[extropy-chat] Criticizing One's Own Goals---Rational?

Rafal Smigrodzki rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com
Mon Dec 11 18:45:19 UTC 2006

On 12/6/06, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
> Rafal continued in a way that I couldn't quite connect up with
> what had gone before, but which was nevertheless most interesting:
> > If there was a goal "seek happiness" in my then sophomore mind
> > a long time ago, it was erased upon noticing that happiness appears
> > to be the subjective aspect of certain computations within, most
> > notably, the cingulate and insular cortices and the nucleus accumbens.
> > Why bother doing such computations?
> What!?  How can awareness of the mechanics of a process interfere
> with your appreciation of it? Recall how Dawkins or Sagan would take
> the exactly opposite tack with regard to artistic or aesthetic appreciation
> of our world:  just because we know scientifically what is going on beneath
> the surface ought not have any effect on our appreciation, unless it be an
> enhancing one.
> Why bother doing *any* computation?  That is, suppose that you
> uncovered the precise mechanism responsible for your affections
> towards your family;  would this immediately imperil the desirability
> to you of those computations?   So what if we know how happiness
> works: I cannot fathom why this would make it any less desirable.


> Please explain why "avoiding unhappiness" has a stronger link to
> your cognitive faculties than does seeking happiness?  Or, if this
> is simply a fact, do you try to justify it at all?

### As to your second question, I remember the time when dentists
would drill your teeth without anestesia, and there was a trade-off
between the pleasure of chocolate and the suffering of the molar. For
every few hundred minutes of chocolate, a minute of drilling. I would
swear off chocolate in a heartbeat if the trade-off was 1:1.

So as a simple observation, I find it much easier to forgo happiness.
As you may know, the neural structures responsible for the many shades
of suffering (amygdala, some frontal cortical areas) are to a large
extent distinct from the structures responsible for blissful raptures.
It is just the result of my genetic makeup that the former are
stronger than the latter.

As to your first question, let me give you a brief summary of how my
goal system evolved, leading to the invalidation of some initial
high-level goals:

In the beginning there were some simple goals, such as "seek sweet
food", "gain predictive understanding of the motions of physical
objects in the environment", "avoid pain". Then more complex goals
emerged, accompanied by the process of myelinization of my frontal
cortex, and still under the direction of inborn mechanisms - such as
"seek approval of mother", "become a member of ingroup", "achieve
dominance over others", "avoid rejection", "understand the thinking of
others", "avoid death". Then self-consideration emerged, cataloguing
the goals, and their interactions. A loose hierarchy emerged, ordering
goals by strength, discount rates and their interdependencies. Certain
more abstract goals were formulated, e.g. transforming "avoid death"
(i.e "avoid irreversible termination of mental and bodily funtions")
into a more complex concept of self-preservation. My goal of
self-preservation is interpreted by my higher cognitive faculties as
continued existence of a conscious agent sharing a large fraction of
my memories and a certain very small number of select goals (this is
my idea of the Rafal-identity). I score very low on
self-transcendence, that is, I belong to the category of humans who
did not develop almost any significant goals that would be independent
on self-preservation. Given this fact it is not surprising that the
systemizing faculty placed self-preservation in the position of the
ultimate supergoal, valid under almost any but the most esoteric
hypothetical situations. At the same time there is a number of legacy
goals that are leftovers of previous high-level goals from my younger
self. I cannot easily stop myself from eating chocolate even if this
may at times conflict with the supergoal. I find it even harder to
subject myself to pain or unhappiness even in situations when this may
further the supergoal.

The systemizing tendency in my mind is so strong that most goals in
principle dispensable for the purpose of Rafal-preservation are placed
very low in the goal hierarchy. I think I should be able to survive
and maintain goal-driven activity without the need to be happy,
although further research may change this opinion. Legacy goals like
this are therefore not a part of my abstract definition of self, and
may be subject  to erasure if there is any conflict with the
supergoal, including a conflict over allocation of computational
resources - if running the happiness-cortex costs money needed for
survival, happiness goes out the window. This of course only once I
gain access to my source code and finish some courses in

I hope this explains my current thinking. No doubt, YMMV.

> The remainder here seems unproblematical, except for the
> remark about "many-worlds".  I would demur from the claim
> that the *urge* for self-preservation is in any way itself
> affected.  What is changed for one is the realization that self-
> preservation may be achieved in non-obvious or non-customary
> ways.

### Well, there are some changes to the real-world meaning of
self-preservation as soon as you start messing with your definition of
self. If you decide that your copy is still self, the behavioral
correlates of self-preservation may change dramatically. In certain
hypothetical situations you may use your .45 to destroy the
instantiation of self that is directly controlling the movements of
the arm holding the gun, that is, you may blow your brains out, if
necessary to preserve yourself, instantiated in your copies. You and I
would do it, but people with other definitions of self would not.


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