[extropy-chat] A future fit to live in?

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Sun Jan 14 16:16:31 UTC 2007

		From: extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org on behalf of Heartland
		If survival was not a necessary condition for experiencing pleasure, people would
		not care about survival, but since it is, that's the topic that usually steals the
		headlines. But let's not forget that survival is only a subgoal of the higher goal
		that gives meaning to our lives.
		A problem with thinking in terms of goals and supergoals is that it's teleological.
		No organism has a viewpoint outside itself from which it can actually formulate
		original goals for itself.  Such thinking leads to the well-known paradoxes of
		free-will.  You believe you choose to seek pleasure, and this requires that you
		survive, requiring that you eat, and so on down the line.  Uhm, where did your
		starting goal of pleasure-seeking come from? Who chose it?
		I would never imply that pleasure supergoal is a choice. It never was. As you point
		out, what we are and what we want has been caused by blind evolutionary mechanism.
		We've been all hardwired to seek pleasure and have no choice in this matter.

I would say that a self reflective system would output a statement of "pleasure" when it senses that the feedback loop is tightening on it's goal.  This is consistent with humans expressing pleasure either when their "reality" becomes closer to their expectations or when their expectations become closer to their "reality." It is also consistent with our "pleasure setpoint" moving up as our expectations (previous values) are met and set to a higher level. It's also consistent with our saying that we are "pleased" when something "bad" stops, even when nothing "good" happened.   Don't you see that "pleasure" is just a self-refective description of the status of the feedback loop as reported by the system, but lacks any functional or absolute status?  It's exactly the same conceptual trap as the concept of qualia.  All of which, just to be clear, does not deny the existence of pleasure or subjective experience.

If you want to maintain your claim that a goal of "pleasure" motivates all behavior, then your idea fails when extended to organisms that don't have the complex capability of experiencing pleasure.  Unless you want to warp the concept of "pleasure" to include what ants and amoebas "experience" when they are not inhibited from carrying ot their normal  behaviors.  I suppose you could also claim that Tilden's robots feel "displeasure" if you lift their little legs off the ground.  Or maybe your claim is that humans have some special undefined quality that sets them apart from lower order animals in terms of goals versus values.

		My point is that your choice to promote values even at a cost of your survival is
		still motivated by the higher goal of pleasure. 

Did you ever consider that our internal values are very much relevant to promoting survival, without requiring an explicit goal of "you must survive!"?
I never said that promoting one's values is more important than promoting one's survival.  What I said is that fundamentally what we do is try to affect our environment in such a way that we promote our values into the future (values for survival included.).

		There's a big difference between
		what we consciously want and what we need. People pursue wealth all their life and
		when they get rich they find they needed something else instead, like love or fun.
		IMHO, a similar gap exists between a goal of promoting values and a desire to
		experience pleasure. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we can satisfy this
		need as we adjust our decisions and views in light of this observation.

This only highlights that I haven't not yet succeeding in conveying what I mean.  We're talking past each other.

		(I realize that pleasure is how evolution tricks us into spreading our genes, but I
		doubt you can find an argument that could show objectively that seeking pleasure is
		bad or immoral. 

How many times have I already stated that morality is fundamentally subjective, but based on "what works"?  Sir, have you no shame?  ;-)
Seeking pleasure is ammoral , but tends to correlate with activity that we would assess as "good".

		If you or someone else can show why wireheading is wrong without
		resorting to the obvious "yuck factor" I would like to read it.)

Wireheading can be useful to the extent it improves functioning by compensating for performance impairments due to detrimental side-effects of  our evolved configuration.  For example, physical pain is a useful adaptation in that it forces a prompt (and usually appropriate) response by the organism away from danger.  However, a detrimental side-effect of this useful adaption is the possibility of lingering  or disabling pain.  Similarly for mental and emotional conditions that might be compensated beneficially to improve the functioning of the (human) organism.  

However, wireheading can be very bad to the extent that it subverts the "pleasure sense" by changing values toward environment, short-circuiting the healthy mode of allowing the agent to change environment toward values.  Such short-cicuiting of the growth process is morally neutral with regard to the individual, but detrimental and morally wrong from the point of view of others in the community.

If we're going to attempt to continue this discussion, I think it would be very effective if we tried reversing roles.   If agreeable, you can reply by clearly summarizing my position (my point of view) as coherently as possible, then state why anyone might have a problem with it.  I'll do the same for your position.  This should greatly minimize the tendency to talk past one another.

- Jef

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