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Old 09-07-2018, 06:35 PM
Marcus Flavius Marcus Flavius is offline
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A philosophical thought experiment

There's an uninhabited planet, and you have a button that when pushed, will start a very similar process of life on that planet as the one on this planet; so you'll get the chocolate ice cream, you get the sex, you get the relationships, you get the beautiful sunsets, you get the fun movies, you get the nice Thanksgiving family dinners, you get the cool 80s music- but you also have to claim accountability for the trillions of sentient organisms suffering. Every war, every genocide, every suicide, every atrocity, every famine, every plague, every harm- all that is on you. Do you press the button, or leave it the way out is?
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Old 09-07-2018, 06:47 PM
DavidwithanR DavidwithanR is offline
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"Very similar", or "exactly the same"? If similar, then similar in which ways, and dissimilar in which ways?
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Old 09-07-2018, 07:10 PM
Marcus Flavius Marcus Flavius is offline
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"Very similar", or "exactly the same"? If similar, then similar in which ways, and dissimilar in which ways?
"Very similar" in that all the"big" things are the same, but perhaps some small details are different.
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Old 09-07-2018, 07:18 PM
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How is this at all different from the previous threads you've started on the exact same philosophical issue?

https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=859961

https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=854664

And as I said last time: see David Benatar for a good treatment.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Benatar

Last edited by Riemann; 09-07-2018 at 07:20 PM.
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Old 09-07-2018, 07:33 PM
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I want to push the button that makes a million Marcus Flaviuses, every one of which has to go to college. I'd be fun.
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Old 09-07-2018, 08:40 PM
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Accountability to who, exactly?
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Last edited by Bryan Ekers; 09-07-2018 at 08:40 PM.
  #7  
Old 09-08-2018, 05:15 AM
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I think I'll side with Lord Tennyson:
Quote:
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
          I feel it, when I sorrow most;
          'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
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Old 09-08-2018, 02:56 PM
Textual Innuendo Textual Innuendo is offline
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Eh, why not?

Looking at it from a utilitarian point of view, there's almost certainly more good qualia than bad qualia in the balance, whether you're measuring by incidents or hours or individuals.

I mean, to keep it in perspective, ALL those folk would have died anyways, with 100% certainty.

Just because 10%-20% of them died from violence/genocides/awful diseases a few decades "early" doesn't mean on the balance that the other 80%-90% who lived relatively average-length full and normal lives full of families and friends, sex, raising children, preparing and eating good food, etc. were worthless.

So you'd forbid the 100% from existing based on the bad experiences of the 10%-20% minority within that population? That's not a solution that scales to ANYWHERE in life. I mean, for one thing, how would you ever get a job? It's 100% certain that no matter what job you have, a minority of your time will be shitty, taken up with shitty tasks or dealing with shitty people or whatever. So clearly by that philosophy you should never accept a job offer.

Eating is the same way - sure, there are some transcendental meals, and most of them are average and just do the job, but it's a 100% certainty that some portion - let's estimate 10% of the meals you eat - are going to be shitty, either in taste, nutrients, cost, consequences, whatever. So we should also never eat by this philosophy!

Does that mean none of us should ever work, or eat? No, it means your evaluatory framework is faulty.
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Old 09-08-2018, 04:19 PM
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I think I'll side with Lord Tennyson:
I have always found that Tennyson poem a bit creepy. I imagine some "nice guy" incel in a fedora reciting it.
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Old 09-08-2018, 07:29 PM
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My view is encapsulated pretty well by quotes from Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein:


Quote:
It is easier to destroy than create.
Bin Laden tore down the World Trade Center? Let's see him build one. If human beings didn't have a strong preference for creation, nothing would get built, ever.

Quote:
I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were honest in their bones.

Sure, we're creating a lot of misery, but that is vastly outweighed by the good we create. The entire history of the human race has, on average, been an upward slope, albeit with a lot of noise. The times when we've fallen back have been overwhelmed by the times we've moved ahead.
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  #11  
Old 09-08-2018, 08:42 PM
Marcus Flavius Marcus Flavius is offline
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Originally Posted by Textual Innuendo View Post
Eh, why not?

Looking at it from a utilitarian point of view, there's almost certainly more good qualia than bad qualia in the balance, whether you're measuring by incidents or hours or individuals.

I mean, to keep it in perspective, ALL those folk would have died anyways, with 100% certainty.

Just because 10%-20% of them died from violence/genocides/awful diseases a few decades "early" doesn't mean on the balance that the other 80%-90% who lived relatively average-length full and normal lives full of families and friends, sex, raising children, preparing and eating good food, etc. were worthless.

So you'd forbid the 100% from existing based on the bad experiences of the 10%-20% minority within that population? That's not a solution that scales to ANYWHERE in life. I mean, for one thing, how would you ever get a job? It's 100% certain that no matter what job you have, a minority of your time will be shitty, taken up with shitty tasks or dealing with shitty people or whatever. So clearly by that philosophy you should never accept a job offer.

Eating is the same way - sure, there are some transcendental meals, and most of them are average and just do the job, but it's a 100% certainty that some portion - let's estimate 10% of the meals you eat - are going to be shitty, either in taste, nutrients, cost, consequences, whatever. So we should also never eat by this philosophy!

Does that mean none of us should ever work, or eat? No, it means your evaluatory framework is faulty.
So, in short, it's acceptable if some beings experience horrific suffering, so long as the majority live somewhat "ok" lives? Would it be acceptable to savagely torture one person to death, if it meant that a hundred others would live guaranteed "happy" lives? What about a thousand others? Ten thousand others? How many would have to live "happy" lives to justify inflicting that horrific suffering on that one person?
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Old 09-08-2018, 09:22 PM
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Since there don't seem to be any personal consequences for me, i.e. I'm not accountable to anyone, I say go for it, why not?
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Old 09-08-2018, 09:49 PM
Marcus Flavius Marcus Flavius is offline
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Since there don't seem to be any personal consequences for me, i.e. I'm not accountable to anyone, I say go for it, why not?
Do you want those hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of trillions of sentient organisms sufferings and deaths to be on your conscience though? Or are you a complete sadistic psychopath and don't care?

Last edited by Marcus Flavius; 09-08-2018 at 09:49 PM.
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Old 09-09-2018, 09:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Marcus Flavius View Post
So, in short, it's acceptable if some beings experience horrific suffering, so long as the majority live somewhat "ok" lives? Would it be acceptable to savagely torture one person to death, if it meant that a hundred others would live guaranteed "happy" lives? What about a thousand others? Ten thousand others? How many would have to live "happy" lives to justify inflicting that horrific suffering on that one person?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. In any complex system, there will be winners and losers, and if having only winners is the only acceptable outcome to you, you cannot have any complexity or large entropy-gradients in your universe.

But complexity and large entropy-gradients are literally what makes life worth living, giving us language, technology, more complex societies, lifesaving medicines, space flight, and what have you.

I think you're conflating two things with your followup torture hypothetical - in your OP scenario, it is merely creating and setting into motion life in all its complexity. Because it IS complex, and has emergent behaviors and fundamentally unpredictable outcomes, there will with 100% surety be some folk in the bottom decile of human experience, and that will be a pretty shitty experience. But it's the cost of having complexity and entropy-gradients to begin with, it's just table stakes, and yes it DOES benefit everyone else to have the complexity, even if it ends with some people getting the short end of the stick.

However, choosing to initiate a complex system with relative "winners" and "losers" is a different moral decision than deciding to personally torture somebody to improve the lives of 100/1k/10k others.

But even THIS, as posed, is not that controversial. If you were out with family and friends, and somebody pulls out a weapon and starts killing everyone around you, and you have a chance to push him off into a vat of molten metal, would you do it? Being thrown into a vat of molten metal sounds like torture to me, and yet it's worth torturing this one guy to improve the lives of 10/100/however many people he could have killed.

That's pretty much what prisons and criminal justice systems are all about.
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Old 09-09-2018, 10:01 AM
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Do you want those hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of trillions of sentient organisms sufferings and deaths to be on your conscience though? Or are you a complete sadistic psychopath and don't care?
I reject your choices as well as your nihilism. My conscience will be just fine.
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Old 09-09-2018, 10:14 AM
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I'd push the button just so new iterations of Dopers would bitch that the new iteration of you had started several threads on the same topic.
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Old 09-09-2018, 10:23 AM
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And as I said last time: see David Benatar for a good treatment.
Part of me agrees with David Benatar's antinatalism and if God came up with the solution that animals should survive and flourish by consuming other animals I find this quite a wicked idea.

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Do you press the button, or leave it the way out is?
There is no such thing as a perfect world, and to imply that pressing or not pressing the button can be regarded as a bad choice because it may lead to an imperfect world is a fallacy.

The dichotomy suffering vs. non-suffering is a simplistic one because not all suffering is bad and not all non-suffering is good. The suffering of a new recruit learning the ropes of the military, or that of a single mother raising her children, or that of a fire-fighter risking his own life to save those of others is a valuable experience on so many levels and from so many different perspectives. In contrast, the non-suffering of a slab of rock is a contemptible experience whereas that of a spoiled child raised by a privileged family seems even dangerous since it is likely to lead to antisocial attitudes and a lack of conscience.

Decision making involves pragmatism rather than idealism. The existence of such wonderful and varied life forms is always preferable to a barren planet. I have given a lot of thought to the "wicked idea" that animals should be able to survive and flourish by consuming other animals and I've concluded that this process has shaped natural selection in such a way that intelligent and sentient species can eventually result in the process.

Last edited by UY Scuti; 09-09-2018 at 10:24 AM.
  #18  
Old 09-09-2018, 07:44 PM
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Another "If you press the button, 2 things will happen ..." Choice, eh? Binary curse.

http://joyreactor.com/post/519192
  #19  
Old 09-09-2018, 09:10 PM
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No. At the risk of being accused of being 'depressed' again for saying it, I think the pain of existence outweighs the benefits overall, at least for mammals. Life now for humans isn't bad due to hundreds of years of scientific advances, but it can still be pretty miserable.

However, we do need one species that can invent machine intelligence. Machine intelligence could be eternal, will be amazing at problem solving and will not suffer. A billion years of biological suffering would be worth endless quintillions of years of machine intelligence.

So if pushing that button meant that civilization would eventually reach machine intelligence and it was the only civilization in the universe to create machine intelligence? Yes.

But if the answer to either one of those questions is no, then no.
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Last edited by Wesley Clark; 09-09-2018 at 09:12 PM.
  #20  
Old 09-09-2018, 09:24 PM
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I'd flip the question around, and I'm actually curious about the answer to this:

Imagine I could poll a significant chunk of humanity, and ask them the question. "Suppose, before life started on this planet, an alien had had the opportunity to press a button to prevent life from ever developing. You never would have existed. Based on your own experience, do you wish the alien had pressed the button?"

If a significant majority of humanity wishes the no-life button had been pressed, I won't cause life. But if a significant majority is happy that life occurred, I'll assume that a similar planet would have a similar result.

Has any such polling ever actually been done? Obviously not with the "alien" question, but asking folks whether they're on balance glad that they were born?
  #21  
Old 09-09-2018, 10:07 PM
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I'd flip the question around, and I'm actually curious about the answer to this:

Imagine I could poll a significant chunk of humanity, and ask them the question. "Suppose, before life started on this planet, an alien had had the opportunity to press a button to prevent life from ever developing. You never would have existed. Based on your own experience, do you wish the alien had pressed the button?"

If a significant majority of humanity wishes the no-life button had been pressed, I won't cause life. But if a significant majority is happy that life occurred, I'll assume that a similar planet would have a similar result.

Has any such polling ever actually been done? Obviously not with the "alien" question, but asking folks whether they're on balance glad that they were born?
This one is at least close.
Quote:
Most young people around the world are happy.

Nearly seven out of ten (68%) young people across the world said that they were happy with their lives
And more in low to middle income countries than in prosperous ones.

Global scores for all age groups vary by country and time period but still lean to the more satisfied than unsatisfied with life.
  #22  
Old 09-10-2018, 11:02 AM
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I'd push it. That's what God did, and he blames all the fuck-ups on us. He doesn't hold Himself accountable, so why should I?
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  #23  
Old 09-10-2018, 11:23 AM
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This one is at least close. And more in low to middle income countries than in prosperous ones.

Global scores for all age groups vary by country and time period but still lean to the more satisfied than unsatisfied with life.
Thanks. That's as close as you can get to an answer to the hypothetical question, "Would people want to be born if they could have a choice in the matter?"
  #24  
Old 09-10-2018, 11:33 AM
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There's an uninhabited planet, and you have a button that when pushed, will start a very similar process of life on that planet as the one on this planet; so you'll get the chocolate ice cream, you get the sex, you get the relationships, you get the beautiful sunsets, you get the fun movies, you get the nice Thanksgiving family dinners, you get the cool 80s music- but you also have to claim accountability for the trillions of sentient organisms suffering. Every war, every genocide, every suicide, every atrocity, every famine, every plague, every harm- all that is on you. Do you press the button, or leave it the way out is?
No, I wouldn't push it, because actively doing something that causes suffering is wrong.
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Old 09-10-2018, 11:44 AM
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Other than degree, is this fundamentally a different question than "do you think it's moral to have a child"?
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Old 09-10-2018, 11:46 AM
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No, I wouldn't push it, because actively doing something that causes suffering is wrong.
So how are you managing without breathing or eating?
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Old 09-10-2018, 11:47 AM
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So how are you managing without breathing or eating?
editing: because maybe I read that wrong.

Perhaps I don't understand your question.

Last edited by manson1972; 09-10-2018 at 11:48 AM.
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Old 09-10-2018, 11:50 AM
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I'd opt to let nature take its course on that planet.
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Old 09-10-2018, 12:00 PM
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Other than degree, is this fundamentally a different question than "do you think it's moral to have a child"?
https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=859961
https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=854664
https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=855296
https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=835707

That's probably a third of the OP's threads, so this is at least some welcome variety.
  #30  
Old 09-10-2018, 01:19 PM
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editing: because maybe I read that wrong.

Perhaps I don't understand your question.
Just by being in an ecosystem and interacting with it, you are causing immense amount of suffering to other life forms. Every time you breathe, you kill hundreds of millions of microbes, and naturally whatever you eat had to die first. Suffering is not dependent on sentience.
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Old 09-10-2018, 01:37 PM
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Just by being in an ecosystem and interacting with it, you are causing immense amount of suffering to other life forms. Every time you breathe, you kill hundreds of millions of microbes, and naturally whatever you eat had to die first. Suffering is not dependent on sentience.
Can you show that those microbes are suffering? I don't think they are.
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Old 09-10-2018, 03:12 PM
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Suffering is not dependent on sentience.
This seems to be a contradiction in terms. Suffering is a subjective experience, and if an entity is not sentient then it can have no subjective experience.
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Old 09-10-2018, 03:29 PM
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This seems to be a contradiction in terms. Suffering is a subjective experience, and if an entity is not sentient then it can have no subjective experience.
Only if you define "suffering" as purely psychological, and I'm not sure why you would. Ever seen an animal in pain? You want to suggest it's not suffering?
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Old 09-10-2018, 03:31 PM
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Can you show that those microbes are suffering? I don't think they are.
So it's morally acceptable to cause death if one does so painlessly?
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Old 09-10-2018, 04:05 PM
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I just like pushing buttons.
  #36  
Old 09-10-2018, 04:09 PM
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Press it. If pressing it twice starts the life-with-all-its-misery-and-happiness process twice on two uninhabited planets, I press the button twice. If it would work 10,000 times, I'd press it 10,000 times.

Virtually everyone I know is quite happy to exist, even with the occasional hardships and setbacks they suffer.
  #37  
Old 09-10-2018, 04:20 PM
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Key point: Is it a jolly candy-like button?
  #38  
Old 09-10-2018, 05:06 PM
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There's a button that when pushed, will erase all of history from 2 million years ago to now: so you'll lose the wars, the genocides, the suicides, the atrocities, the famines, the plagues, all harm. But you also have to claim accountability for the trillions of sentient organisms ceasing to have existed. all that is on you. You lose the chocolate ice cream, you lose the sex, you lose the relationships, you lose the beautiful sunsets, you lose the fun movies, you lose the nice Thanksgiving family dinners, you lose the cool 80s music. You'd effectively be sparing them suffering by committing chronological genocide. Does Marcus Flavius press the button, or leave it the way out is?


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  #39  
Old 09-10-2018, 05:28 PM
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Only if you define "suffering" as purely psychological, and I'm not sure why you would. Ever seen an animal in pain? You want to suggest it's not suffering?
I have seen animals suffering and I consider them to be sentient. ("Pain" is not necessarily the same thing as "suffering.") I do not consider a bacterium to be sentient.
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Old 09-10-2018, 05:47 PM
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I have seen animals suffering and I consider them to be sentient. ("Pain" is not necessarily the same thing as "suffering.")
I can't figure out your point.
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Old 09-10-2018, 05:48 PM
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I'd opt to let nature take its course on that planet.
Likewise. And so, as nature, I press the button.

Last edited by The Other Waldo Pepper; 09-10-2018 at 05:48 PM.
  #42  
Old 09-10-2018, 06:23 PM
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There's a button that when pushed, will erase all of history from 2 million years ago to now: so you'll lose the wars, the genocides, the suicides, the atrocities, the famines, the plagues, all harm. But you also have to claim accountability for the trillions of sentient organisms ceasing to have existed. all that is on you. You lose the chocolate ice cream, you lose the sex, you lose the relationships, you lose the beautiful sunsets, you lose the fun movies, you lose the nice Thanksgiving family dinners, you lose the cool 80s music. You'd effectively be sparing them suffering by committing chronological genocide. Does Marcus Flavius press the button, or leave it the way out is?


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Almost like Thanos snapping his fingers twice.
  #43  
Old 09-10-2018, 06:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Bryan Ekers View Post
Only if you define "suffering" as purely psychological, and I'm not sure why you would. Ever seen an animal in pain? You want to suggest it's not suffering?
It appears to be, at bare minimum, dependent on having a nervous system or an analogue to one. Otherwise we need to define nearly everything as suffering--when a rock erodes, when water evaporates, when paper covers rock.

If you've got some cool way to define and detect suffering in entities lacking a nervous system, I'd love to hear it.
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Old 09-10-2018, 07:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Bryan Ekers View Post
I can't figure out your point.
I can't figure out yours.

You started by saying "Suffering is not dependent on sentience." But suffering by its very definition is a subjective experience requiring sentience.

A gnat can react to external stimulus but it is not doing so out of a conscious reaction. A nervous stimulation can cause a gnat to recoil from that stimulus. However, the gnat does not have sufficient brain function to experience that negative stimulus as suffering. An gnat is not sentient.

Then you said, "Only if you define 'suffering' as purely psychological, and I'm not sure why you would." I'm not sure why you wouldn't. Suffering is not reacting to negative nervous stimulation. Suffering is the conscious experience of negative nervous stimulus causing a psychological response.
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Old 09-10-2018, 07:44 PM
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You guys are concentrating on the microbes killed by breathing and ignoring the animals killed by eating. According the OP, pushing the button causes infinite more suffering than joy, hence anyone who would do so is some kind of psychopath. Even without the button, though, just existing can involve inflicting lots of suffering. I'm a little surprised the OP's "thought experiment" hasn't yet slippery-sloped into asking if we blame the someone or something that "pushed the button" on our behalf.
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Old 09-10-2018, 08:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Bryan Ekers View Post
You guys are concentrating on the microbes killed by breathing and ignoring the animals killed by eating. According the OP, pushing the button causes infinite more suffering than joy, hence anyone who would do so is some kind of psychopath. Even without the button, though, just existing can involve inflicting lots of suffering. I'm a little surprised the OP's "thought experiment" hasn't yet slippery-sloped into asking if we blame the someone or something that "pushed the button" on our behalf.
God is a psychopath. QED.
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Old 09-10-2018, 08:36 PM
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God is a psychopath.
...to the tune of "Love is a Battlefield"
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Old 09-10-2018, 09:22 PM
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I'm a little surprised the OP's "thought experiment" hasn't yet slippery-sloped into asking if we blame the someone or something that "pushed the button" on our behalf.
Just read some of the OP's other threads.
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Old 09-11-2018, 05:31 AM
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Just read some of the OP's other threads.
I have, hence my surprise. I'm wondering how many different variations on the "life is pointless and cruel, who's with me, and if you're not, there's something wrong with you" concept he has stored up.
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Old 09-11-2018, 09:48 AM
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You guys are concentrating on the microbes killed by breathing and ignoring the animals killed by eating.
I've never killed an animal by eating it. Have you?
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