42 karmaJoined Dec 2019


I broadly agree. With that said, I'm skeptical of the "all species are literally equal" angle.

Suppose that when you were in pain, there was a pill that made you very stupid, but you experienced the pain just as intensely. Would it be worth taking the pill? If being unintelligent makes your pain less bad, then the pill would make the pain less bad. But this is clearly crazy. Pain is bad because of how it feels—but how it feels has absolutely nothing to do with how smart the victim of it is.

Aren't most drugs that temporarily "make you very stupid" commonly used to self-medicate in exactly this manner? Maybe that's a coincidence - anything psychoactive is likely to interfere with the nervous system, or whatever - but it still feels like a point of evidence against your argument, not for it.

Is babies’ pain irrelevant because babies are dumb? No!

I don't think so, but this was in fact the medical consensus until recently. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pain_in_babies#Late_19th_century

I also think it's plausible that babies are an exception in our intuition for obvious evolutionary/cuteness reasons, and/or they may differ in moral value only because they grow up into sapient adults. (Potentially even with trauma being passed on from infancy to adulthood, although I admit that's a bit dubious.)

Suppose we killed all humans except the most mentally enfeebled. Would their pain stop being bad? What if they had babies for many generations, such that almost all humans who ever lived were very unintelligent? Of course not!

Honestly, yes, my intuition is that a human-descended species that have completely lost their sapience are no longer meaningfully human, and are more morally equivalent to other animals than modern humans.

Some humans are severely mentally enfeebled. Some might even be as enfeebled as fish. Is their pain mostly irrelevant? No, of course not. [...] Maybe what matters is that fish are part of an unintelligent species. But why does species matter? It seems like the badness of your pain depends on facts about you, rather than about others. But whether your species is intelligent is a fact about others. So it can’t affect the badness of pain.

Even if all you care about is intelligence (or associated cognitive machinery), there's obvious reasons to be more cautious in your treatment of members of a normally-sapient species that have some kind of deficiency. At the extreme end, nonverbal autistic people and coma patients with locked-in syndrome may be verifiably of standard human intelligence, yet appear at first glance to lack all cognitive facilities.

For similar reasons, even absent any other data about their intelligence and capacity for feeling, it makes some sense to have a higher prior on beings having similar subjective experience to you the more similar they are.

If you eat fish, that is probably the worst thing you’re doing, unless you’re a serial killer.

Even if they are a serial killer, if you genuinely value fish equally to humans, that's nowhere near as bad right? They'd have to be, like, a high-ranking Nazi to even come close to eating fish.

I somehow suspect you don't actually prefer Nazi serial killers to pescatarians.

Also, are fish actually the most important thing, here, if we're weighing every life equally? The obvious reductio-ad-absurdam argument would be bacteria, who we routinely kill in their billions and trillions. Maybe we can throw those, and maybe even plants, out because they lack a nervous system. But many microorganisms do have rudimental nervous systems. If a fish is horrifically eaten alive by parasites, does the happiness of the swarming parasites outweigh the agony of the fish?

Personally, I think a sliding scale makes more sense and accords more with my intuition, with varying weight assigned based on intelligence or complexity or whatever.

While I do think the surveying of farmed fish is abhorrent... I don't think I would feel OK with subjecting a single human to the same fate to save a hundred fish, and I do think I would be willing to condemn a hundred fish to a factory farm to save one human from that date. So I think my discount rate is even lower than the 1% "conservative" estimate you gave. Unfortunately, scope sensitivity makes it kind of difficult to make these kind of extreme judgements. I am confident that slowly and painfully torturing an animal to death over the course of months for a tasty sandwich does not feel OK to me.

I agree that I would be massively more in favour of basically all of these proposals of they were proposed to be tried in parallel with, rather than instead of/"fixing", current EA approaches. Even the worst of them I'd very much welcome seeing tried.

It would have been nice to see a public response here!

Especially given all the stuff you just wrote about how EA is too opaque, insular, unaccountable etc. But mainly just because I, as a random observer, am extremely curious what your object-level answer to the question they posed is.

This is valuable, but at a certain point the market of ideas relies on people actually engaging in object level reasoning. There's an obvious failure mode in rejecting adopting new ideas on the sole meta-level basis that if they were good they would already be popular. Kind of like the old joke of the economist who refuses to pick up hundred-dollar bills off the ground because of the Efficient Market Hypothesis.

EA & Aspiring Rationalism have grown fairly rapidly, all told! But they're also fairly new. "Experts in related fields haven't thought much about EA approaches" is more promising than "experts in related fields have thought a lot about EA approaches and have standard reasons to reject them."

(Although "most experts have clear reasons to reject EA thinking on their subject matter" is closer to being the case in AI ... but that's probably also the field with the most support for longtermist & x-risk type thinking & where it's seen the fastest growth, IDK.)

From the abstract: "Ethnohistorical and nutritional evidence shows that edible plants and small animals, most often gathered by women, represent an abundant and accessible source of “brain foods.” This is in contrast to the “man the hunter” hypothesis where big-game hunting and meat-eating are seen as prime movers in the development of biological and behavioral traits that distinguish humans from other primates." I am not familiar with that form of the "man the hunter" hypothesis; what I've seen elsewhere implies that men dominate big-game hunting and that big game is often associated with prestige, regardless of whatever nutritional value it does or doesn't have.

I'm pretty sure "man" here means "human", not "male"; and they're referring to the idea that human intelligence evolved primarily for hunting purposes as part of a "get smarter > hunt better > get nutrition from meat to support brain > get smarter still" feedback loop. [This doesn't have much direct implication regarding equality.]