nothing is mere

Author Archive: Rob Bensinger

Chaos Altruism

Impulse buying is a thing. We have ready-made clichés for picking it out. Analogously, ‘impulse giving’ is a thing, where you’re spontaneously moved by compassion to help someone out without any advance planning. The problem with most impulse giving is that it gives you the same warm glow and sense of moral license as high-impact giving, without …

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Inhuman altruism: Inferential gap, or motivational gap?

Brienne recently wrote that most LessWrongers and effective altruists eat meat because they haven’t yet been persuaded that non-human animals can experience suffering: Vegans: If the meat eaters believed what you did about animal sentience, most of them would be vegans, and they would be horrified by their many previous murders. Your heart-wrenching videos aren’t …

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What techniques would you love to suddenly acquire?

I’ve been going to Val’s rationality dojo for CFAR workshop alumni, and I found a kind-of-similar-to-this exercise useful: List a bunch of mental motions — situational responses, habits, personality traits — you wish you could possess or access at will. Visualize small things you imagine would be different about you if you were making more …

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Virtue, public and private

Effective altruists have been discussing animal welfare rather a lot lately, on a few different levels: 1. object-level: How likely is it that conventional food animals suffer? 2. philanthropic: Compared to other causes, how important is non-human animal welfare? How effective are existing organizations and programs in this area? Should effective altruists concentrate attention and resources …

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Loosemore on AI safety and attractors

Richard Loosemore recently wrote an essay criticizing worries about AI safety, “The Maverick Nanny with a Dopamine Drip“. (Subtitle: “Debunking Fallacies in the Theory of AI Motivation”.) His argument has two parts. First: 1. Any AI system that’s smart enough to pose a large risk will be smart enough to understand human intentions, and smart …

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Is ‘consciousness’ simple? Is it ancient?

  Assigning less than 5% probability to ‘cows are moral patients’ strikes me as really overconfident. Ditto, assigning greater than 95% probability. (A moral patient is something that can be harmed or benefited in morally important ways, though it may not be accountable for its actions in the way a moral agent is.) I’m curious …

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Bostrom on AI deception

Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has argued, in “The Superintelligent Will,” that advanced AIs are likely to diverge in their terminal goals (i.e., their ultimate decision-making criteria), but converge in some of their instrumental goals (i.e., the policies and plans they expect to indirectly further their terminal goals). An arbitrary superintelligent AI would be mostly unpredictable, except to the extent …

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Politics is hard mode

Eliezer  Yudkowsky has written a delightful series of posts (originally on the economics blog Overcoming Bias) about why partisan debates are so frequently hostile and unproductive. Particularly incisive is A Fable of Science and Politics. One of the broader points Eliezer makes is that, while political issues are important, political discussion isn’t the best place to train one’s …

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Cards Against Humanity against humanity

Content note: anti-LGBT sentiment, antisemitism, racism, sexual assault Cards Against Humanity is a card game where people combine terms into new phrases in pursuit of dark and edgy mirth and pith. Like Apples to Apples, but focused on all things political, absurdist, and emotionally charged. A lot of progressives like the game, so it’s a useful place …

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Loving the merely physical

This is my submission to Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape challenge: “Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in under 1,000 words. (You must address the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.)” Though I’ve mentioned before that I’m sympathetic to Harris’ argument, I’m not …

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