On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast, I talk with Joseph Carlsmith. Joseph is a research analyst at Open Philanthropy and a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Oxford. His views and opinions in this podcast are his own, and not necessarily those of Open Philanthropy.
Our conversation has three main themes. We talk about the long-term future, including the possibility of actually creating utopia. We talk about Joseph’s work on the computational power of the brain. And we talk about meta-ethics and consciousness, including discussions of illusionism and the effects of meditation.
The Utilitarian Podcast now has a dedicated website, at utilitarianpodcast.com. At the site, you’ll find full transcripts of selected episodes, including this one. These transcripts have been generously funded by James Evans. I’ve also set up an email, which is firstname.lastname@example.org where you can send criticism, questions, suggestions and so on.
On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast I talk with Milan Cirkovic. Milan is an astrophysicist at the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade and a researcher at The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. We talk about an effective altruist framework for thinking about aliens, astrobiology, the generalisability of physics and evolution, the Drake equation and the Fermi paradox, civilizations at different Kardashev levels, the current search for extraterrestrial life, the sociology of alien civilizations, the risk of spreading suffering in the universe, and the more near-term search for microbial life on Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa.
On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast I talk with Michael Huemer. Michael is a professor of philosophy at the university of Colorado. We talk about how to build a worldview, epistemology and intuitions, metaethics and consciousness, utilitarianism and effective altruism, belief clusters and rationality, the value of philosophy, infinite ethics and whether there can be experience without a self.
On this episode of the Utilitarian Podcast I talk with Kent Berridge about the science of pain and pleasure. Kent Berridge is a professor of neuroscience at the University of Michigan and the leader of the Berridge Lab for Affective Neuroscience & Biopsychology. His more than 200 academic publications have collectively been cited 69.000 times.
I ask Kent about the difference between wanting, liking and learning, whether all pleasures share a common brain basis, whether there is a pain-pleasure spectrum, how there can be wanting without liking, how we come to associate things with pleasure through learning, how advanced our understanding of pleasure and pain is and what the biggest opportunities for applications might be.
Aubrey de Grey is a biomedical gerontologist. He’s the co-founder and chief science officer of the SENS Research Foundation, which is a non-profit that does basic research on aging and treatments for aging.
We start with the basics of aging, and some critical reactions to the notion that ageing could ever be overcome. Then Aubrey tells us about the seven types of damage that cause ageing and their corresponding repair technologies. I also ask him about the limits of model organisms in aging research.
If at some point you’d like to skip to Aubrey talking about time estimates for ending aging and the effective altruism case for ending aging - you can skip approximately 1 hour and 32 minutes into the podcast.
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.