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Utilitarianism incentivizes suffering, or victim culture as a child of rationalism

Insofar as people live according to its suggestions, Utilitarianism strangely incentivizes suffering. In a society where utilitarianism operates as the governing philosophy, the accommodation you receive from others will be a function of your propensity to suffer. If a society is maximizing its net utility, then it will effectively care more about solving the problems of those who suffer the most. Does this not select for people who suffer more? Does it not make extreme suffering a viable pathway to survival? Especially if technological change makes it impossible to survive through economic competition, the propensity to suffer could become increasingly adaptive for some groups.

I am not referring to merely strategic exaggerations of suffering (although there will be plenty of that, too, of course). More deeply, individuals who genuinely suffer more from one unit of negative stimuli, would fare better than those who genuinely suffer less from that unit, at least within one of multiple equilibria, in one pocket of society. Everyone can exaggerate, but the truly sensitive would exaggerate more convincingly. Moderate sufferers wither away from redistributive neglect while lacking the steeliness necessary for productivity, dying young and having no kids, while only the super-sufferers have what it takes to win a basic income and other survival-support, living longer and having more kids. Victim culture is a child of modern rationalism, a perverse but inevitable life-path within an economic system that finds its chief ethical defenses in utilitarian or consequentialist frameworks.

On British Reservedness and American Boisterousness

The British are known be to reserved, and Americans boisterous, but I don’t think Americans communicate more in their higher volume of noises and gesticulations. If one could somehow measure the information content of interpersonal micro-gestures — all the nods, grunts, spoken comments people use to lubricate interactions with others in public spaces, I think on average British people would be found to communicate more. What is called their reservedness refers primarily to a lower volume of noise, but because of this a greater proportion of their emissions are received as signals. In an American cafe, if you accidentally cut someone in line, say, you might apologize with a hammed-up smile, to signal that it was a genuine mistake and you mean well toward the other; seeing your smile the other might wonder if that means you’re playing some kind of joke, and their uncertainty and insecurity triggers in them perhaps a vaguely cold glare before they correct it, with an equally vague smile at the end. You, in turn, are left wondering whether they got your signal, or if they nonetheless take you for an inconsiderate aggressor. Both parties leave the situation less clear about who exactly they just interacted with, and what exactly just happened. A British person making this kind of faux pas might mumble an awkward “sorry” while nervously looking at their shoes, and the other British person might say nothing at all, or grunt inaudibly so as to dismiss the situation as a non-event. The British situation might look like poorer or weaker communication, but really it’s more effective communication, and more proportional to the situation: with an expenditure of nearly zero effort, both parties walk away quite confident this meaningless misunderstanding meant nothing at all and that the other thinks nothing of it. The Americans did not generate more light, but much more heat.

Multiple heuristic equilibria (cognitive patchwork)

If we are living through a “semantic apocalypse,” a likely implication is that the signal-to-noise ratio in most explicit political debates is not only lower than it might seem, but asymptotically approaching zero. The differential value or accuracy of true news vs. fake news, or smart opinions vs. dumb opinions, is increasingly slim relative to their shared arbitrariness and inadequacy with respect to the complexity of our environment.

How, then, do we regenerate heuristics for our intentional cognition that are aligned with our systematic, scientific cognition?

While there is only one true reality, there exists almost an infinite number of conceptual registers in which one valid scientific model can be stated. In short, there exists an extreme nominal arbitrariness to scientific models. The register that ultimately gets selected as the recognized register is a function of intellectually non-justified criteria: social forces (e.g., marketing considerations), individual psychological forces (e.g., personality-contingent word-choice preferences).

All of this suggests to me that the most promising path at present is small-scale efforts of world-creation, in which strategically arranged social and temperamental forces are leveraged to generate novel heuristics for intentional cognition in a scientifically disciplined fashion.

“Scientifically disciplined” is very different than “scientific.” Groups can think, say, and do almost any number of things in a fashion that is scientifically disciplined, without any of it being scientific and without the different groups necessarily converging or accumulating as science does.

At the core of being scientifically disciplined is simply admitting what you don’t know, which anyone can do.

Being scientifically disciplined still permits the widest variety of the most fantastic inventions–so long as they don’t pretend to an epistemic status they do not really possess.

What this means is that we could very well see a huge number of multiple cognitive equilibria: a variety of small groups that generate radically different heuristics for thinking about each other, sustaining internal order, and productively interacting with the outside. They might sustain the flourishing of members and the health of the community equally well, with insanely different conceptual registers, behaviors, and affective tendencies. They could all be equally scientifically disciplined and therefore calibrated to the complexity of reality, with seemingly no convergence or accumulation in their “findings,” or internal wisdom.

This itself is very hard to process given our intuitions about what it means to be scientifically valid. Our intuitions about science and empirical validity make us feel like pursuing the truth and understanding how society really works should look, sound, and smell like a bunch of people trying really hard to arrive at a certain set of shared words through a difficult and combative process of testing and critiquing different individuals’ and group’s proposals or hypotheses. This is the hitherto socially selected image of science, selected due to contingent factors related to Modernity (centralized institutions, progressive metanarratives, etc.). But it is not at all what it means to live an authentic life that is scientifically disciplined. What that looks like under postmodern conditions still remains to be seen.

A machine superintelligence might never display itself

This seems to me a crucial point not often discussed by the AI Risk folks such as Bostrom and Yudkowsky. Whether it’s a bug or a feature of the AI Risk industry is harder to know, a thorn in the side of their project, or beneficial for (potentially endless) fundraising? Only time will tell, or it won’t.

This is from Superintelligence cannot be contained: Lessons from Computability Theory (Alfonseca et al. 2016):

Another lesson from computability theory is the following: we may not even know when superintelligent machines have arrived, as deciding whether a machine exhibits intelligence is in the same realm of problems as the containment problem. This is a consequence of Rice’s theorem [24], which states that, any non-trivial property (e.g. “harm humans” or “display superintelligence”) of a Turing machine is undecidable.

I have a short article coming out soon in an IEEE publication, which builds on this insight.

Left Singularity

…modern political history has a characteristic shape, which combines a duration of escalating ‘progress’ with a terminal, quasi-punctual interruption, or catastrophe – a restoration or ‘reboot’. Like mould in a Petri dish, progressive polities ‘develop’ explosively until all available resources have been consumed, but unlike slime colonies they exhibit a dynamism that is further exaggerated (from the exponential to the hyperbolic) by the fact that resource depletion accelerates the development trend.

Economic decay erodes productive potential and increases dependency, binding populations ever more desperately to the promise of political remedy. The progressive slope steepens towards the precipice of supreme radicality, or total absorption into the state…

Photic Stimulation with Philipp Streicher

Philipp Streicher is a doctoral researcher in Informatics at the University of Sussex. Philipp studies photic brain stimulation, i.e. the use of light to boost brain activity. He is currently trying to combine light stimulation protocols with neurofeedback technologies, to help people improve their brain function. His startup, Augmind, recently won funding in the 2017 StartUp Sussex competition.

I visited Philipp at his lab, he conducted one of his experiments on me, and then we recorded this podcast. We talked about brain stimulation, economics, politics, and more.

You can find Philipp's web page at the University of Sussex here. You can also find a nice video about Philipp's Augmind project here.

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