate to developed countries. Here is a set of references and counterarguments.

Separately, some people are keen to increase GDP in particular countries to pay off national fixed costs (like already incurred debts, or military spending).

Comment author: Benquo 30 December 2016 10:24:43PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the correction, I'll fix the wording. Seems like Carl should make that clearer in his post too. I took the post to be saying that you'd handled the implementation and Carl had done the writeup.

Comment author: CarlShulman 31 December 2016 01:17:33AM *  4 points [-]

I came up with the idea and basic method, then asked Paul if he would provide a donor lottery facility. He did so, and has been taking in entrants and solving logistical issues as they come up.

I agree that thinking/researching/discussing more dominates the gains in the $1-100k range.

Comment author: CarlShulman 02 December 2016 12:26:05AM 3 points [-]

A different possibility is identifying vectors in Facebook-behavior space, and letting users alter their feeds accordingly, e.g. I might want to see my feed shifted in the direction of more intelligent users, people outside the US, other political views, etc. At the individual level, I might be able to request a shift in my feed in the direction of individual Facebook friends I respect (where they give general or specific permission).

Comment author: James_Miller 22 November 2016 04:42:07AM 2 points [-]

Isn't this insanely dangerous? Couldn't bacteria immune to viruses out-compete all other bacteria and destroy most of earth's biosphere?

Comment author: CarlShulman 24 November 2016 05:08:50AM 4 points [-]

That advantage only goes so far:

  • Plenty of nonviral bacteria-eating entities exist, and would become more numerous
  • Plant and antibacterial defenses aren't viral-based
  • For the bacteria to compete in the same niche as unmodified versions it has to fulfill a similar ecological role: photosynthetic cyanobacteria with altered DNA would still produce oxygen and provide food
  • It couldn't benefit from exchanging genetic material with other kinds of bacteria
Comment author: CellBioGuy 04 October 2016 10:00:49PM *  11 points [-]

Advice solicited. Topics of interest I have lined up for upcoming posts include:

  • The history of life on Earth and its important developments
  • The nature of the last universal common ancestor (REALLY good new research on this just came out)
  • The origin of life and the different schools of thought on it
  • Another exploration of time in which I go over a paper that came out this summer that basically did exactly what I did a few months earlier with my "Space and Time Part II" calculations of our point in star and planet order that showed we are not early and are right around when you would expect to find the average biosphere, but extended it to types of stars and their lifetimes in a way I think I can improve upon.
  • My thoughs on how and why SETI has been sidetracked away from activities that are more likely to be productive towards activities that are all but doomed to fail, with a few theoretical case studies
  • My thoughts on how the Fermi paradox / 'great filter' is an ill-posed concept
  • Interesting recent research on the apparent evolutionary prerequisites for primate intelligence

Any thoughts on which of these are of particular interest, or other ideas to delve into?

Comment author: CarlShulman 07 October 2016 12:19:07AM 5 points [-]

Primates and eukaryotes would be good.

Comment author: CarlShulman 16 July 2016 05:35:24PM *  8 points [-]

Your example has 3 states: vanilla, chocolate, and neither.

But you only explicitly assigned utilities to 2 of them, although you implicitly assigned the state of 'neither' a utility of 0 initially. Then when you applied the transformation to vanilla and chocolate you didn't apply it to the 'neither' state, which altered preferences for gambles over both transformed and untransformed states.

E.g. if we initially assigned u(neither)=0 then after the transformation we have u(neither)=4, u(vanilla)=7, u(chocolate)=12. Then an action with a 50% chance of neither and 50% chance of chocolate has expected utility 8, while the 100% chance of vanilla has expected utility 7.

View more: Next