Re: Normative Reasoning: A Siren Song?

From: Jeff Medina (
Date: Thu Sep 30 2004 - 16:53:56 MDT

===== short JOIN intro, skip to message at will
D.C. area engineer at AT&T because it's easy and pays well, pursuing a
shift to research/academia out of intellectual & moral necessity.
Current working papers in philosophy of (mind, cosmology, religion,
ethics); some other interests include AI, decision theory, probability
theory, theories of rationality, ontology.

Michael Wilson said: "This is on top of the already known issues with
qualia and the illusion of free will; both are results of specific
(adaptive) flaws in human introspective capability which would be
relatively trivial for transhumans to engineer out, but at the cost of
breaking the grounding for the actual (rather than theoretical)
implementation of our moral and legal systems"

Nothing of value is gained in engineering qualia out of the mind. The
blind are not more evolutionary fit or competitive than the sighted,
and neither are the color-blind in relation to those with
color-vision. Even if we presume (contrary to the two examples just
given) a being without phenomenal experience who yet collects and
assesses/processes electromagnetic radiation just as well as a
counterpart being for whom EM produces phenomenal content, there is
only loss of a mode of being.
The only examples I can imagine that might lead someone to think
qualia were a bad thing are ones which mention a negative result of a
phenomenal experience, such as cognitive processing severely hampered
by pain, loss of efficiency resulting from an inexplicable desire to
stare at shiny objects, and the like. But this sort of example
misappropriates responsibility to qualia for the unwanted result, when
the problem is the cognitive association between a particular
phenomenal experience and a particular negative behavior or loss of
ability. Hence, if your loved one was hit by a green car, causing you
to become depressed every time you see green, re-engineer the link
between the two, not your ability to see green; removing qualia is the
wrong approach.

Aside: It remains to be seen whether it is even theoretically possible
to remove phenomenal consciousness from a sufficiently intelligent,
metacognitive being. Some form of panpsychism may yet be true, meaning
qualia may be an intrinsic property of all existence, even though it's
only recognizable by a certain class of mind-like, reflective

Moving beyond "the illusion of free will" requires no engineering on
the part of transhumans. Current humans who have realized that the
folk concept of free will (which most closely resembles what is known
in the philosophical literature as the libertarian view of the will)
is a necessary impossibility (*) demonstrate all that is needed to
overcome the illusion is rational reflection.

[* because, roughly, if the universe is deterministic, we cannot have
libertarian free will, our choices being determined by physical law
and "beyond our control" (according to the folk concept), and if the
universe is indeterministic, we cannot have libertarian free will,
because undetermined choices are not determined by our goals,
preferences, or will.]

Now even assuming we could and did get rid of both qualia and the
illusion of free will, would this really threaten our moral and legal
foundations? Some theory would need to be re-worked, certainly, but in
minor and readily achievable ways. For example, some think that
without free will, we could no longer hold people responsible for
their crimes; after all, "they had no choice." This conception of
culpability relies on the folk free will, so once that's gone, so is
the misguided view that only "free" actions are punishable. There is a
simpler and more stable foundation for punishing criminals already
under discussion in the literature; we can punish transgressors to
protect ourselves, not out of holy retribution or a "you deserve it"
mentality. Leaving murderers free puts others at risk, so we can
incarcerate murderers for the same reason we can remove faulty
bulldozers that drive around unguided, smashing into homes. And
qualia? Would you lose your moral sensibilities if you could no longer
hear or see? Neither would I.

Michael Wilson said: "The basic question here is 'can we create a
Power we can care about?'."

A machine that produces food and water from solar power is not (as
Michael put it) "sentient in a way we'd assign moral worth to", and
yet it would be incredibly valuable in many places on Earth where
humans are undernourished. There is no reason to think sentient beings
are the only objects that matter to other sentient beings, and the
question dissolves on this realization. Clearly we can and do create
things we care about, even assuming lack of sentience.

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