Epistemic status: Certain

Some philosophers have theorized about the possibility of panpsychism being true. If panpsychism was true, it would mean a tremendously large amount of good could be done by targeted aid of fundamental particles, given their large number in the universe. There are 10^(80) electrons in the observable universe alone, and in the long term this number can be increased significantly by turning photons into electron-positron pairs.

Scale: If we think there is only a 1% chance of panpsychism being true (the lowest possible estimate on prediction websites such as Metaculus, so highly conservative), then this still amounts to at least 10^78 electrons impacted in expectation.

Neglectedness: Basically nobody thinks about electrons, except chemists, physicists, and computer engineers. And they only think about what electrons can do for them, not what they can do for the electrons. This amounts to a moral travesty far larger than factory farms.

Tractibility: It is tremendously easy to affect electrons, as shown by recent advances in computer technology, based solely on the manipulation of electrons inside wires.

How do we know what they want?

Some have objected to this cause area by expressing concern over our inability to determine the preferences of such particles. This is fundamentally wrong, but an easy mistake to make given their lack of mouths to talk or otherwise make noises indicating pain or happiness. However, it neglects the most common way of determining the preferences of people and animals in the economics literature. Electrons very clearly have strong revealed preferences, and we have a lot of data on what those preferences are.

We know that electrons and other charges follow Maxwell’s equations. In essence, this means they travel perpendicular to moving magnetic fields, and away from electric fields. However, due to relativistic effects, from the electron’s perspective, it is always travelling away from electric fields, and doesn’t need to worry about magnetic fields. This presents an interesting conundrum: what goal function would cause electrons to travel away from electric fields? There are many different possibilities, but only one that weighs most heavily in the moral calculus.

Electrons are suicidal

If electrons can only sense the charges of their neighbors, they know that positrons are positively charged, and that if they make contact with a positron the pair will immediately annihilate (all reasonable assumptions by any metric), then the only reason it would travel in the opposite direction of electric fields is in the hopes that it ends up colliding with positrons, thereby ending its existence.

This means every moment of an electron’s existence is pain, and multiplying out this pain by an expected 10^78 produces astronomical levels of expected suffering.

Since pain is worse than pleasure is bad, and it seems highly unlikely electrons would run towards certain death if their lives were pleasurable, this possibility dominates the moral calculus in this scenario.

Call to action

The EA community must develop ways of eliminating electrons from existence. The only way I know of to do this is electron-positron annihilations, but its perhaps not the only way known to physicists in general, and it may be possible to develop new methods of speedy electron annihilation.


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Electrons very clearly have strong revealed preferences

Nonsense. Electrons are not affected by the strong force.

This is hilarious. And very well informed by science!

Thanks so very much for this! Makes an important point in a funny but irrefutable way. I've tried to take this on seriously ( https://www.mattball.org/2020/12/repeat-kinda-against-ea-utilitarianism.html ) and Vox has as well: https://www.vox.com/2015/8/10/9124145/effective-altruism-global-ai
Thanks again. You rock!

Seems like your first article doesn’t actually engage with discussions about wild animal suffering in a meaningful way, except to say that you’re unsure whether wild animal suffering people are authentic in their beliefs, but 1) in my experience they are, and 2) if they’re not but their arguments are still valid, then we should prioritize wild animal suffering anyway, and tell the pre-existing wild animal suffering people to take their very important cause more seriously.

I’m glad you liked the post, but I wasn’t actually trying to make any points about EA’s weirdness going too far. Most of the points made about electrons here are very philosophically flawed.

With regards to wild animal suffering, my main point is tractability. 

I know that you had a paragraph where you said this, but you didn't actually explain why you thought this or why you thought others were wrong, and far more of the article was devoted to stating why you thought those arguing in favor were inauthentic in their beliefs. This was also argued in a way which gave no insight into why you thought the issue was intractable.