All of paulk444's Comments + Replies

Some history topics it might be very valuable to investigate

You've made some really good points here and I agree with most of it! And we're on the same page in terms of "hedonistic utilitarianism, with a moral circle that includes basically all sentient beings, across any point in time".

I guess my main motivation for wanting to see a historical study of well-being is because I feel that, to fully understand what makes humans happy, it is valuable to consider a wide range of possible human life experiences. Studying history does this: we can consider a wide range of societies, lifestyles, circums... (read more)

Some history topics it might be very valuable to investigate

I agree that the "first approximation" I mentioned -- looking at generic factors that we expect to correlate with wellbeing, such as slavery or servitude, personal freedoms, violence -- would be a subset of "1. The history of various types of growth and progress...".

But I feel like a more detailed investigation of wellbeing/suffering through history lies outside of "1. The history of various types of growth and progress...". I say this because what we call "progress" does not necessarily correlate with wellbeing/suf... (read more)

2MichaelA2y
I have a draft, which I'll hopefully publish in the coming weeks/months, on "Will humanity achieve its full potential, as long as existential catastrophe is prevented?" I think an argument in favour of "Yes" is that it might be highly likely that, if we don’t suffer an existential catastrophe, there will be positive trends across the long-term future in all key domains. And I think that that argument could in turn be supported by the argument that such trends have been the norm historically, or that human agency will ensure such positive trends. So I thought a bit about how true that seems to be. I'll quote the relevant part of the draft, as it seems somewhat relevant here. (Note that I'm not an expert, and barely even did any googling; this was based on intuitions and what I happened to already know/believe.) --- * I believe there’s strong evidence that there have been positive trends in many domains in many periods and places before the Industrial Revolution. Relevant domains may include violence levels, the size of people’s moral circles, and use of reason and scientific thinking. * See e.g. The Better Angels of Our Nature. * I believe there’s some evidence that this represents a fairly widespread pattern. But I’m less certain of that. And there’ve definitely been “negative” trends in certain domains, times, and places (e.g., [insert example here; I have some ideas but should Google them]). * I believe there’s strong evidence that, since sometime around the Industrial Revolution, there have been positive trends across most of the world and in most domains that matter. * See e.g. The world is much better; The world is awful; The world can be much better [https://ourworldindata.org/much-better-awful-can-be-better], Three wild speculations from amateur quantitative macrohistory [https://lukemuehlhauser.com/three-wild-speculations-from-amateur-quantitative-macrohistory/] , and Enlightenment Now.
2MichaelA2y
I think these are good points. Stepping back first: I'm quite morally uncertain [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ex834aaANLhamLkvf/making-decisions-under-moral-uncertainty] , but the moral theory I have the highest degree of belief in is "something like classical hedonistic utilitarianism, with a moral circle [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/M2gBGYWEQDnrPt6nb/moral-circles-degrees-dimensions-visuals] that includes basically sentient beings, across any point in time". (My moral circle therefore may or may not include mammals, insects, digital minds, etc., depending on whether they "empirically turn out to be sentient" - though it's quite unclear what that means. For expected value [https://concepts.effectivealtruism.org/concepts/expected-value-theory/] reasons, concerns about digital minds, insects, etc. play a substantial role in my priorities.) The classical hedonistic utilitarianism bit (setting aside the moral circles bit) makes me very strongly inclined to agree that: 1. what really matters is how (human) wellbeing has changed over time, and 2. that it's unfortunate that discussion/studies of "growth" and "progress" often focus on things that may not be strongly correlated with (human) wellbeing. I'd say the focus is, as you suggest, often on "satisfying people's stated preferences". But I'd even go further and say that it's often on one of the following things: * what the person in this discussion or doing this study thinks is a typical or ideal preference * what that person themselves thinks is terminally valuable (regardless of preferences) * whatever is easiest to measure/discuss and seems plausibly related somehow to wellbeing, preferences, or valuable things Two EAs who've done what seems to me good work in relation to subjective wellbeing, its measurement, and its correlation with other things are Michael Plant [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/users/michaelplant] and Derek Foster. (Though I don't think
Some history topics it might be very valuable to investigate

Great post!

I would love to see a study on the history of wellbeing and suffering. This is perhaps more challenging as our understanding of how people suffered in the past is (arguably) poorly understood (as is our understanding of exactly how/why people suffer today!). But a first order approximation could look at generic factors that we expect to correlate with wellbeing, such as the proportion of people living in slavery or servitude; the personal freedoms people had; the levels of violence; and so on. Then a more detailed study -- which would probably ... (read more)

2MichaelA2y
Thanks! Yeah, I share the view that either more research on that topic or a summary of existing for EAs would be valuable. (I imagine a lot of relevant work on that already exists, but I've been wrong about such things before, and in any case it could be good for someone to read it and extra the most EA-relevant insights.) I think I'd see this as an (important) subset of "1. The history of various types of growth and progress (economic, intellectual, technological, moral, political, etc.)". Would you agree? (That wouldn't negate the value of your comment - many of the topics I listed are very broad, and this post becomes more useful to people if commenters break them down into more specific topics, suggest ways they could be investigated, etc.)