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Jeffhe comments on Is Effective Altruism fundamentally flawed? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 14 March 2018 03:33:17AM *  0 points [-]

I assume we agree that we determine the points of disutility of the minor and major headache by how they each feel to someone. Since the major headache hurts more, it's worth more points (5 in this case).

But, were a single person to suffer all 5 minor headaches, he would end up having felt what it is like to go through 5 headaches - a feeling that would make him say things like "Going through those 5 minor headaches is worse/more painful than a major headache" or "There was more/greater/larger pain in going through those 5 minor headaches than a major headache".

We find these statements intelligible. But that is because we're at a point in life where we too have felt what it is like to go through multiple minor pains, and we too can consider (i.e. hold before our mind) a major pain in isolation, and compare these feelings: the what-it's-like of going through multiple minor pains vs the what-it's-like of going through a major pain.

But once the situation is that the 5 minor headache are spread across 5 people, there is no longer the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches, just 5 independent what-it's-likes-of-going-through-1-minor-headache. As a result, in this situation, when you say "the total amount of pain [involved in 5 minor headaches] is worse [one major headache]", or that "the total amount of pain [involved in 5 minor headaches] is larger [than one major headache], there is nothing to support their intelligibility.

So, I honestly don't understand these statements. Sure, you can use numbers to show that 10 > 5, but there is no reality that that maps on to (i.e. describes). I worry that representing pain in numbers is extremely misleading in this way.

Regarding personhood, I think my position just requires me to be committed to there being a single subject-of-experience (is that what you meant by person?) who extends through time to the extent that it can be the subject of more than one pain episode. I must admit I know very little about the topic of personhood. On that note, any further comments that help your position and question mine would be helpful. Thanks.

Comment author: Michael_S 14 March 2018 01:31:24PM 1 point [-]

I think this is confusing means of estimation with actual utils. You can estimate that 5 headaches are worse than one by asking someone to compare five headaches vs. one. You could also produce an estimate by just asking someone who has received one small headache and one large headache whether they would rather receive 5 more small headaches or one more large headache. But there's no reason you can't apply these estimates more broadly. There's real pain behind the estimates that can be added up.

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 14 March 2018 07:15:53PM *  0 points [-]

I agree with the first half of what you said, but I don't agree that "there's no reason you can't apply these estimates more broadly (e.g. to a situation where 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 persons).

Sure, a person who has felt only one minor headache and one major headache can say "If put to the choice, I think I'd rather receive another major headache than 5 more minor headaches", but he says this as a result of imagining roughly what it would be like for him to go through 5 of this sort of minor headache and comparing that to what it was like for him to go through the one major headache.

Importantly, what is supporting the intelligibility of his statement is STILL the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches, except that this time (unlike in my previous reply), the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches is imagined rather than actual.

But in the situation where the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people, there isn't a what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches, imagined or actual, to support the intelligibility of the claim that 5 minor headaches (spread across 5 people) are worse or more painful than a major headache. What there is are five independent what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-minor-headache, since

1) the 5 people are obviously experientially independent of each other (i.e. each of them can only experience their own pain and no one else's), and

2) each of the 5 people experience just one minor headache.

But these five independent what-it's-likes can't support the intelligibility of the above claim. None of these what-it-likes are individually worse or more painful than the major headache. And they cannot collectively be worse or more painful than the major headache because they are experientially independent of each other.

The what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches is importantly different from five independent what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-minor-headache, and only the former can support the intelligibility of a claim like 5 minor headaches are worse than a major headache. But since the former what-it's-like can only occur in a single subject-of-experience, that means that, more specifically, the former what-it's-like can only support the intelligibility of a claim like 5 minor headaches, all had by one person, is worse than a major headache. It cannot support a claim like 5 minor headaches, spread across 5 people, are worse than a major headache.

Comment author: Michael_S 15 March 2018 04:17:22AM *  2 points [-]

It's the same 5 headaches. It doesn't matter if you're imagining one person going through it on five days or imagine five different people going through it on one day. You can still imagine 5 headaches. You can imagine what it would be like to say live the lives of 5 different people for one day with and without a minor headache. Just as you can imagine living the life of one person for 5 days with and without a headache. The connection to an individual is arbitrary and unnecessary.

Now this goes into the meaningless of personhood as a concept, but what would even count as the individual in your view? For simplicity, let's say 2 modest headaches in one person are worse than one major headache. What if between the two headaches, the person gets a major brain injury and their personality is completely altered (as has happened in real life). Let's say they also have no memory of their former self. Are they no longer the same person? Under your view, is it no longer possible to say that the two modest headaches are worse than the major headache? If it still is, why is it possible after this radical change in personality with no memory continuity but impossible between two different people?

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 16 March 2018 01:46:55AM *  0 points [-]

If I'm understanding you correctly, you essentially deny that there is a metaphysical difference (i.e. a REAL difference) between

A. One subject-of-experience experiencing 5 headaches over 5 days (say, one headache per day), and

B. Five independent subjects-of-experience each experiencing 1 headache over 5 days (say, each subject has their 1 headache on a different day, such that on any given day, only one of them has a headache).

And you deny this BECAUSE you think that, in case A for example, there simply is no fact of the matter as to how many subjects-of-experience there were over those 5 days IN THE FIRST PLACE, and NOT because you think one subject-of-experience going through 5 headaches IS IDENTICAL to five independent subjects-of-experience each going through 1 headache.

Also, you are not simply saying that we don't KNOW how many subjects of experience there were over those 5 days in case A, but that there actually isn't an answer to how many there were. The indeterminate-ness is "built into the world" so to speak, and not just existing in our state of mind.

You therefore think it is arbitrary to say that one subject-of-experience experienced all 5 headaches over the 5 days or that 5 subjects-of-experience each experienced 1 headache over the 5 days.

But importantly, IF there is a fact of the matter as to how many subjects-of-experience there is in any given time period, you would NOT continue to think that there is no metaphysical difference between case A and B. And this is because you agree that one subject-of-experience going through 5 headaches is not identical to five independent subjects-of-experience each going through 1 headache. You would say, "Obviously they are not identical. The problem, however, is that - in case A, for example - there simply is no fact of the matter as to how many subjects-of-experience there were over those 5 days IN THE FIRST PLACE so saying that one subject-of-experience experienced all 5 headaches is arbitrary."

I hope that was an accurate portrayal of your view.

Let us then try to build some consensus from the ground up:

First, there is surely experience. That there is experience, whether it be pain experience or color experience or whatever, is the most obvious truth there is. I assume you don't deny that. Ok, so we agree that

1) there is experience.

Second, well, each experience is clearly SOMEONE'S experience - it is experience FOR SOMEONE. Suppose there is a pain experience - a headache. Someone IN PARTICULAR experiences that headache. Let's suppose you're not experiencing it and that I am. Then I am that particular someone. I assume you don't deny any of that. Ok, so we agree that

2) there is not just experience, but that for every experience, there is also a particular subject-of-experience who experiences it, whether or not a particular subject-of-experience can also extend through time and be the subject of multiple experiences.

That's all the consensus building I want to do right now.

Now, let me report something about myself (for the sake of argument, just assume it's true): I felt 5 headaches over the past 5 days. Here (just as in case A) you would say that there is no fact of the matter whether one subject-of-experience felt those 5 headaches or five different subjects-of-experience felt those 5 headaches, even though the “I” in “I just felt 5 headaches” makes it SOUND LIKE there was only one subject-of-experience.

If I then say that, “no no, there was just one subject-of-experience who felt those 5 headaches”, your question (and challenge) to me is what is my criteria for saying that there was just one subject-of-experience and not five. More specifically, you ask whether memory-continuity and personality-continuity are necessary conditions for being the same subject-of-experience over the 5 days, “same” in the sense of being numerically identical and not qualitatively identical.

Here’s my answer:

I’m sure philosophers have tried to come up with various criteria. Presumably that’s what philosophers engaged in the field called “personal identity” in part do, though I don’t know much about that field. Anyways, presumably they are all trying to come up with a criteria that would neatly accommodate all our intuitive judgements in specific (perhaps imagined) cases concerning personal identity (e.g., split brain cases). A criteria that succeeded in doing that would presumably be regarded as the “true” or “correct” criteria. In other words, the ONLY way philosophers have for testing their criteria is presumably to see if their criteria would yield results that accord with our intuitions. Moreover, if the “correct” criteria is found, philosophers are presumably going to say that it is correct not merely in the sense that it accurately describes the implicit/sub-conscious assumptions that we hold about personal identity which have led us to have the intuitions we have. Indeed, presumably, they are going to say that the criteria is correct in the stronger sense that it accurately describes the conditions under which a subject-of-experience IN REALITY is the same numerical subject over time. Insofar as they would say this, philosophers are assuming that our intuitive judgements represent the truth (i.e. the way things actually are). For only if the intuitions represented the truth would it be the case that a criteria that accommodated all of them would thereby be a criteria that described reality.

But then the question is, do our intuitions represent the truth? I don’t know, and so even if I were able to give you a criteria that accommodated all our intuitions and that, according to this criteria, there was only one subject-of-experience who experienced all 5 headaches over those 5 days, I would not have, in any convincing way, demonstrated that there was in fact only one subject-of-experience who experienced all 5 headaches over those 5 days, instead of 5 independent subjects-of-experience who each experienced 1 headache. For you can always ask what reasons I have for taking our intuitions to represent the truth. I don’t think there is a convincing answer. So I don’t think presenting you with criteria will ultimately satisfy you, at least I don’t think it should.

Of course, that’s not to say that we wouldn’t know what would have to be the case for it to be true that one subject-of-experience experienced all 5 headaches over the 5 days: That would be true just in case one subject-of experience IN FACT experienced all 5 headaches over the 5 days. We just don’t know if that is the case. And I have just argued above that providing a criteria that accords with all our intuitions won’t really help us to know if that is the case either.

So, what reason can I give for believing that there really was just one subject-of-experience who experienced all 5 headaches over those 5 days? Well, what reason can YOU give for saying that there isn’t a fact of the matter as to whether there was one subject-of-experience who experienced all 5 headaches over those 5 days or give independent subjects-of-experience who each experienced only 1 headache over those 5 days?

Are we at a standstill? We would be if neither of us can provide reasons for our views. Your view attributes a fundamental indeterminate-ness to the world itself, and I wonder what reason you have for such a view.

I have a reason for believing my view. But this reply is already very long, so before I describe my reason, I would just like some confirmation that we’re on the same page. Thanks.

P.S. I'll just add (as a more direct response to the first paragraph of your response): Yes, I can imagine 5 headaches by either imagining myself in the shoes of one person for 5 days or imagining myself in the shoes of 5 different people for one day each. In both cases, I imagine 5 headaches. True. BUT. When I imagine myself in the shoes of 5 different people for one day each, what is going on is that one subject-of-experience (i.e. me), takes on the independent what-it's-likes (i.e. experiences) associated with the 5 different people, and IN DOING SO, LINKS THESE what-it's-likes - which in reality are experientially independent of each other - TOGETHER IN ME. So ultimately, when I imagine myself in the shoes of 5 different people for one day each, I am, in effect, imagining what it's like to go through 5 headaches. But in reality, there is no such what-it's-like among the 5 different people. The only what-it's-like present is the what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-headache, which each of the 5 different people would experience.

In essence, what I am saying is that when you or I imagine ourselves in the shoes of 5 different people for a day each, we do end up with the (imagined) what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-headaches, but there is no such what-it's-like in reality among those different 5 people. But there needs to be in order for their 5 independent headaches to be worse than a major headache. I hope that made sense. If it didn't, then I guess you can ignore these last two paragraphs.

P.S.S. As a more direct response to your questions in the second paragraph of your response: it would still be possible IF the person is still the same subject-of-experience after the radical change in personality and loss of memory. It is impossible between two different people because they are numerically different subjects-of-experience.

Comment author: Michael_S 17 March 2018 02:21:08AM *  0 points [-]

I'd say I'm making two arguments:

1) There is no distinct personal identity; rather it's a continuum. The you today is different than the you yesterday. The you today is also different from the me today. These differences are matters of degree. I don't think there is clearly a "subject of experience" that exists across time. There are too many cases (eg. brain injuries that change personality) that the single consciousness theory can't account for.

2) Even if I agreed that there was a distinct difference in kind that represented a consistent person, I don't think it's relevant to the moral accounting of experiences. Ie. I don't see why it matters whether experiences are "independent" or not. They're real experiences of pain

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 17 March 2018 03:31:30AM *  0 points [-]

1) I agree that the me today is different from the me yesterday, but I would say this is a qualitative difference, not a numerical difference. I am still the numerically same subject-of-experience as yesterday's me, even though I may be qualitatively different in various physical and psychological ways from yesterday's me. I also agree that the me today is different from the you today, but here I would say that the difference is not merely qualitative, but numerical too. You and I are numerically different subjects-of-experience, not just qualitatively different.

Moreover, I would agree that our qualitative differences are a matter of degrees and not of kind. I am not a chair and you a subject-of-experience. We are both embodied subjects-of-experience (i.e. of that kind), but we differ to various degrees: you might be taller or lighter-skinned, etc

I thus agreed with all your premises and have shown that they can be compatible with the existence of a subject-of-experience that extends through time. So I don't quite see a convincing argument for the lack of the existence of a subject-of-experience that extends through time.

2) So here you're granting me the existence of a subject-of-experience that extends through time, but you're saying that it makes no moral difference whether one subject-of-experience suffers 5 minor headaches or 5 numerically different subjects-of-experience each experience 1 minor headache, and that therefore, we should just focus on the number of headaches.

Well, as I tried to explain in previous replies, when there is one subject-of-experience who extends through time, it is possible for him to experience what it's like of going through 5 minor headaches, since after all, he experiences all 5 minor headaches (whether he remembers experiencing them or not). Moreover, it is ONLY the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches that can plausibly be worse or more painful than the what-it's-like-of-going-through-a-major-headache.

In contrast, when the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people, each of the 5 people experiences only what it's like to go through 1 minor headache. Moreover, the what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-headache CANNOT plausibly be worse or more painful than the what-it's-like-of-going-through-a-major-headache.

Thus it matters whether the 5 headaches are experienced all by a single subject-of-experience (i.e. experienced together) or spread across five experientially independent subject-of-experiences (i.e. experienced independently). It matters because, again, ONLY when the 5 headaches are experienced together can there be the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches and ONLY that can plausibly be said to be worse or more painful than the what-it's-like-of-going-through-a-major-headache.

P.S. I have extensively edited my very first reply to you, so that it is more clear and detailed for first-time readers. I would recommend giving it a read if you have the time. Thanks.

Comment author: Michael_S 17 March 2018 03:30:17PM 0 points [-]

1) I'd like to know what your definition of "subject-of-experience" is.

2) For this to be true, I believe you would need to posit something about "conscious experience" that is entirely different than everything else in the universe. If say factory A produces 15 widgets, factory B produces 20 widgets, and Factory C produces 15 widgets, I believe we'd agree that the number of widgets in A+C is greater than the number of widgets produced by B, no matter how independent the factories are. Do you disagree with this?

Similarly, I'd say if 15 neural impulses occur in brain A, 20 in brain B, and 15 in brain C, the # of neural impulses is greater than A+C than in B. Do you disagree with this?

Conscious experiences are a product of such neural chemical reactions. Do you disagree with this?

Given this, It seems odd to then postulate that even though all ingredients are the same and are additive between individuals, the conscious product is not. It seems arbitrary and unnecessary to explain anything, and there is no reason to believe it is true.

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 17 March 2018 07:14:47PM *  0 points [-]

1) A subject of experience is just something which "enjoys" or has experience(s), whether that be certain visual experiences, pain experiences, emotional experiences, etc... In other words, a subject of experience is just something for whom there is a "what-it's-like". A building, a rock or a plant is not a subject of experience because it has no experience(s). That is, for example, why we don't feel concerned when we step on grass: it doesn't feel pain or feel anything. On the other hand, a cow is a subject-of-experience - it presumably has visual experiences and pain experience and all sorts of other experiences. Or more technically, a subject-of-experience (or multiple) may be realized by a cow's physical system (i.e. brain). There would be a single subject-of-experience if all the experiences realized by the cow's physical system are felt by a single subject. Of course, it is possible that within the cow's physical system's life span, multiple subjects-of-experience are realized. This would be the case if not all of the experiences realized by the cow's physical system are felt by a single subject.

2) But when we say that 5 minor headaches is "worse" or "more painful" than a major pain, we are not simply making a "greater than, less than, or equal to" number comparison like 5 minor headaches is more headaches than 1 major headaches.

Clearly 5 minor headaches, whether they are spread across 5 persons or not, is more headaches than 1 major headache. But that is irrelevant. Because the claim you're making is that 5 minor headaches, whether they are spread across 5 persons or not, is WORSE or MORE PAINFUL than 1 major headache. And this is where I disagree.

I am saying that for 5 minor headaches to be plausibly worse than a major headache, it must be the case that there is a what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches, because only THAT KIND of experience can be plausibly worse or more painful than a major headache. But, for there to be THAT KIND of experience, it must be the case that all 5 minor headaches are felt by a single subject of experience and not spread among 5 experientially independent subjects of experience. For when the 5 minor headaches are spread, there is only 5 experientially independent what-it's-like-of-going-through-a-minor-headache, and no what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headache.

Sorry for the caps btw, I have no other way of placing emphasis.

Comment author: Michael_S 17 March 2018 09:14:48PM *  0 points [-]

Of course, it is possible that within the cow's physical system's life span, multiple subjects-of-experience are realized. This would be the case if not all of the experiences realized by the cow's physical system are felt by a single subject.

That's what I'm interested in a definition of. What makes it a "single subject"? How is this a binary term?

I am making a greater than/less than comparison. That comparison is with pain which results from the neural chemical reactions. There is more pain (more of these chemical reactions based experiences) in the 5 headaches than there is in the 1 whether or not they occur in a single subject. I don't see any reason to treat this differently then the underlying chemical reactions.

No problem on the caps.