RE: computer pain

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Tue, 26 Dec 2006 15:10:35 +1100

Hello Dave/Chris,

I agree with everything you say, and have long admired "The Hedonistic Imperative".
Motivation need not be linked to pain, and for that matter it need not be linked to pleasure
either. We can imagine an artificial intelligence without any emotions but completely
dedicated to the pursuit of whatever goals it has been set. It is just a contingent fact
of evolution that we can experience pleasure and pain.

Having ready-made feelings which destroy the motivation to seek those feelings in the
normal manner may also be a blessing. Some people seek to harm others because they
get a special kick from this that they can't get any other way. If they could program
themselves so that they could get exactly the same effect from fantasising about it,
then there would be no need to engage in the harmful activity. We could decide in a
dispassionate manner to leave the positive motivations intact and linked to gradients
of pleasure, but decouple the negative motivations so that the sadist could still enjoy
himself but no longer needs to hurt anyone to do so.

Stathis Papaioannou

> Date: Tue, 26 Dec 2006 01:06:20 +0000
> From:
> To:
> Subject: RE: computer pain
> Because undifferentiated pleasure destroys purposeful activity, as
> Stathis notes, presumably there is strong selection pressure against it.
> If we were naturally uniformly happy, then who would be motivated to
> raise children?
> What's less clear is whether we'll need to retain "ordinary
> unhappiness" - or ultimately any kind of unhappiness at all.
> Why can't we engineer a motivational system based on heritable
> _gradients_ of immense well-being? Retain the functional analogues of
> (some of) our nastier states, but do away with their unpleasant "raw
> feels". If gradients are conserved, then potentially so too is critical
> discernment, "appropriate" behavioral responses to different stimuli,
> and "informational sensitivity" to a changing environment. On this
> scenario, rather than dismantling the hedonic treadmill (cf. heroin
> addicts, wireheading, or Huxley's soma), we could genetically
> recalibrate the pleasure-pain axis. Hedonic tone could be enriched so
> that we all enjoy a higher average hedonic "set point" across the lifespan.
> One can see pitfalls here. Genetically enriching the mesolimbic
> dopaminergic system, for instance, might indeed make many people happier
> and more motivated. But if done ineptly, the "enhancement" might cause
> mania or even psychosis. Also, depression/subordinate behavior seems to
> have evolved as an adaptation to group-living in social mammals. The
> ramifications for human society of abolishing low mood altogether would
> be profound and unpredictable. But in principle, a re-designed
> motivational system based entirely on (adaptive) gradients of well-being
> could make everyone hugely better off.
> Idle utopian dreaming? Well, yes, possibly. But I think in the
> near-future there will be selection pressure for heritably enriched
> hedonic tone. Within the next few decades, we are likely to witness a
> revolution of "designer babies" - and perhaps universal pre-implantation
> diagnosis. Prospective parents are going to choose the kind of children
> they want to raise. Most prospective parents will presumably choose
> (genotypes predisposing to) happy children - since most parents want
> their kids to be happy. When human evolution is no longer "blind" and
> "random", there will be strong selection pressure against the
> genes/allelic combinations that predispose, not just to clinical
> depression etc, but to "ordinary unhappiness" as we understand it today.
> Since ordinary unhappiness can still be pretty ghastly, I think this is
> a good thing.
> Happy Christmas!
> :-)
> Dave
> >

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Received on Mon Dec 25 2006 - 23:10:51 PST

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