software developer | abolitionist transhumanist | My life goal is make an effective contribution to abolishing extreme and unnecessary suffering.


Important Between-Cause Considerations: things every EA should know about

Thanks for doing this work!

Are we living in a simulation?

For IMO a cogent argument against the possibility that we live in a (digitally) simulated universe, please consider adding Gordon McCabe's paper "Universe creation on a computer".

What are some potential coordination failures in our community?

There's a new free open-source alternative called Logseq ("inspired by Roam Research, Org Mode, Tiddlywiki, Workflowy and Cuekeeper").

edoarad's Shortform

For those who won't read the paper, the phenomenon is called pluralistic ignorance (Wikipedia):

... is a situation in which a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but go along with it because they assume, incorrectly, that most others accept it.

Ask Rethink Priorities Anything (AMA)
  • If one is only concerned w/ preventing needless suffering, prioritising the most extreme suffering, would donating to Rethink Priorities be a good investment for them, and if so, how so?
  • What new charities do you want to be created by EAs?
  • What are the biggest mistakes Rethink Priorities did?

Thank you!

What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others?
Answer by nilNov 18, 20205

In the real world, maybe we're alone. The skies look empty. Cynics might point to the mess on Earth and echo C.S. Lewis: "Let's pray that the human race never escapes from Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere." Yet our ethical responsibility is to discover whether other suffering sentients exist within our cosmological horizon; establish the theoretical upper bounds of rational agency; and assume responsible stewardship of our Hubble volume. Cosmic responsibility entails full-spectrum superintelligence: to be blissful but not "blissed out" - high-tech Jainism on a cosmological scale. We don't yet know whether the story of life has a happy ending.

-- David Pearce, "High-Tech Jainism"

What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others?
Answer by nilNov 18, 202010

There’s ongoing sickening cruelty: violent child pornography, chickens are boiled alive, and so on. We should help these victims and prevent such suffering, rather than focus on ensuring that many individuals come into existence in the future. When spending resources on increasing the number of beings instead of preventing extreme suffering, one is essentially saying to the victims: “I could have helped you, but I didn’t, because I think it’s more important that individuals are brought into existence. Sorry.”

-- Simon Knutsson, "The One-Paragraph Case for Suffering-Focused Ethics"

What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others?
Answer by nilNov 18, 20205

If humanity is to minimize suffering in the future, it must engage with the world, not opt out of it.

-- Magnus Vinding (2015), Anti-Natalism and the Future of Suffering: Why Negative Utilitarians Should Not Aim For Extinction

What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others?
Answer by nilNov 18, 20209

[T]rue hedonic engineering, as distinct from mindless hedonism or reckless personal experimentation, can be profoundly good for our character. Character-building technologies can benefit utilitarians and non-utilitarians alike. Potentially, we can use a convergence of biotech, nanorobotics and information technology to gain control over our emotions and become better (post-)human beings, to cultivate the virtues, strength of character, decency, to become kinder, friendlier, more compassionate: to become the type of (post)human beings that we might aspire to be, but aren't, and biologically couldn't be, with the neural machinery of unenriched minds. Given our Darwinian biology, too many forms of admirable behaviour simply aren't rewarding enough for us to practise them consistently: our second-order desires to live better lives as better people are often feeble echoes of our baser passions. Too many forms of cerebral activity are less immediately rewarding, and require a greater capacity for delayed gratification, than their lowbrow counterparts. Likewise, many forms of altruistic behaviour ... are less rewarding than personal consumption.

-- David Pearce, Can Biotechnology Abolish Suffering?, "Utopian Neuroscience"

some concerns with classical utilitarianism

Thanks for the specific examples. I hope some of 80,000 Hours' staff members and persons who took 80,000 Hours' passage on the asymmetry for granted will consider your criticism too.

some concerns with classical utilitarianism

As I say in the text, I understand the appeal of CU. But I'd be puzzled if we accept CU without modifications (I give some in the text, like Mendola's "ordinal modification" and Wolf’s “Impure Consequentialist Theory of Obligation” as well as implying a CU based on an arguably more sophisticated model of suffering and happiness than the one-dimensional linear model).

Worse than being counterintuitive, IMO, is giving a false representation of the reality: e.g. talking about "great" aggregate happiness or suffering where no one experiences anything of significance or holding the notion of "canceling out" suffering with happiness elsewhere. (I concur with arguably many EAs in the respect that a kind of sentiocentric consequentialism could be the most plausible ethics.)

BTW some prominent defenders of suffering-focused ethics - such as Mayerfeld and Wolf mentioned in the text - hold a pluralistic account of ethics (Vinding, 2020, 8.1), where things besides suffering and happiness have an intrinsic value. (I personally still fail to understand in what sense such intrinsic values that are not reducible to suffering or happiness can obtain.)

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