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This is my second Draft Amnesty submission after this one. The two are different in almost every way, but like the first one, I didn’t have time to put links into this one outside of this intro. This one also isn’t an essay, but just an outline, and the combination of how niche/technical some of it is, and the fact that its just an outline means that unfortunately it might be very hard to read. I’m going to tentatively post it anyway, because I think I could really benefit from feedback, or ideally meetings to discuss it further (please DM me if this interests you). Basically this is the outline for my MA thesis, which is a response to Andreas Mogenson’s preprint “Welfare and Felt Duration” (credit to him for some discussion and narrowing of my focus). Essentially it tries to defend a possible account of wellbeing that aggregates relative to subjective rather than objective time. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments if any of it is unclear to you, and I will do my best to answer.

Background of the problem:

there is a difference between the objective duration of a given amount of experience over time, and the subjective experience of the rate of time passing

This is implied for for instance brain emulations run at different speeds purely based on very modest functionalist claims

Could easily be the case for many non-human animals, or eventually non-emulation AIs

dispel Einsteinian Relativity objection to the idea of objective time

Beings can share almost exactly similar inertial reference frames while differing radically in the subjective passage of time

“proper time intervals” are objective

a longer or shorter time in an experience seems to matter to wellbeing (take a five minute headache versus an hour headache), but a longer time in which sense?

there is an obvious reason to care about an objectively longer experience, if you look at the experience at each moment in time and add them up (in the continuous case something closer to integration), there is a larger amount of whatever experience it is when it lasts longer objectively

subjective experience of time highlights the different importance of experiences over different objectively equal time periods, so it cannot justify itself in this more obvious way

there is a very strong intuition that subjective time matters on top of, or even instead of objective time (give examples of a drug or technology that causes us to live in “bullet time”, and ask about our intuitions about pain and pleasure, or any other candidate for wellbeing that we might experience during this time rather than our normal experience of time)

Many strategies that attempt to account for subjective time don’t work

If you are offered a strong amnesiac medicine or a somewhat weaker anesthetic, you will probably prefer the weaker anesthetic. If you die, you do not think your life was valueless just because you don’t remember the valuable parts later, so evaluations of the value of moments in terms of their evaluation in later moments does not seem promising

Imagining whether you would want to live a life going forward, knowing everything that will happen including the objective time, still leaves people with the intuition that it is subjective time that counts, but this doesn’t give us an explanation of why we think that – more to the point, directly grounding wellbeing on what a hypothetical subject would choose in a certain situation relies an assumption that the agent is prudent, and it therefore first requires an explanation of why it would be prudent to prefer people to look at your life in terms of subjective time

Cognitive Theory of Subjective time:

Andreas Mogenson recently posted a preprint skeptical of the plausibility of wellbeing functions sensitive to subjective experience of time, with a special focus on different theories of what subjective time experience consists in, and why none of these things justifies plugging them into wellbeing very well

One theory he discusses is something like “frame rate” of experience, but this seems quite implausible to me as a theory of subjective time value

This theory only explains subjective experience of time if/when it results in the conditions of the cognitive theory of subjective experience (otherwise it only changes something like “resolution” of experience), so its explanation of subjective time is parasitic on the cognitive explanation

This theory only gives a different explanation of the wellbeing value of subjective time if there are gaps in objective time between frames (reference Michael St. Jules’ version of this in which frames are infinitesimal and merely added up rather than integrated), leaving more or less experience in a given unit of time, therefore it just explains that subjective time matters because it coincides with differences in experience over objective time. Again, parasitic

The cognitive explanation is more unique on both accounts, it just says that subjective experience comes from a different rate of some cognitive process relative to stimulus

Mogenson dismisses subjective time if this account is true, on the grounds that we wouldn’t care about mere faster and slower thoughts when weighing up wellbeing

He does concede that someone might claim that they derivatively care about this different rate because it turns out to be identical to, or at least exactly coincident to, subjective time, which we already know we care about, but he claims we are not actually introspectively acquainted with subjective time experience in the right way to make this claim, in the way we are with say suffering

I believe this response is correct, but he doesn’t have a good enough response to the semi-related argument that reflective equilibrium asks us to lend greater credence to principles if their results match our practical moral intuitions, so someone sympathetic to reflective equilibrium at least has a reason to favor principles they otherwise wouldn’t think of that imply that subjective time does matter to wellbeing

Principled Justification for cognitive theory

there are two types of wellbeing theory

Wellbeing of a being is just the amount of some universal axiological value contained by an individual, like measuring water out of a bucket

Universal axiological value is first and foremost made of subjects, and the way to respect/value subjects is by promoting their wellbeing (universal measures of this wellbeing are just an effective proxy of how much subject benefiting one has done, maybe bring up Vulcan trolley problem)

the cognitive theory explains subjective time by comparing an objective stream of stimulus and an objective stream of functional interpretation. The former could be seen as an input and the latter a function – a parametric integral of the former function in terms of the latter, specifically, produces the intuitive result of wellbeing over subjective time, while ultimately resting all terms on objective features of the situation

Pure container-like theories of wellbeing seem unable to explain this, because the rest of the subject is just a circle one draws around an amount of the experience stream, but if we look at the cognitive stream as the “subject” part, then it makes sense that some of the subject theories of wellbeing will care about experiences only after they are run through experiencers in a certain way, and on the dimension of time, this will look like the needed parametric integral

The relevance of this depends on the wellbeing theory to some extent. Preference satisfaction theories are almost inherently subject-based, but are a mix of things that are and are not subjective time-sensitive. Certain types of achievements in the real world are not subjective time-sensitive at all, but can either be container or subject view based. Hedonism seems to differ the most, and can be either container or subject-based

On inspection, the way all of these things relate wellbeing to subjective time or don’t seems to match our intuitions, for instance in cases of what types of wellbeing one can and cannot impact by running a simulated mind at different speeds.


“subjects” might not (probably don’t) exist in a strong, metaphysical sense, which seems to undermine our ability to make “subject-relative” judgements

Give the example of preference satisfaction again, as a pretty inherently subject relative wellbeing component, that seems to exist even if “subjects” don’t

Whatever sense preference satisfaction is subject relative in is also, at minimum, a sense that any wellbeing standard can be subject-relative in the absence of discrete metaphysical “subjects”

Because “subject” here refers to the stream of functional, cognitive processes that stimulus interacts with, they are identifiable for any identifiable stimulus to a brain, thus providing an identifiable “subject” component to the experience in the absence of unitary “subject lives”

why should we identify with our thoughts rather than our experiences?

If we have to choose between being our feelings and our thoughts, perhaps feelings does make more sense, in that feelings are the specifically “inside” part, no inside part, no you

The presence of certain types of thought heavily contextualizes experience – see pain versus suffering, one could call this process “perception”

Discuss time in this context, and the views of Kant and Merleau-Ponty

Perception seems closer to how we identify than experience

Discuss Mogenson’s example of an experience that last longer but no time at all seems to pass

some theories of consciousness seem to make thought and feeling inseparable, such as illusionism and phenomenal intentionality theory

for illusionism, it is at least suggestive how many physical bases of experience are unchanged over common subjective time

If you slow down all the processes of the body, the same number of neuron firings, the same amount of hormone release, anything like that, would occur. There would be more “objective experience” because all of these firings and hormones will last longer and produce more overall experience per second, but if objective phenomenal experience doesn’t exist, the physical basis of subjective experience could still be the same over the same subjective time

There would be a stronger basis for the “computational” argument Mogenson rejects, if we view the mind as purely behavioral I don’t have much yet for the PIT objection, because I don’t understand it that well yet. Possibly Frankfurt’s “Identification and Externality” distinction is relevant


container theories might lose some plausibility relative to subject theories of wellbeing

highlights a possible place where illusionist theories of mind will differ in their ethical judgements from realist theories





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Executive summary: The author outlines an argument for why subjective experience of time, rather than just objective time, should be considered in theories of well-being, and explores how different theories of well-being and consciousness relate to this question.

Key points:

  1. There is a difference between objective duration of experience and subjective experience of time passing, which seems relevant to well-being.
  2. Many intuitive strategies to account for the importance of subjective time to well-being are unsatisfactory.
  3. The cognitive theory explains subjective time in terms of the rate of cognitive processes relative to stimulus, which the author argues provides a basis for factoring subjective time into well-being.
  4. Well-being theories can be divided into those that treat individuals as "containers" of well-being versus those that are "subject-relative". Subject-relative theories seem better equipped to justify the importance of subjective time.
  5. Objections related to the metaphysics of "subjects" and the relationship between thought and feeling are considered. Theories of consciousness like illusionism may have implications for the subjective time question.
  6. If the importance of subjective time to well-being is accepted, it may impact the relative plausibility of different well-being and consciousness theories.



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Thanks, this a decent gloss and I hope it will be helpful (I apologize again for the difficulty of the outline as currently written)

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