Re: Ethical experimentation on AIs

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Sun Oct 21 2007 - 14:56:04 MDT

Stathis writes

>> But a fly has no abilities to override its basic instincts. Hence, there
>> is no purpose to be served by the its experiencing severe pain, and
>> so nature does not provide it the capabililty.
> There must be a gradient of pain levels in all organisms of any
> sophistication, since even the simplest behaviour might involve
> choosing the lesser of two evils.


> It seems to me that the best top pain level for a fly would be the highest
> pain level that is physically possible,

wow! Now, still, to clarify with your example, just *why* would nature
torture a fly when absolutely all that the fly can do is try to escape by
flapping its wings or shaking its legs? What is gained? On the other hand,
a great deal is gained by tormenting a human: the human can analyse
all most endlessly the bad moves that got him into the situation, the
negotiations with other humans or his environment that might succeed
in getting him out of it, and potentially endless redesign of his behavior
or circumstances in order that the situation never recur.

> since otherwise there would be pain "compression", with a lesser ability
> to discriminate between stimuli on the basis of how pleasant or unpleasant
> they are.

I don't understand what you mean here.

> The other aspect of it is the unremitting nature of pain. Humans can
> effectively reduce the severity of pain, or suffering in general, by
> being able to reason about it. The experience of chest pain is worse
> if you think you're having a heart attack than if you can be reassured
> that it's just indigestion.

But I would suppose that humans enhance the default level of pain
from a heart attack by worrying about it. That is, people who don't
know about such things---small children, say---wouldn't worry and
so can't think that they're having a heart attack. What you are
pointing out is a meta-level beyond that. In other words, a child
would feel less pain, and an ordinary adult more, and an adult
who was capable of reasoning about it the way you suggest.

Moreover, wouldn't your basic argument here suggest that any small
insult to my organism be accompanied by all the pain nature can
inflict? I say that a small amount of pain has been measured out for
those things that we relatively safely override. For example, stubbing
my toe will not prevent me from perservering in a long march to
extracate myself from a deadly desert. Even with a fly, a slightly
unpleasant odor won't deter it from certain food.


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