Sunday, May 27, 2012

Solidifying the argument

It's time to solidify the basic antinatalist argument. I've talked at length on this blog about how a value equation should be governed by how causality shapes the phenomenology -- in the forms of qualia and quanta -- of the universe. Well, there are some tangential concepts floating around this place that may not have been explicitly linked to this basic argument up until now, so let's link them once and for all and make our position as rock solid as it will probably ever be.

In a past post, I said:

If there is nothing necessary about life, then we cannot possibly justify it, given that stakes are present. We can only justify taking risks with stakes involved where it's necessary, or where the stakes are the lowest possible out of all the options. If the lowest possible number of stakes within a given scenario is zero, and the other options are not necessary, then we should choose the option with zero stakes.

So what determines whether an action is necessary or not? There are several key components:

1. Value
2. Continuity of consciousness
3. Empirical data/information
4. Probability
5. Abstraction
6. The ego as a process (independent of the phenomenon of sentience)

How can these components be linked together to coherently describe the necessity of mitigating suffering through basic utilitarian mathematical calculations? Simple:

1. I propose that, in the absence of teleology or a god, I should be allowed to stab someone with a knife, because it is physically possible for me to stab someone with a knife.

2. But stabbing someone with a knife is not necessary. Why do something unnecessary if it's probably, based on our past empirical experience of reality, going to cause suffering? Furthermore, in this particular instance, I am not stabbing a mass murderer, rapist, etc., so I am changing the other side of the equals sign (the sum) in the value equation in favor of negative sensation.

3. But why value sensation? It is physically possible to not value sensation, and there is no universal overseer, so why does it matter if we torture sensory agents?

4. Value is a necessity of our continuity of consciousness. So long as we're conscious, we are, wittingly or unwittingly, value agents. For every conscious thought that I process in favor of acting one way, I am necessarily discarding a near-infinite array of other potential actions. Therefore, if I choose to stab someone, I do so because I value that action more than all other potential actions available to me within that arbitrary moment -- including that action that we might erroneously refer to as "refraining from acting."

We could spin a wheel with "stab someone" as one of the options and then actually stab someone once the wheel stops at that option, but that would necessarily mean that we value having our decisions made for us by the physics of momentum. We might subjectively feel apathetic regarding what we're doing, but we still prefer the randomness of the action to the non-randomness of the alternatives. Put another way, it is impossible to act randomly; it is, however, possible to act according to some arbitrary rule, like what the first action is that pops into your head, or which action the wheel lands on; nevertheless, it is still impossible to randomly decide to act according to some arbitrary rule for the same reasons that determinism dictates everything else and randomness doesn't; the decision must be made according to a value system. Maybe suffering isn't valuable, but until another, more suitable thing to value is presented, we don't have a choice; there is no such thing as being simultaneously conscious and non-evaluating.

Whether we are mindful of what we're doing or not, we are sentient beings; therefore, all of our decisions are made based on sensation -- whether our own sensations, or the sensations of others. We innately value avoiding pain; our bodies always reflexively attempt to dispense with it, so our acting in favor of avoiding pain is an indication of pain's value. It is necessary, according to our bodies, to avoid pain. If you intentionally attempt to control your body's desire to avoid pain, it's because you fear a greater pain that the body cannot foresee, or because you are attempting to demonstrate a point that, if not made, will cause a kind of mental discomfort.

5. But what if I'm sadistic, and gain incredible satisfaction and pleasure from stabbing someone? What if my pleasure outweighs the other person's suffering -- and we can somehow scientifically deduce as much with acute neurological instruments? Who cares if the action of stabbing the other person is not necessary?

6. It is necessary to not act in this manner, because of our value system mentioned above. I can just as easily gain pleasure by merely thinking about the stabbing, or by doing something totally different altogether. The pleasure experienced won't be quite the same, or even as intense, but it isn't necessary to stab someone.

7. But why do we value the sensations experienced by other sentient beings just as much as we value the ones that we personally experience? If I'm altering the value equation in favor of my pleasure, even at someone else's expense, I'm still reducing the negative value of the equation, right?

8. I can still alter the equation in favor of my pleasure without stabbing someone; stabbing someone, then, is wasted suffering.

9. But how do we know that the other person's suffering is real in the first place?

10. If we empirically observe the world and the "experiment" of all [ostensibly] sentient beings who've been stabbed leans toward a one hundred percent rate of external signifiers of suffering, then the probability is high that they suffer just as we do.

11. The human individual is an arbitrary abstraction based on the process of ego; we would not be so easily swayed in favor of the belief that personhood is sacred if our egos were not continuous, discrete processes utilizing a set of sensations and experiences behind a defined physical boundary.

12. The process of ego is independent of the sensations necessary for the ego to exist; these two are not one and the same for the same reasons that gasoline is not the same thing as a motor vehicle. Therefore, the space and time occupied by a sensation does not determine its value; the value is determined only by the sensation itself. We can develop a logical understanding of why harming someone in the absence of a greater amount of harm looming overhead is a bad idea, because there is no "harming someone"; there is only "causing electricity in such a way as to elicit negatively valuable physical reflexes." If we combine this axiom with 4., then we quickly realize why the suffering of others is valuable.


  1. It's strange how similar this post is to the chains of reasoning I've gone over many times before. However, it seems that this never leads me to the places I want it to go. In particular, on point 4, is it really not possible to not assign negative value to suffering? Couldn't I simply assert that suffering has positive value and should be promoted while pleasure has negative value and should be avoided? Of course, as you said our bodies respond in predictable ways to painful stimuli but to take this as justification of the value in suffering seems like a mere shifting of the problem. No matter which way I approach this issue it always seems like the value of any particular thing is simply defined into existence in a manner that always falls short of the desired concreteness.

  2. Everyone has the physical potential to value every concept. However, deeper introspection into the evaluation process has led me to arrive at the idea that:

    1. No matter what I determine is valuable, I do so based on my conscious experience, which is a product of the aggregate of sensory information that I take in as an organism and is beyond my control in a deterministic reality.

    2. All other [apparently extant, according to the available data] value agents operate in the same manner.

    3. Each value agent is ultimately formless if we disregard time, so if you're nothing like your ten-year-old self -- either in physical composition or the philosophical and psychological result of that composition -- then there is no more reason to conclude that you are that ten-year-old than to conclude that you are me.

    If you are forced, by merely existing, to value things which benefit the product of the aggregate of your experiences, then a higher realization that those experiences are qualitatively equal to all others (one hydrogen atom is qualitatively equal to another hydrogen atom, but not equal in space or time) needs to take place.

  3. Of course, there may be nothing concrete about these axioms at all, but we may never know concreteness of any sort so long as our conscious experiences -- whether in their current forms or in some daisy-chained, updated one -- remain finite in scope. True objectivity could require a kind of infinite experiential potential.

  4. >If you are forced, by merely existing, to value things which benefit the product of the aggregate of your experiences [...]

    But no one is forced to conclude that. While agents may be forced to value something they aren't forced to value any particular thing.

    I can stipulate to the manner in which agents tend to derive their values from experience and I can also stipulate that my experiences are qualitatively the same as everyone elses'. However, I don't have to recognise of the validity of the way in which value is derived from experience and subsequently manifests itself as value through the actions of those agents. It should be pointed out here the distinction between value considered as an interpretation of an experience and the value which "seems" to be intrinsic to that particular experience.

    My point was that even though agents generally assign negative value to pain and suffering, they could just as well do the opposite which may lead them to conclude that stabbing people is preferable to not stabbing them. Moreover, at no point are they forced to conclude that their beliefs in the goodness of stabbing people don't logically follow from their experiences as an agent. This diminishes the extent to which you can "solidify the argument" in the manner described in your post.

  5. All value judgments are made based on what is beneficial to the organism, no matter how indirectly; this is inescapable for the same reasons that not being able to fly after jumping out of a window is inescapable.

    For example, I decide that nothing has meaning or value. Perhaps my alleged realization depresses me, but it's not something that I chose to stumble across. I can certainly "choose" to change my mind (at least to the extent that anyone can, given determinism), but maybe that makes me feel like I'm lying to myself, which turns out to be a greater negative than the prospect of nothing being valuable. Therefore, I "choose" to value the notion that nothing is valuable -- a contradictory stance, but humans are certainly capable of contradiction.

    If I didn't truly value my realization that nothing has value, then I wouldn't bother to even think about it in the first place, and would instead divert brain energy to something more pleasant. Perhaps I'm forced to make this "realization" one day when I'm not particularly deep in thought, but even though I'm not consciously valuing my realization, I still made it in the first place -- a type of value similar to a dog unwittingly valuing its sense of smell, offspring, or a piece of meat.

    This is one of the harder premises to tackle; the rest are more obviously demonstrative of why we are only physically capable of valuing those things which benefit us as sentient organisms. Even if, say, heroin doesn't benefit you in the long run, the belief that life with it is better than your current position without it makes you temporarily favor heroin over not-heroin, and addiction quickly sets in thereafter; a positive sensation occurred somewhere in your brain when your train of thought transitioned from not-heroin to heroin, if only briefly, and the result was that you tried heroin.

    You cannot choose to value something, given determinism; you can only arrive at a position of value based on circumstance. I am, in my current state, physically incapable of valuing the conversion of all public schools into Chuck E. Cheeses; it is currently not an option available to me.

    Sure, no one is being forced to make the realization that sensation is intrinsically valuable, but they don't have to be in order for it to be true. This realization is a philosophical stance -- not a basal value judgment -- and thus should be treated like any other philosophical stance, e.g. atheism. There is nothing that all human beings universally agree on. So what? Invoking this criterion as an essential component of what we're discussing is basically invoking the argument from popularity. I'm not saying that the above realization is a necessity of being sentient -- just that valuing what's personally advantageous is.

    And people assign value to negative things all the time, but that's because this isn't a binary issue. Your pain may be my pleasure, or my own pain may be my pleasure in an entirely separate part of my brain. Maybe I decide that hating myself is valuable, but I do so because it gives me a strange, masochistic kind of emotional satisfaction -- that, or it makes me feel like I'm helping others by "stepping out of the way," or something similar.

  6. I've heard all I wanted. Thanks for your input.

  7. Even when we disagree, I still appreciate both your lack of ego and your ability to detect redundant communication.