On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast, I talk with Andres Gomez Emilsson who is co-director of research at the Qualia Research Institute.
The Qualia Research Institute is a non-profit whose goal is to study consciousness in a scientifically rigorous way.
This podcast begins with a presentation that Andres gave to a group at The Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London
The presentation is about the Symmetry theory of valence, which is a possible explanation of why experiences feel good or bad.
If you’d like to skip straight to my conversation with Andres, you can skip forward approximately an hour and 2 minutes.
In this conversation, we briefly sketch the Symmetry Theory of Valence, and discuss valence as the basis for morality. I ask Andres a number of critical questions about studying consciousness scientifically - isn’t consciousness extremely vague, how did consciousness evolve, how do we rely on people’s reports about their experiences.
We also talk about the connection between the value that we assign to objects in the world, and how we might be misleading ourselves by doing do.
Then we talk about how we might improve valence in the future, and Andres mentions an exciting project they’re working on at Qualia Research Institute.
We talk about the long-term future of valence in the universe, and the influence of AI.
Finally, we discuss a comprehensive world view involving conflict between consciousness and what Andres calls pure replicators - during which we also discuss the nature of personal identity.
If you find these ideas interesting, I encourage you to donate to Qualia Research institute, at qualiaresearchinstitute.org/donate. Among other things, this would help them empirically test the Symmetry Theory of Valence.
Simon Rosenqvist recently completed his PhD in philosophy at Uppsala University and we cover his conclusions in this podcast.
We talk about consciousness in humans, animals and machines
We discuss the best formulation of utilitarianism
And we talk about two problems for utilitarians: the problem of conflicts between the utilitarian judgements and moral intuitions and the problem of action guidance, which is roughly the problem that utilitarianism is not useful when deciding what we should do, since what we should do depends on the consequences of our actions millions of years into the future.
I talk with Torbjörn Tännsjö about his personal relation to moral philosophy and utilitarianism, moral methodology and the role of intuitions in ethics, moral realism, nihilism and religion, the repugnant conclusion and factory farming, the standing of utilitarianism in academic philosophy and the biggest challenges of the future.
Sandberg tells us about the current human situation, possible future trajectories, the explanation for the undersupply of efforts to reduce catastrophic risks, humanity's wisdom and coordination, the risks posed by nation states, the methodology of exploratory engineering, whether metaphors can help us understand the vastness of the future populations, how grand the universe could be if we stayed on Earth versus if we expand into the universe - and whether we should expand before we have solved ethics, artificial general intelligence scenarios, the poetry of GTP-3, consciousness and ethics, authenticity and the self, AI assistants, mind-enhancing drugs, direct brain stimulation, mind-uploading, self-replicating space probes, terraforming, the possibility of aliens, the ultimate limits of complexity and consciousness in the universe and how much of this picture might change with our evolving understanding of physics.
Sharon Hewitt Rawlette and I discuss the metaethical thesis of her book The Feeling of Value, which centers around normative qualia. We touch upon perspectival bias, pain and pleasure, how to construct a robust moral realism, the is-ought distinction, the open question argument, evolutionary debunking arguments, the experience machine, the repugnant conclusion, the best argument against utilitarianism and whether we have made moral progress all things considered.