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Will Superintelligences Experience Philosophical Distress?
John G. Messerly   Feb 16, 2015   The Meaning of Life  

Will superintelligences be troubled by philosophical conundrums?1 Consider classic philosophical questions such as: 1) What is real? 2) What is valuable? 3) Are we free? We currently don’t know the answer to such questions. We might not think much about them, or we may accept common answers—this world is real; happiness is valuable; we are free.

But our superintelligent descendents may not be satisfied with these answers, and they may possess the intelligence to find out the real answers.
Now suppose they discover that they live in a simulation, or in a simulation of a simulation.  Suppose they find out that happiness is unsatisfactory? Suppose they realize that free will is an illusion? Perhaps they won’t like such answers.

​So superintelligence may be as much of a curse as a blessing. For example, if we learn to run ancestor simulations, we may increase worries about already living in them.

We might program AIs to pursue happiness, and find out that happiness isn’t worthwhile. Or programming AIs may increase our concern that we are programmed. So superintelligence might work against us—our post-human descendents may be more troubled by philosophical questions than we are.

I suppose this is all possible, but I don’t find myself too concerned. Ignorance may be bliss, but I don’t think so. Even if we do discover that reality, value, freedom and other philosophical issues present intractable problems, I would rather know truth than be ignorant. Here’s why.

We can remain in our current philosophically ignorant state with the mix of bliss and dissatisfaction it provides, or we can become more intelligent.  I’ll take my chances with becoming more intelligent because I don’t want to be ignorance forever. I don’t want to be human; I want to be post-human. I find my inspiration in Tennyson’s words about that great sojourner Ulysses:

for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles …

I don’t know if we will make a better reality, but I want to try. Let us move toward the future with hope that the journey on which we are about to embark will be greater than the one already completed. With Ulysses let us continue “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”


1. I would like to thank my former student at the University of Texas, Mr. Kip Werking, for bringing my attention to these issues.


John G. Messerly is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET. He received his PhD in philosophy from St. Louis University in 1992. His most recent book is The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives. He blogs daily on issues of philosophy, evolution, futurism and the meaning of life at his website:


In my work, Posthuman Personhood, I consider the possibility that computers will experience anxiety, “Whether it is in fact inevitable that human beings will be replaced with computers, the anxiety associated with this possibility is itself significant. It may turn out to be the case that the experience of anxiety is precisely what differentiates human beings from computers. If human beings should ever cause a computer anxiety, then we will certainly be in a strange new world.” (p. 2)

Do you image that as a posthuman being you would experience anxiety?

What is Superintelligence? What is intelligence?
What is/defines Human? What then a Post-Human?

If destiny unfolds to “Super-size” everything, then to seek and to struggle and in doing so perpetuate suffering may not prove to be rational nor logical? Better not to struggle against the ebb and flow of impermanence and constant change? Thus “Super-intelligence” may choose not to participate in the struggle and strive for answers to incredible questions, (of first causes)?

To create/simulate and come closer than ever before to the incredible questions of first cause is still but best guess? Is still but simulation within “reality” to the point of the meaningless scrutiny of differences? (the “Artificial mind” that achieves Personhood is still no less a person?)

Similarly, if sufferings and existential angst are the purview of misguided sense of morality and purpose then once again, Superior intelligence may choose to reject and opt for amorality and impartiality towards existence and non-existence?

If the superior intelligence rationalizes that “Clinging” and “Grasping” in the face and struggle against impermanence creates suffering, then the end to suffering is clear?

Humans appear to be the only species which strive to be “more” than they perceive to be, driven by confusions over “meaning” and “purpose” and origin, (and fear of demise) - would a superior intelligence suffer the same pangs?


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