Comment author: Michael_S 21 May 2018 04:43:24PM 1 point [-]

I agree that limitations on RCTs are a reason to devalue them relative to other methodologies. They still add value over our priors, but I think the best use cases for RCTs are when they're cheap and can be done at scale (Eg. in the context of online surveys) or when you are randomizing an expensive intervention that would be provided anyway such that the relative cost of the RCT is cheap.

When costs of RCTs are large, I think there's reason to favor other methodologies, such as regression discontinuity designs, which have faired quite well compared to RCTs (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/pam.22051).

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 21 March 2018 03:27:08AM *  0 points [-]

Hi Michael,

I removed the comment about worrying that we might not reach a consensus because I worried that it might send you the wrong idea (i.e. that I don't want to talk anymore). It's been tiring I have to admit, but also enjoyable and helpful. Anyways, you clearly saw my comment before I removed it. But yeah, I'm good with talking on.

I agree that experiences are the result of chemical reactions, however the nature of the relations "X being experientially worse than Y" and "X being greater in number than Y" are relevantly different. Someone by the name of "kbog" recently read my very first reply to you (the updated edition) and raised basically the same concern as you have here, and I think I have responded to him pretty aptly. So if you don't mind, can you read my discussion with him:

http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1lt/is_effective_altruism_fundamentally_flawed/dmu

I would have answered you here, but I'm honestly pretty drained from replying to kbog, so I hope you can understand. Let me know what you think.

Regarding defining S1, I don't think I can do better than to say that S1 is a thing that has, or is capable of having, experience(s). I add the phrase 'or is capable of having' this time because it has just occurred to me that when I am in dreamless sleep, I have no experiences whatsoever, yet I'd like to think that I am still around - i.e. that the particular subject-of-experience that I am is still around. However, it's also possible that a subject-of-experience exists only when it is experiencing something. If that is true, then the subject-of-experience that I am is going out of and coming into existence several times a night. That's spooky, but perhaps true.

Anyways, I can't seem to figure out why you need any better of a definition of a subject-of-experience than that. I feel like my definition sufficiently distinguishes it from other kinds of things. Moreover, I have provided you with a criteria for identity over time. Shouldn't this be enough?

You write, "I think moral personhood doesn't make sense as a binary concept (the mind from a brain is different at different times, sometimes vastly different such as in the case of a major brain injury) The matter in the brain is also different over time (ship of Theseus)."

I agree with all of this, but I would insist those NEED NOT BE numerical differences, just qualitative differences. A mind can be very qualitatively different (e.g. big personality change) from one moment to the next, but that does not necessarily mean that it is a numerically different mind. Likewise, a brain can be very qualitative different (e.g. big change in shape) from one moment to the next, but that does not necessarily mean that it is a numerically different brain.

You then write, "I don't see a good reason to call these the same person in a moral sense in a way that two minds of two coexisting brains wouldn't be."

Well, if a particular mind is the numerically same mind before and after a big qualitative change (e.g., due to a brain injury), then clearly there is reason to call it the same mind/person in a way that two minds of two coexisting brains wouldn't be. After all, it's the numerically same mind, whereas two minds of two coexisting brains are clearly two numerically different minds.

You might agree that there is a literal reason to call it the same mind, but deny that there is a moral reason that wouldn't be true of two minds of two coexisting brains. But I think the literal reason constitutes or provides the moral reason: if a mind is numerically the same mind before and after a big qualitative change (e.g. big personality change), then that means whatever experiences are had by that mind before and after the change are HAD BY THAT NUMERICALLY SAME MIND. So if that particular mind suffered a headache before the radical change and then suffered a headache after the change, it is THAT PARTICULAR MIND THAT SUFFERS BOTH. That is enough reason to also call that mind the same mind in a moral sense that wouldn't also be true of two numerically different minds of two coexisting brains.

I didn't quite understand the sentences after that.

Comment author: Michael_S 22 March 2018 02:32:20AM 0 points [-]

FYI, I'm pretty busy over the next few days, but I'd like to get back to this conversation at one point. If I do, it may be a bit though.

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 18 March 2018 11:34:48PM *  0 points [-]

Just to make sure we're on the same page here, let me summarize where we're at:

In choice situation 2 of my paper, I said that supposing that any person would rather endure 5 minor headaches of a certain sort than 1 major headache of a certain sort when put to the choice, then a case in which Al suffers 5 such minor headaches is morally worse than a case in which Emma suffers 1 such major headache. And the reason I gave for this is that Al's 5 minor headaches is more painful (i.e. worse) than Emma's major headache.

In choice situation 3, however, the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 different people: Al and four others. Here I claim that the case in which Emma suffers a major headache is morally worse than a case in which the 5 people each suffer 1 minor headache. And the reason I gave for this is that Emma's major headache is more painful (i.e. worse) than each of the 5 people's minor headache.

Against this, you claim that if the supposition from choice situation 2 carries over to choice situation 3 - the supposition that any person would rather endure 5 minor headaches than 1 major headache if put to the choice -, then the case in which the 5 people each suffer 1 minor headache is morally worse than Emma suffering a major headache. And your reason for saying this is that you think 5 minor headaches spread across the 5 people is more painful (i.e. worse) than Emma's major headache.

THAT is what I took you to mean when you wrote: "Conditional on agreeing 5 minor headaches in one person is worse than 1 major headache in one person, I would feel exactly the same if it were spread out over 5 people."

As a result, this whole time, I have been trying to explain why it is that 5 minor headaches spread across five people CANNOT be more painful (i.e. worse) than a major headache, even while the same minor 5 headaches all had by one person can (and would be, under the supposition).

Importantly, I never took myself to be disagreeing with you on whether 5 instances of a minor headache is more than 1 instance of a major headache. Clearly, 5 instances of a minor headache is more than 1 instance of a major headache, regardless of whether the 5 instances were all experienced by a single subject-of-experience or spread across 5.

I took our disagreement to be about whether 5 instances of a minor headache, when spread across 5 people, is more painful (i.e. worse) than an instance of a major headache.

My view is that only when the 5 headaches are all had by one subject-of-experience could they be more painful (i.e. worse) than a major headache. Moreover, my view is that it literally makes no sense to say (or that it is at least false to say, even if it made sense) that the 5 headaches, when spread across 5 people, is more painful (i.e. worse) than a major headache, under the supposition.

If I am right, then in choice situation 3, the morally worse case should be the case in which Emma suffers one major headache, not the case in which 5 people each suffer one minor headache.

In response to your question, "what makes a single subject "a single subject", here is another stab: Within any given physical system that can realize subjects of experience (e.g. a cow's brain), the subject-of-experience at t-1 (S1) is numerically identical to the subjective-of-experience at t-2 (S2) if and only if an experience at t-1 (E1) and an experience at t-2 (E2) are both felt by S1. That is S1 = S2 iff S1 feels E1 and E2.

That in conjunction with the definition I provided earlier is probably the best I can do to communicate what I take a subject-of-experience to be, and what makes a particular subject-of-experience the numerically same subject-of-experience over time.

Comment author: Michael_S 20 March 2018 02:07:50AM 0 points [-]

To your first comment, I disagree. I think it's the same thing. Experiences are the result of chemical reactions. Are you advocating a form of dualism where experience is separated from the physical reactions in the brain?

I think there is more total pain. I'm not counting the # of headaches. I'm talking about the total amount of pain.

Can you define S1?

We may not, as these discussions tend to go. I'm fine calling it.

I think we have to get closer to defining a subject of experience, (S1); I think I would need this to go forward. But here's my position on the issue: I think moral personhood doesn't make sense as a binary concept (the mind from a brain is different at different times, sometimes vastly different such as in the case of a major brain injury) The matter in the brain is also different over time (ship of Theseus). I don't see a good reason to call these the same person in a moral sense in a way that two minds of two coexisting brains wouldn't be. The consciousness experiences are different between at different times and different brains; I see this as a matter of degree of similarity.

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.

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) 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) 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) 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) 13 March 2018 11:52:54PM *  -1 points [-]

Hi Michael,

Thanks very much for your response.

UPDATE (ADDED ON MAR 16):

I have shortened the original reply as it was a bit repetitive and made improvements in its clarity. However, it is still not optimal. Thus I have written a new reply for first-time readers to better appreciate my position. You can find the somewhat improved original reply at the end of this new reply (if interested):

To be honest, I just don't get why you would feel the same if the 5 minor headaches were spread across 5 people. Supposing that 5 minor headaches in one person is (experientially) worse than 1 major headache in one person (as you request), consider WHAT MAKES IT THE CASE that the single person who suffers 5 minor headaches is worse off than a person who suffers just 1 major headache, other things being equal.

Well, imagine that we were this person who suffers 5 minor headaches. We suffer one minor headache one day, suffer another minor headache sometime after that, then another after that, etc. By the end of our 5th minor headache, we will have experienced what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches. After all, we went through 5 minor headaches! Note that the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-headaches consists simply in the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-the-first-minor-headache then the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-the-second-minor-headache then the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-the-third-minor-headache, etc. Importantly, the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-headaches is NOT whatever we experience right after having our 5th headache (e.g. exhaustion that might set in after going through many headaches or some super painful headache that is the "synthesis" of the intensity of the past 5 minor headaches). It is NOT a singular/continuous feeling like the feeling we have when we're experiencing a normal pain episode. It is simply this: the what-it’s-like of going through one minor headache, then another (sometime later), then another, then another, then another. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Now, by the end of our 5th minor headache, we might have long forgotten about the first minor headache because, say, it happened so long ago. So, by the end of our 5th minor headache, we might not have an accurate appreciation of what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches even though we in fact have experienced what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches. As a result, if someone asked us whether we’ve been through more pain due to our minor headaches or more pain through a major headache that, say, we recently experienced, we would likely incorrectly answer the latter.

But, if we did have an accurate appreciation of what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches, say, because we experienced all 5 minor headaches rather recently, then there will be a clear sense to us that going through them was (experientially) worse than the major headache. The 5 minor headaches would each be “fresh in our mind”, and thus the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches would be “fresh in our mind”. And with that what-it’s-like fresh in mind, it seems clear to us that it caused us more pain than the major headache did.

Now, a headache being “fresh in our mind” does not mean that the headache needs to be so fresh that it is qualitatively the same as experiencing a real headache. Being fresh in our mind just means we have an accurate appreciation/idea of what it felt like, just as we have some accurate idea of what our favorite dish tastes like.

Because we have appreciations of our past pains (to varying degrees of accuracy), we sometimes compare them and have a clear sense that one set of pains is worse than another. But it is not the comparison and the clear sense we have of one set of pain being worse than another that ultimately makes one set of pains worse than another. Rather, it is the other way around. It is the what-it’s-like-of-having-5-minor-headaches that is worse – more painful – than the what-it’s-like-of-having-a-major-headache. And if we have an accurate appreciation of both what-it’s-likes, then we will conclude the same. But, when we don’t, then our own conclusions could be wrong, like in the example provided earlier of a forgotten minor headache.

So, at the end of the day, what makes a person who has 5 minor headaches worse off than a person who has 1 major headache is the fact that he experienced what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches.

But, in the case where the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people, there is no longer the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches because each of the 5 headaches is experienced by a different person. As a result, the only what-it’s-like present is the what-it’s-like-of-experiencing-one-minor-headache. Five different people each experience this what-it’s-like, but no one experiences what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches. Moreover, the what-it’s-like of each of the 5 people cannot be linked to form the what-it’s-like-of-experiencing-5-minor headaches because the 5 people are experientially independent beings.

Now, it's clearly the case that the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-1-minor-headache is not worse than the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-a-major-headache. Given what I said in the previous paragraph, therefore, there is nothing present that could be worse than the what-it’s-like-to-go-through-a-major-headache in the case where the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people. Therefore, 5 minor headaches, spread across 5 people, cannot be (and thus is not) worse (experientially speaking) than one major headache.

Therefore, "conditional on agreeing 5 minor headaches in one person is worse than 1 major headache in one person, ... [one should not] feel exactly the same if it were spread out over 5 people."!

Finally, since 5 headaches, spread across 5 people, is not EXPERIENTIALLY worse than another person's single major headache, therefore the case in which Emma would suffer a major headache is MORALLY worse than the case in which 5 different people would each suffer a minor headache. (If you disagree with this, please see Objection 1.2 and my response to it) Therefore what I said in choice situation 3 holds.

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The somewhat improved though sub-optimal original reply:

To be honest, I just don't get why you would feel the same if the pains were spread out over 5 people. I mean, when the 5 minor headaches occur in a single person, then FOR that person, there is a very clear sense how the 5 headaches are worse to endure than 1 major headache. But once the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 different people, that clear sense is lost because each of the 5 people only experiences at most 1 minor headache. In each experiencing only 1 minor headache, NOT ONE of the 5 people experience something worse than a major headache (e.g., what Emma would go through). So none of them would individually be worse off than Emma. Are you really ready to say that the 5 of them together are worse off than Emma? But in what sense? Certainly not in any experiential sense (since none of them individually experiences anything worse than a major headache and they are experientially independent of each other). But then I don't see what other sense there are that matters.

Comment author: Michael_S 14 March 2018 01:55:51AM 4 points [-]

If a small headache is worth 2 points of disutility and a large headache is worth 5, the total amount of pain is worse because 2*5>5. It's a pretty straightforward total utilitarian interpretation.I find it irrelevant whether there's one person who's worse off; the total amount of pain is larger.

I'll also note that I find the concept of personhood to be incoherent in itself, so it really shouldn't matter at all whether it's the same "person". But while I think an incoherent personhood concept is sufficient for saying there's no difference if it's spread out over 5 people, I don't think it's necessary. Simple total utilitarianism gets you there.

Comment author: Michael_S 13 March 2018 03:30:33AM 7 points [-]

Choice situation 3: We can either save Al, and four others each from a minor headache or Emma from one major headache. Here, I assume you would say that we should save Emma from the major headache

I think you're making a mistaken assumption here about your readers. Conditional on agreeing 5 minor headaches in one person is worse than 1 major headache in one person, I would feel exactly the same if it were spread out over 5 people. I expect the majority of EAs would as well.

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