anonymous discussion
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A humanist seeking a brighter future.


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This study is really great work, and we should all take heart from this in the face of impending social upheaval from AI advancements. 

Here's my take on this issue. I think that mistaking pain sensation for moral worth is a big problem, and leading to significant moral costs in our community. I believe that we need to reevaluate what neural structure & function (or other compute substrate) qualifies for moral worth, and to what degree. This should be an empirical study of the physical properties of the system, as well as a philosophical discussion over what attributes matter.

As a starting point, I suggest we use the presence of a social contract between sapient beings capable of verbally communicating preferences. Then should we consider non-verbal communication. In the lack of any sort of abstract communication, I think we should be extremely suspicious of the entity involved having sufficient computational complexity to have moral worth.

I strongly disagree with your statement. I have given reasons why this information is not only not important, but is actively deceiving people and encouraging them to act in immoral ways by incorrectly placing moral weight on invertebrates which are not evidenced to be of any moral value. Spreading this incorrect information is thus, in my view, actively harmful.

Erroneous information like this is diluting discussion and attention on valid issues, and harming our epistemological norms.

These arguments given in defense of the moral value of shrimp are insufficient:

Recently, Birch et al. (2021) and Crump et al. (2022a) reviewed the evidence of sentience in decapod crustaceans, with a focus on pain experience. Similar to findings previously reported by Waldhorn (2019; see also Waldhorn et al., 2020), these studies concluded that there is substantial, although limited, evidence that decapods might be sentient.

For this information about the pain experience of shrimp to even be relevant, you must first argue that ability to feel pain necessitates having moral value. I strongly disagree with this point. I believe it is the social relations between thinking beings that is the basis of morality.

I think it's a significant mistake to treat invertebrates as beings having moral worth. I believe that investment of time and energy into this project is not only a waste, but actively misleads people from thinking about and understanding reality. Before any of this discussion, we need to come to an agreement about the empirical facts of the situation.

 In examining the nervous systems of invertebrates, we see that there is greatly reduced complexity.

In examining the behavioral activity of invertebrates, we see no evidence of social contracts, empathy, caring.

In the brains of humans, we see large complexes of neurons used for social relations, perception of self, modeling the world in abstract ways, recording and retrieving episodic memories, etc. This is complexity is clearly lacking in invertebrates. This matches the evidence from observing their behavior.

To place moral value on something you have evidence is not a moral agent is morally incorrect. It leads to making trade-offs against actual moral agents in favor of entities without moral value.

Further discussion on this topic should delve into the physiological details of the nervous systems of invertebrates, and observations of their behavior. Without further establishing those details, and exploring why the initial evidence showing that they are not moral agents is incorrect, we must not presume them to be moral agents.

I think your assessment of the reasonability of helping shrimp is wrong. I do not think it is plausible that shrimp have moral value, and thus any effort spent on that instead of helping innocent suffering people, such as children in very poor regions, is a huge mistake.