Comment by teo-ajantaival on You have more than one goal, and that's fine · 2019-02-20T17:25:33.364Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

This would be my practical question as well, for the following reasons!

I don’t see a way to ultimately resolve conflicts between an (infinite) optimizing (i.e., maximizing or minimizing) goal and other goals if they’re conceptualized as independent from the optimizing goal. Even if we consider the independent goals as something to only suffice (i.e., take care of “well enough”) instead of optimize as much as possible, it’ll be the case that our optimizing goal, by its infinite nature, wants to negotiate to itself as much resources as possible, and its reasons for earning its living within me are independently convincing (that’s why it’s an infinite goal of mine in the first place).

So an infinite goal of preventing suffering wants to understand why my conflicting other goals require a certain amount of resources (time, attention, energy, money) for them to be sufficed, and in practice this feels to me like an irreconcilable conflict unless they can negotiate by speaking a common language, i.e., one which the infinite goal can understand.

In the case of my other goals wanting resources from an {infinite, universal, all-encompassing, impartial, uncompromising} compassion, my so-called other goals start to be conceptualized through the language of self-compassion, which the larger, universal compassion understands as a practical limitation worth spending resources on – not for the other goals’ independent sake, but because they play a necessary and valuable role in the context of self-compassion aligned with omnicompassion. In practice, it also feels most sustainable and long-term wise to usually if not always err on the side of self-compassion, and to only gradually attempt moving resources from self-compassionate sub-goals and mini-games towards the infinite goal. Eventually, omnicompassion may expect less and less attachment to the other goals as independent values, acknowledging only their interdependent value in terms of serving the infinite goal, but it is patient and understands human limitations and growing pains and the counterproductive nature of pushing its infinite agenda too much too quickly.

If others have found ways to reconcile infinite optimizing goals with sufficing goals without a common language to mediate negotiations between them, I’d be very interested in hearing about them, although this already works for me, and I’m working on becoming able to write more about this, because it has felt like an all-around unified “operating system”, replacing utilitarianism. :)

Why do you reject negative utilitarianism?

2019-02-12T07:39:24.860Z · score: 5 (7 votes)
Comment by teo-ajantaival on Existential risk as common cause · 2019-02-11T14:23:44.530Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

By “doesn’t have to work on reducing x-risk”, do you mean that they don’t want to?

I’d expect that negative utilitarians (NUs) do want to reduce x-risk, because

(1) x-risk is rarely an either/or risk of 100% extinction; instead, more x-risk probably correlates with more risk of extreme suffering (from non-total pandemics/disasters/wars/etc., and all of their after-effects)

(2) even facing a 100% human extinction, we’d want to account for our epistemic uncertainty of the conditions from which suffering can evolve (re-evolve on Earth, or be found elsewhere within the reach of our descendants)

NUs don’t necessarily jump to suicide as a solution, because helping others is an infinite game to live for, especially after accounting for the epistemic uncertainty of all possible forms of suffering and their evolution. There is further basic research on suffering to be done before turning off the lights and hoping that all the billions of exoplanets would have their own guardians.

It is a straw man argument that NUs don’t value life or positive states, because NUs value them instrumentally, which may translate into substantial practical efforts (compared even with someone who claims to be terminally motivated by them).

Comment by teo-ajantaival on How to use the Forum · 2019-02-11T13:23:38.972Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the guidelines.

Is there any policy (or existing discussion) on commenting on old posts? Is anything relevant enough to be worth adding to posts that are years old, or do you prefer that replies (across years) become their own posts linking to the original ones?

Comment by teo-ajantaival on Arguments for moral indefinability · 2019-02-10T18:52:31.376Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW
This is not the case when there's a well-defined procedure for resolving such conflicts.

Yes, but there isn’t. The theoretical case for terminal value monism is strong because monism doesn’t need such a procedure. All forms of terminal value pluralism run into the problem of incommensurability; monism doesn’t. With monism, we can evaluate and compare x-risks and positive psychology states & traits (vs. suffering) by their instrumental effects for minimizing suffering (which may be empirically difficult, but not theoretically impossible). What more do we want from a unified theory?

Do we want the slightest (epsilon) increase in x-risk to end up weighing more than any suffering? If this is our pre-decided definition, are we going to give up on suffering as a terminal value, caring about suffering only if it increases x-risk?

For example, you can map several terminal values onto a numerical "utility" scale.

I can’t. Who can? (In a non-arbitrary way we could agree on from behind the veil of ignorance.) The analogy of a scale requires a common dimension by which the comparator can sort the two (mass, in the analogy of a scale). What is a common dimension for intercomparing suffering & x-risk, or suffering & positive states? An arbitrary numerical assignment?

To arrive at an impartial theory that doesn’t sanctify our self-serving intuitions, we’d want to formulate our terminal value pluralism, “behind the veil”, by agreeing on independent numerical utility values for different terminal value-grounded currencies, such as:

(1) +epsilon probability of human extinction

(2) +epsilon probability that someone undergoes, e.g., a cluster headache episode (or equivalent)

(3) +epsilon probability that someone instantiates/deepens a positive psychology state [requiring a common dimension for “positivity”, unlike monism]

With monism, we don’t need to agree on definitions & values for multiple such currencies. Instead, we want to ground the (dis)value of other values in their relationships to extreme suffering, which everyone already finds terminally motivating in their own case (unlike x-risk reduction or positivity-production, worth noting). I wouldn’t agree to any theory where extreme suffering can be outweighed by enough positivity elsewhere, because outweighing “does not compute”: positivity can only outweigh suffering if it reduces even more suffering, but not by itself, because a positive fantasy of infinite utility is not an antidote to suffering, because the aggregate terminal positivity physically exists only as a fantasy [an imaginary spreadsheet cell] that never interacts with our terminal suffering.

Without monism, how do we agree on the pluralist numerical values if we could end up undergoing the cluster headache-equivalent suffering ourselves (i.e., simulating an impartial compassion)? Are we to trust that cluster headaches aren’t so bad, when they’re outweighed according to a formula that some (not all) people agreed on?

Comment by teo-ajantaival on Arguments for moral indefinability · 2019-02-09T19:30:53.912Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Multiple terminal values will always lead to irreconcilable conflicts.

(1) Do you hold suffering to be a terminal value motivating its minimization for its own sake?

(2) Do you also hold that there is some positive maximand that does not ultimately derive its value from its instrumental usefulness for minimizing suffering?

Anyone who answers yes to both (1) and (2) is not a unified entity playing one infinite game with one common currency (infinite optimand), but contains at least two infinite optimands, because with limited resources, we will never fully satisfy any single terminal value (e.g., its probability of being minimized or maximized throughout space & time).

I’ve been working on a compassion-centric motivation unification (as an improvement of existing formulations of negative utilitarianism) because I find it the most consistent & psychologically realistic theory that solves all these theoretical problems with no ultimately unacceptable implications. To arrive at practical answers from thought experiments, we want to account for all possibly relevant externalities of our scenarios. For example, the practical situations of {killing children} vs. {not having children} do not have “roughly the same outcome” in any scenario I can think of (due to all kinds of inescapable interdependencies). Similarly, compassion for all sentient beings does not necessarily imply attempting to end Earth (do you see Buddhists researching that?), because technocivilization might reach more & more exoplanets the longer it survives, or at least want to remain to ensure that suffering won’t re-evolve here.

To further explore intuitions between terminal value monism vs. terminal value pluralism, can you order the following motivations by your certainty of holding them as absolutes?

(A) You want to minimize suffering moments.

(B) You want to minimize the risk of extinction (i.e., prolong the survival of life/consciousness).

(C) You want to maximize happy moments.

I sometimes imagine I’m a Dyson sphere of near-infinite resources splitting my budget between these goals. I find that B is often instrumental for A on a cosmic scale, but that C derives its budget entirely from the degree to which it helps A: equanimity, resilience, growth, learning, awe, gratitude, and other phenomena of positive psychology are wonderful tools for compassionate actors for minimizing suffering, but I would not copy/boost them beyond the degree to which they are the minimizing way. In other words, I could not tell my Exoplanet Rescue Mission Department why I wanted to spend their resources on creating more ecstatic meditators on Mars, because A is only interested in instruments for minimizing suffering. Besides, I wouldn’t undergo surgery without anaesthesia for any number of meditators on Mars, because they wouldn’t help my suffering; in a world where anaesthetics opportunity-cost a monastery on Mars, what would you do? Is “outweighing” between terminal values an actual physical computation taking place anywhere outside an ethicist’s head, or a fiction?