There are limits to our ability to enhance intelligence, and the intellectual virtues, through social reform and lifestyle changes. For thousands of years we have used stimulants like caffeine, coca, qat and nicotine to boost attention. Now we have increasingly targeted drugs that improve attention, memory and learning, with fewer side effects.
Sep 10, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Intelligence (Part 2)by J. Hughes
We can make the world more intelligent by reducing poverty and violence, and improving nutrition and education, and we can use exercise, diet, and life-long learning to improve our own intelligence.
Sep 5, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Intelligence (part 1)by J. Hughes
The ability to think clearly and make good decisions is on almost every society’s list of virtues. In this essay I discuss the debate over different aspects of intelligence, the degree to which they are shaped by genes, chemistry and society, and the role of intelligence in other virtues.
Sep 3, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Caring (part 3)by J. Hughes
We can encourage empathy and compassion through social policy and individual practices. But fully realizing our capacities for empathy and compassion will require careful, nuanced neurotechnological intervention.
Sep 1, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Caring (part 2)by J. Hughes
The growth of our empathetic ability may have been key for the growth of civilization, and civilization may have selected for it. Two social policies that we can implement today to further empathy are reducing inequality, and screening and treating autism and psychopathy.
Aug 29, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Caring (part 1)by J. Hughes
Empathy draws on both mammalian circuits that we share with other animals and cognitive abilities that only appear to be present in our closest relatives, the great apes and and cetaceans, and ourselves. As with happiness and self-control, there is strong evidence that differences in our capacity for compassion and empathy are tied to differences in the brain structures and neurochemistries that they depend on.
Aug 19, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Self-Control and Mindfulnessby J. Hughes
Self-control and attentiveness are cornerstones of moral character, and our capacity for these virtues are about half hard-wired. A child’s capacity for self-control predicts their adult likelihood of a successful life, and of myriad bad habits. I discuss the relationship of attention to moral behavior, the ways we can build a more mindful society, and how we can practice self-control and mindfulness with techniques like fasting, exercise and meditation. But many of us, even if we have above average capacities for self-control and attention, will also benefit from the growing number of technologies that enable self-control, from stimulant medications and treatments for addiction to gene therapies and brain-machine devices.
Aug 15, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Positivityby J. Hughes
Positive moods are a virtue, both in enabling enjoyment of life and in supporting prosocial behavior. But it is not the only kind of happiness, and in excess can be quite excessive. Along with positive moods we also want to cultivate flourishing, a sense that overall our lives are meaningful and going well. What are the public policies and life behaviors that support positive moods and flourishing lives? As we enter a “hedonistic imperative” future in which we are able to tweak our moods with “happy-people-pills-for-all” how will we find the right balance of positive mood to achieve flourishing lives?
Aug 10, 2014
High Tech JainismAdam Ford
Adam Ford records IEET Fellow David Pearce talking about desire and suffering in relation to Buddhism and Jainism. Published on August 09, 2014.
“May all that have life be delivered from suffering”, said Gautama Buddha. The vision of a happy biosphere isn’t new. Jains, for instance, aim never to hurt another sentient being by word or deed. But all projects of secular and religious utopianism have foundered on the rock of human nature. Evolution didn’t design us to be happy.
Yet the living world is poised for a major evolutionary transition. Natural selection has thrown up a species able to self-edit its own genetic source code; phase out experience below “hedonic zero”; and engineer the well-being of all sentience in our forward light-cone. Intelligent agents will shortly be able to pre-select their own hedonic range: its upper and lower bounds, and hedonic set-points. Posthuman life can be animated by gradients of intelligent bliss - a default hedonic tone orders of magnitude richer than today’s peak experiences.
Why Does Suffering Exist?
No one knows why suffering exists at all. To the best of our knowledge, unpleasant experience doesn’t play any irreplaceable or computationally unique role in intelligent agents. Inorganic robots can be programmed or trained up to avoid and respond to noxious stimuli without undergoing subjective distress. Likewise, nonbiological machines can functionally replicate the role of our nastier core emotions without their “raw feels” - the ugly implementation detail that blights so many lives today.
Fortunately, solving the problem of suffering doesn’t depend on our first solving the Hard Problem of consciousness. Neuroscanning and the tools of molecular biology are deciphering the “neural correlates of consciousness”. If we use biotechnology to eradicate the molecular signature of experience below “hedonic zero”, then on some fairly modest assumptions, phenomenal suffering becomes physically impossible.
So a practical question arises. Which existing psychological functions should we enrich, replicate or scrap? What kinds of function are best offloaded onto smart prostheses rather than biologically tweaked? Ideally, adaptations such as a predisposition to jealous behaviour might be abolished along with their nasty subjective textures. Such Darwinian traits have few defenders, even among bioconservatives. Other roles, notably nociception, will presumably be functionally essential for sentient beings to flourish for the foreseeable future - and perhaps indefinitely. Initially, preimplantation genetic screening of prospective children can ensure tomorrow’s humans are endowed with benign, “low-pain” alleles of e.g. the SCN9A(1) gene to modulate pain-sensitivity. People blessed with high pain tolerance aren’t vulnerable to the life-threatening information-processing deficits of congenital analgesia. Eventually, the avoidance of noxious stimuli can be offloaded onto smart inorganic prostheses, allowing life based entirely on information-sensitive gradients of bliss.
Jul 28, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Building the Virtues Control Panelby J. Hughes
We have already taken the first steps towards virtue engineering. We already take stimulants to get on top of our day in the morning, and to stay alert when we need to be. We give sex offenders testosterone suppression, alcoholics drugs that make them nauseous if they drink, lap bands for those who can’t control their weight, and anti-psychotics for mentally ill criminals. We just aren’t very precise about our moral engineering yet. The next steps will come from advances in brain science to understand the levers of our moral sentiments and behaviors, and how to push them with targeted nanomaterial-enabled pharmaceuticals and nano-neural interfaces.