An extending ocean of pain and confusion

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Reply Fri 5 Jun, 2009 10:41 am
This is an extract of a book called "Der Ego-Tunnel" by Thomas Metzinger.
It is not an authorized translation, i tried to translate it just as good as possible.
The german text can also be found here:


"A hypothetical question arises:
If we were able to increase the sum total of happiness in the universe by filling it with automatically selfreproducing Ego-machines that are permanently happy, should we do this?
Could we even have the ethical duty of doing this?

My assumption that the first generation of artificial Ego-machines would be like mentally disabled human babies and they would bring more pain, suffering and confusion into the world than joy happiness or insight, might turn out to be empirically wrong for a whole set of reasons. Such machines could in fact turn out to function better than we thought, and might be able to be pleased by their own existence in a much greater amount than we expected them to.
Or maybe we ourselves - as agents of the spiritual evolution and engineers of the postbiotic subjectivity - would just carefully guard that this assumption always IS empirically wrong by simply constructing only such conscious systems that are wether unable to be in phenomenal states like subjective pain, or which could just have much more pleasure from their existence than humans do.
Let's say that we could make sure that the positive states of consciousness of such a machine would always outweigh the negative ones - that it would perceive its own existence as something precious und worthwhile at every time. Let's call this kind of machine a felicitousness machine.

If then we could flood and colonize the universe with felicitousness machines, should we do that?
If our new theory of of consciousness allowed us, to transform OURSELVES from old fashioned biological Ego-machines who carry the biological burden of fear in their evolutionary history, into felicitousness machines - should we do that?
Probably not. To a life worth living or a form of existence that is desirable, it seems there is more to it than a certain quality of subjective experience. we can not reduce the ethical problem of multiplying artificial or postbiotic systems to the question of how reality - or the existence of the system - would be perceived by the system itself on the level of conscious experiencing.

Delusions can cause felicity. A cancer patient in his end stage under the influence of higher doses of morphium or moodlifting medication can absolutely have a positive self image, just like drug addicts in their last stage can still function well. Human beings have tried for centuries to transform themselves from Ego-machines to felicitousness machines - by pharmacological means or adapting metaphysical believe systems and consciousness changing practices. Why did almost all of them fail?

In his book 'Anarchy, State, and Utopia' the philosopher Robert Nozick suggests the following thought experiment:
You have the opportunity of being connected to an 'experience machine' that keeps you i a permanent condition of happiness. Would you do that?
Interestingly Nozick found out that most people would decide against being connected to such a machine for the rest of their lifes.
The reason for this is that most of us don't assign a value to pure felicity as such, but rather want it to be rooted in some kind of insight of truth, ethical virtue, artistic merit or any other kind of higher good.
In other words we want our happiness to be justified. We don't want to be felicitousness machines captured in delusion, but rather conscious subjects, that are happy for a reason and for that reason perceive their own existence as something desirable.
We want to have an extraordinary insight into the essence of reality, in moral values or beauty in a sense of objective facts.

Nozick was convienced that this reaction was a refutation of hedonism. He insisted that we do not just desire happiness, if it is not at the same time in contact with a deeper reality - although however this form of subjective experience in principle could also be simulated.
That's why most of us would after some consideration not want to flood the world with artificial ego-machines full of felicity and loving kindness - at least not if these machines would have to be in a constant stage of self-deception.

This however leads us to another problem: Everything that we have learned about the transparency of phenomenal states shows clearly that 'actual contact to reality' and 'certainty' can also be simulated and, that nature has done precisely that, by creating the Ego tunnel in our brains. Let's just think of halluzinated agentivity or the phenomenon of false awakening in dream research.
Could WE possibly be in a constant stage of self-deception?
If we are serious about our own felicity and if we don't want it to be just hedonistic felicity, then we have to be absolutely sure that we do not systematically fool ourselves.
Wouldn't it be a good thing if a new empirically informed philosophy of mind and an ethically sensitve neuro science of consciousness could support us in THIS project?
I refer back to my earlier warning: We should avoid anything that would lead to an increase of the sum total of pain and confusion in the world. I definitely do not want to argue for anything or declare as an established fact that the conscious experience in its human form of appearance is something negative or finally something that is against the experiencing subject's interest. I believe that this is a totally worthwile, totally relevant, but also OPEN question.
My concern is however, that we should not create any artificial or by the means of initiating a second-order evolution made ego-machines, because we can not orientate ourselves towards more than the example and the functional structure of our own phenomenal mind. Consequently it is likely that we would create not only a copy of our psychological structure, but also a suboptimal version of it.
And again i point out that this finally is connected to the ethics of the risc.

However we shouldn't avoid the deeper question. Can we argue for the phenomenological pessimism?
We could define this term by using the thesis that the way of phenomenal experiencing created by the human brain is not a profit but a burden:
If we could calculate the average of joy and pain over the period of a lifetime, the balance would be shifted towards the last mentioned for almost all beings - our conscious existence would be a buisness that doesn't cover the cost.
From Buddha to Schopenhauer there is a long tradition that postulates in substance that life ultimately is not worth living. I am not going to repeat the arguments of the pessimists at this point, but i want to point out that there is now a new perspective, from which we can see the physical part of the world that is known to us and the evolution of consciousness:
Namely as an extending ocean of pain and confusion in a place where such has not existed before.

Of course it is true that conscious selfmodels at the same time brought conscious experience of joy and happiness into the physical world - a world in which before no phenomenon of this kind has existed. But it also gets more obvious that the psychological evolution has not optimized us for permanent happiness - in the contrary, it has put us into a hedonic sweat-mill.
We are motivated by trying to search for emotional security and pleasure and avoiding pain and depression.
The hedonic sweat-mill is the motor invented by nature to keep the organism going. We can realize its structure in ourselves, but we will never be able to overcome it. We ARE this structure.

In the evolution of nervous systems on our planet the amount of single conscious subjects as well as the depth of their phenomenal phase space (that means also: the depth and the variety of their sensual and emotional nuances, in which these subjects could suffer) has steadily increased, and this process has not come to an end.
The evolution as such is not a process one could glorify: It's blind. It's driven by coincidental events, not by any kind of insight. It is completely mercyless and has sacrificed millions of our ancestors. It invented the reward system in our brains as well as positive and negative feelings to motivate our behaviour. It has put us on a hedonic sweat-mill that permanently forces us to be as happy as possible - to feel good , without ever reaching a stabile stage. But as we can see now very clearly this process has not optimized us in a direction towards happiness or insight as such.
Biological ego-machines like homo sapiens are efficient and elegant, but many empirical data points to the fact that being happy has never been a purpose.

Actually - if we follow the naturalist world view - there are no purposes at all. Strictly speaking there's not even a means - evolution just happened this way. Of course something like subjective aims and purposes emerged and appeared in our consciousness, but the process as such doesn't respect them in any way. Evolution does not have any thoughtfulness of the individual beings' pain.
If that is true from the logic of psychological evolution results that this fact better stays unrevealed to the on the hedonic sweat-mill captured ego-machine.

It would be an advantage if deeper insights into the structure of the own mind - insights of the just mentioned kind - would not reflect to much on the level of his conscious self model. Many cognitions of evolutionary psychology show that selfdeception can be a very successful strategy - e.g. when you have to bluff someone else.
Seen from a traditional evolutionary perspective the philosophical pessimism is a mis-accomodation, a dangerous loss of "mental health", at least in a merely biological sense.
(...)"
 
Exebeche
 
Reply Fri 5 Jun, 2009 07:06 pm
@Exebeche,
So what does the author mean by an extending ocean of pain and confusion?
Could it be that he sees the evolution of life was spreading out in the oceans first, then flooded the continents and one day, who knows might conquer the whole universe?
I am pretty sure this is not the correct interpretation of the ocean of pain.
Let me try to explain it my own way:

First of all we need to know what is meant by a phase space. Some people who know the word remember that it's an abstract mathematical construct that can consist of more than three or even four dimensions, so it's almost impossible for normal humans to imagine how it's supposed to work.
Well, this is what some people like to make it look like, but actually it's something very simple to understand. Everybody has already seen what a graph looks like. A typical graph has two axes and a curve in it. I am consciously oversimplifying because i want to get rid of any unnecessary mathematical abstraction.
The two axes are typically named x and y or time and space or whatever. Many systems
like a car accelerating can be described by only two axes . Some systems however are more complex. More axis are necessary to describe them, maybe four or five (or even 10, it doesn't matter). Such a system could for example try to describe relations between economic factors: Gross national product, unemployment, inflation, economic growth.
This graph is going to have four axes already. This is a fourdimensional phase space, so easy.
In other words the four dimensions don't even have anything to do with space and time, even though could, depending on the system we observe.
What's complicated to imagine is: How would you draw four axes in space? The first three are easy: One would go upwards, one to the right, one to the depth, but number four can hardly be drawn. But it doesn't matter, still it's only a theoretical axis. It's only a question of how you present it.
Instead of trying to draw a fourdimensional phase space in space you could also decide to choose a more simple way: Draw six normal graphs instead with two axes to describe the above system.
That's all the magic there is to the higher dimensional phase space. Its dimensions can be anything you dream about. There only has to be a logical connection between the axes somehow. Otherwise your system does not contain information.
So much for the explanation of phase space.

When humans look up to the stars they tend to have this feeling of being very small and insignificant.
The reason for this is that our mind is dominated by the physical quantities that it has to deal with. Which is time and space, followed by things like size and others.
Intuitively we perceive time and space as the most relevant quantities in physics, being impressed by the biggest numbers.
There are suns that are hunreds of thousand times bigger than the sun of our solar system and this makes us feel like our sun is somehow not very impressive.
What this proves is actually how our mind is tied to the categories forced upon it by evolution.
Or where else could the feeling come from that a small sun is less important than a big one?
Let's try to see the universe from a different angle for a moment: Our small sun having a much longer lifetime than big ones, it has a much higher continuity in its behaviour and as such offers a basis for long term processes.
If you graph the universe's space coordinates and negative entropy you will find that it's an incredible huge desert and at the location of the earth something so rare and special can be found, that it can only be compared with diamonds in the sand or something more precious.
The amount of negative entropy in this location is so extraordinary that it totally outnumbers the common entropy and gravity produced by big stars elsewhere.
From this perspective one can understand how and why life is something so special in the universe that we may feel like it should be treated as something holy.
(Which we find contradicted by life itself. Life handles life amazingly wasteful.
Nature is not merciless, it simply does not know the concept of mercy. )
A phase space can consist of whatever axes we like, as long as they are logically connected.
Something we will hardly ever find is a phase space that integrates beauty. It doesn't make sense because beauty is a totally subjective quantitiy that cannot be measured in units.
What can be measured however is the number of individuals that have a perception of it - at least approximately. Certainly this would be very unprecise, but still we would be able to register at least wether there's an increase or a decrease.
And for a perception like pain it would be even much easier.
If we take this axis into account in our phase space we can even say from our desk without having done any scientific research, that the number of beings perceiving pain has increased as well as the depth of pain, the complexity of the perception. In other words when mammals showed up there was also a different quality of pain compared to animals like insects.
There are different opinions about from what point we can speak about pain.
No matter which opinion one has: Both numbers have increased - the number of beings having perceptions of pain as well as the quality of pain.
So if we take these two values as axes into our phase space we realize that there is a world of increasing pain.
There is also a world of increasing joy. Both is definitely there if we talk about absolute numbers.
Reading absolute numbers and relative numbers however are two different sides of a coin.
The above text does not clearly compare these numbers.
It claims an expansion of pain in the given phase space. This expansion is clearly given if we look at the absolute numbers.
The question that i raise is wether or not there is a compensation. Mathematically or psychologically, no matter.
 
 

 
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