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Extinction versus Reprogramming (Part 3 of “Reprogramming Predators”)
David Pearce   Feb 27, 2012   hedweb  

To end the suffering caused by animal predators, should the “serial killers” be rendered extinct, or just “reprogrammed”?

1) Extinction

One solution to the barbarities of predation is to use indiscriminate depot-contraception on carnivores and allow predators rapidly to die out, managing the resultant population effects on “prey” species via more selective forms of depot-contraception. Such advanced computer-controlled contraception technologies could be used selectively on zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, etc, so our wildlife parks don’t become overpopulated.

The feasibility of such population-management is shown by the use of fertility-regulating depot-contraception on male elephants living in the Kruger National Park in preference to the distressing practice of “culling”. Most human wildlife enthusiasts prefer the use of depot-contraception as a means of population-control to killing families of elephants; but they also find the idea of an absence of lions even in our wildlife parks to be abhorrent. This may be so; but the case for selective extinction isn’t absurd, even if we reject it after due deliberation. Why fetishise lifeforms endowed with a heritable tendency to prey on and strangulate others?

Parallels with the Third Reich are best used sparingly; but sometimes they are apt. It’s worth asking why there is such an extensive Net-based community that regards black-uniformed SS and their regalia as fascinating - far more fascinating than, say, colourless NKVD apparatchiks and the squalor of the Gulag, or the half-forgotten Ottoman genocide of the Armenians. If exercised with panache, extreme power and violence intrigue us. Thankfully, our captivation by stylish embodiments of evil has limits: immaculate SS are a lot more elegant than their victims on the way to asphyxiation in the gas chambers; but we aren’t going to preserve or literally re-create them except in movies. Some monstrous lifeforms are best banished to the archives for good. By the same token, the spectacle of large predators hunting and asphyxiating their terrified victims is more visually compelling than herbivores browsing inoffensively. Which would you rather watch on TV? If there is misplaced emotion here, it lies in our fetishizing the strong, handsome and powerful over the gentle and vulnerable.

It is worth stressing, repeatedly since the charge is made time and again, that this indictment of predators is not to blame a lion [or a domestic cat] for its behaviour. First, barring genetic engineering or freaks of nature, lions are obligate carnivores. Secondly, they don’t understand the implications of what they are doing. Any mutant lion with a theory of mind capable of empathizing with its prey would be rapidly outbred by “sociopathic” lions. Barring human intervention, a compassionate lion who rejected the “law of the jungle” would starve to death. Consequently so would its cubs. Lions are “sociopathic” towards members of prey species, just as throughout history many humans have behaved sociopathically to members of other races and tribes - though enslavement has been more common in humans than cannibalism. [“Nothing more strongly arouses our disgust than cannibalism, yet we make the same impression on Buddhists and vegetarians, for we feed on babies, though not our own.” Robert Louis Stevenson.] Either way, the extinction scenario for predatory lifeforms needs to be taken seriously - but not out of na├»ve moralism. The committed abolitionist may tentatively predict that centuries hence lions will not exist outside the digital archives - any more than the smallpox virus. For that matter, one may tentatively predict that the same fate will befall feral Homo sapiens. The conditionally activated capacity to act in bloodthirsty and sexually aggressive ways has been genetically adaptive in the past. We are all the descendants of murderers and rapists. Thus geneticists claim that over 16 million people today may be descended from Genghis Khan. But prediction is not advocacy.

Moreover, even if - contrary to what is argued here - one believes that lions and cheetahs are inherently valuable in exactly their current guise, there is still an opportunity-cost to their existence - where the opportunity-cost is the value of the next best alternative creature forgone as the result of choosing one lifeform over another. Are members of the cat family really ideal lifeforms? In a world of finite resources, only a small spectrum of phenotypes can be expressed out of the entire abstract state-space of possible genomes. Assume, as seems likely, that (post)humans will shortly have demigod-like powers over what kinds of lifeform and modes of consciousness the living world sustains. Ecological resources - and indeed mass-energy itself - will still be finite. If we opt to instantiate lions, then their existence entails depriving other species of life. So to judge that lions should exist is to affirm that it is better, in some sense, that sociopathic killing machines prowl the Earth rather than alternative herbivores. Taken literally, this argument ultimately applies to archaic Homo sapiens too. Is the source code of our constituent matter and energy optimally organized? Or would our DNA be better reconfigured to encode a species of blissfully superintelligent “smart angels”? The difference is that archaic humans will most likely become extinct not through outside agency, but as we progressively rewrite our own source code, reprogram “human nature”, and bootstrap away into becoming posthuman.

2) Reprogramming

Alternatively, should carnivorous predators be genetically “reprogrammed” or otherwise behaviourally modified rather than allowed to go extinct in the “wild”? Pre-reflectively, such reprogramming is all but impossible. In practice, the technical expertise is probably a few decades away at most. One can see anticipations of post-Darwinian life even now, albeit at the level of individuals rather than whole species.

a) One example of behavioural management technology at work is the creation of remote-controlled rats (“ratbots”). Electrodes implanted in the pleasure centres of a rat’s brain can make the rat follow instructions of its own volition, so to speak, at least from the perspective of the rat. Investigators currently anticipate that such enhanced rodents could be used to search for landmines or buried (human) victims of earthquakes. In the future, there is nothing to stop such technology being widely installed - together with mini-cameras and GPS tracking devices - in predatory carnivores to deter sociopathic violence against other sentient lifeforms. Indeed with the right reinforcement schedule, the most ferocious carnivore could be turned into a model citizen in our wildlife parks. With suitable surveillance and computer control, whole communities of ex-predators could be discreetly guided in the norms of non-violent behaviour.

No “inhumanity” would be involved in the behavioural reshaping process since at no time are the brain’s pain-centres stimulated. Nor does the augmented animal ever experience a sense of being made to act against its will. Yes, the ex-predator is “enslaved” to its reward circuitry; but so are humans. [“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” Blaise Pascal.] Indeed indefinitely generous doses of pure pleasure could be administered to members of the managed species in reward for “virtuous” behaviour.
Conversely, members of “prey” species can be bio-engineered to lose their currently well-justified terror of predators.

Again, this re-engineering sounds technically daunting. Yet recall how rodents infected with the parasitic protozoan Toxoplasma gondii lose their normal fears and actually seek out cat urine-marked areas. Pharmacology, neuroelectrodes and genetic technologies all offer possible solutions to the molecular pathology of fear when its persistence becomes functionally redundant. In the long run, the same kinds of hedonic enrichment, intelligence-amplification and life-extension technologies available to humans later this century can be extended across the phylogenetic tree. “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, affirms the World Health Organization constitution. The abolitionist project broadens this pledge of complete physical, mental and social well-being beyond our own species to (ultimately) all sentient beings. Any such extension sounds fanciful now. So too would a description of contemporary human healthcare 200 years ago. The same ethical principle is at stake. Counter-intuitively, the “law of accelerating returns” of computer processing-power means that the transition to universal well-being could be accomplished in decades rather than millennia if a human governmental consensus existed - though centuries might be a more conservative timeframe for marine ecosystems.

b) Another anticipation of how reprogramming might work is found “naturally” in the wild. Between 2002 and 2004 a lioness christened Kamunyak [“The Blessed One” in Samburuin] in central Kenya repeatedly adopted a baby oryx, at least six times in all, protecting each baby oryx from other predators, including leopards and kindred hungry lions. Kamunyak even allowed a mother oryx occasionally to come and feed her calf before chasing her away. “The lioness must have a mental aberration”, stated a UNESCO official in Nairobi. In principle, the hypernurturing behaviour of eusocial mammals like lions could be harnessed in genetically tweaked carnivores to protect members of species they currently predate. On this scenario, a ready dietary supply of cultured meat would have to be laid on as well unless more radical genetic interventions were made to alter existing lion physiology. Today, in vitro meat exists only as a laboratory curiosity. Commercial products are a decade or more away. But mass-producing cultured meat for “wild” or domestic carnivores should prove easier than creating the textures of genetically engineered meat needed to satisfy the more exacting tastes of gourmet human diners.

The technical details of such a program are of course challenging, to say the least. Nature has few food chains in the strict sense; complex food webs abound. But an ecosystem can support only around five or six trophic levels between its effectively insentient primary producers and the large predatory carnivores at the top of the trophic pyramid. For only 10% or so of an organism’s energy is passed on to its predator; the rest is lost as heat to the environment. So the problems of humane ecosystem management should be computationally tractable in a well-run wildlife park. The entire African lion population is currently believed to be around 30,000, down from around 400,000 in 1950. Lion numbers are dwindling fast due to habitat loss and conflicts with humans. The remaining lion populations are often geographically isolated from each other. So inbreeding and a lack of genetic diversity are increasing. Outside of zoos and “wildlife” parks, lions will soon die out in the absence of human intervention, as will most large terrestrial mammals this century in the wake of habitat degradation. For instance, the Earth’s most species-rich biome, tropical evergreen forest, is being lost at around two percent each year. Reprogramming and behavioural management technology can guarantee the civilised survival of reformed lions and their relatives for human ecotourists to enjoy, if we so choose.

One critical response to the prospect of reprogramming carnivorous predators runs as follows. A quasi-domesticated lion that does not prey on members of other species has ceased to be a true lion. Lions, by their very nature, kill members of prey species (and sometimes hyenas, cheetahs and each other). Yes, lions kill their victims in gruesome ways described as “bestial” if done by humans; but such behaviour is perfectly natural if practised by lions: it’s one aspect of their “behavioural phenotype”. Hunting behaviour is a natural part of their species essence.

Yet here we come to the nub of the issue: the alleged moral force of the term “natural”. If any creature, by its very nature, causes terrible suffering, albeit unwittingly, is it morally wrong to change that nature? If a civilised human were to come to believe s/he had been committing acts that caused grievous pain for no good reason, then s/he would stop - and want other moral agents to prevent the recurrence of such behaviour. May we assume that the same would be true of a lion, if the lion were morally and cognitively “uplifted” so as to understand the ramifications of what it was doing? Or a housecat tormenting a mouse? Or indeed a human sociopath?

Currently, sociopathy in humans cannot be cured; but various interventions, both genetic and pharmacological, have been mooted. When the therapeutic option does exist, should the treatment be offered? At present sociopathic human serial killers must be locked up for life. A “cure” that enabled human serial killers to become truly pro-social, empathetic beings would indeed “rob” them of their former identity. Such an intervention would be “coercive”, maybe not in the strict sense, but effectively so if the alternative is being locked up indefinitely. The same is true of violent repeat sex-offenders. Now consider another form of behaviour in lions whose practice by humans would spell incarceration for life. A mature male lion is genetically programmed to go into a pride, challenge the reigning male, and (if the invading male is victorious) methodically kill off the young cubs of the defeated male. Killing his rival’s cubs helps maximize the inclusive fitness of his DNA. Their mother will then go on heat again so the invading male lion can mate with her and sire his own cubs. Around a third of all lion cubs born perish in this way.

Mercifully, nothing so mechanistic plays out with human stepfathers and young stepchildren. But statistically, it is immensely more risky to be raised as a stepchild than by both one’s biological parents. If there were therapeutic interventions that could help stifle hostile feelings on the part of stepfathers to young stepchildren, would their use be desirable? Many stepfathers, for instance, might welcome their availability. Otherwise decent parents may be disturbed by the hostile feelings they feel toward their stepchildren - even though the vast majority of stepparents do not act on them in the extreme form practised by male lions. Infanticide is cruel irrespective of the species identity of the perpetrator. In the future, interventions can prevent its occurrence in our wildlife parks even at the price of tweaking the “natural” genomes of their members.

David Pearce is the author of the internet manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative, that details how the abolition of suffering can be accomplished through "paradise engineering." He co-founded the World Transhumanist Association in 1998, and the Abolitionist Society in 2002.


I am horrified myself by the idea of letting lions go extinct, even more of lending them a hand to this effect. It is also debatable whether “reprogrammed lions”, or “robotic lions” would still be lions, so the alternative may not really be one.

Of course, I am not inclined to bring forward bioLuddite, “naturalistic” arguments in support of this stance.

But if “suffering avoidance” is really the only and ultimate moral criterion, we could as well obtain the same net results, for that matter more “economically” in diversity and aesthetic terms,  by engineering prey species where pain centers are automatically switched off when individuals are being predated.

Most ethical systems, not just utilitarianism and Buddhism, give weight to the reduction of suffering. As anyone who as ever been waterboarded will attest, the suffering entailed by a sense of asphyxiation is profound. So an ethical case can be made that we should phase out human and and nonhuman predators alike. But this isn’t the purpose of “Reprogramming Predators”. Rather it’s to outline an alternative, “bioconservative” strategy that preserves the aesthetic appreciation of people who enjoy contemplating lions, while at the same time protects their victims (“prey”).

Yet is a lion that ceases to cause suffering to other sentient beings no longer a “true” lion? This question takes us into heavy-duty metaphysical questions about the nature of identity
and species essentialism
(cf. )

In response, I guess I’d ask whether a naked ape that starts to put on airs and wear clothes can still be classified as a naked ape?
And if not, does it matter?

OK. But I remark that you do not even consider removing suffering at the receiving end.

Why? Wouldn’t it be “natural”?

Stefano, I agree the option shouldn’t be ruled out simply on grounds of aesthetic disgust.

Perhaps compare e.g.
though since the roots of suffering don’t lie in the cerebral cortex, this particular proposal won’t work.

On (indirect) ethical utilitarian grounds, I think enshrining the sanctity of sentient life will lead to a happier outcome for civilization than a world of cruelty-free killing. But I agree this claim will need to be argued, not just assumed.

@ David..

OK, this article promotes your most convincing argument yet, indeed it is difficult to argue with your position here at all?

I do feel that your previous article was rather an exaggerated and passionate plea against the abhorrence and fear of asphyxiation. I was going to comment previously, regarding the process described, as I have seen a conflicting documentary that describes the text book kill as avoiding excess trauma in prey - the Cat’s jaws and canines evolved not to crush the trachea of prey, but to induce restrictive breathing, leading to hypoxia, and loss of consciousness and finally death without panic or struggle? As you are most likely aware, Lions sometimes put their entire mouth over the prey’s muzzle also.

These are text book kills, and not all go as planned, although we should deem all Big Cats as expert killers.

My point? Is that perhaps we over-exaggerate the fear and suffering of prey here?


When chase ensues, we can assume that “useful” fear promotes adrenalin release, and that if the prey escapes then the “thrill” of chase and escape promotes dopamine “reward” for the prey? An evolved process and feelings not unlike humans - have you ever been chased, then you understand this?

If the prey is caught, we can imagine fear being quickly replaced and overwhelmed by shock, and then followed by induced asphyxia, hypoxia, etc, with shock still superior to fear before death?

I propose that where Lions are concerned, we are over-emphasizing psychological fear that only we humans may fully understand and contemplate?

And I propose that in the same way, humans are susceptible to fear, adrenalin, and swift replacement by shock - think shower scene in the movie “Psycho” and Victims reactions - and that there is little suffering and no psychological fear of demise?

CygnusX1, I very much hope you are right. But empirical evidence suggrests that human and nonhuman animals alike can suffer PTSD.

In default of accurate measurement, a dimmer switch metaphor of consciousness as a function of intelligence is intuitively plausible, The problem is that there’s no evidence the dimmer switch metaphor is well-grounded. As microelectrode studies attest, the brain regions that mediate the most intense forms of experience are also among the most primitive. Further, none of the relatively small number of genes that distinguish humans from our mammalian cousins e.g. the variant of FOXP2 gene associated with generative syntax, seems directly implicated in our most qualitatively intense experiences.

Anyhow, my purpose was not to shock but to highlight that both factory farming _and_ free-living nonhuman suffering really is an immense ethical problem. Otherwise, reprogramming predators and a pan-species welfare state is just utopian dreaming - a whimsical idea with no moral urgency to motivate its implementation.

Regarding essentialism.. We love Cats because they symbolise not merely wildness but majesty and expression of freedom of will, and here you once again prempted my argument - do we have right to alter this very nature? How do we define a Cheetah that does not hunt and chase prey? Is it no longer a Cheetah, (ontological argument)?

Of course we could let darwinism play out and permit slow demise and extinction, in hope of resurrecting a variant and non-vicious species, yet this would not be a Lion either?

My opinion of posthuman neo-Buddhism, (as previously hinted), would be of view towards greater dispassion and non-interference, (Theravada - lesser vehicle), and I have no problems accepting posthuman protection and cultivation of the planet ecosystem, that would include respect and preservation of its natural predators.

Humans? Well I deem intellect as precursor for livelihood and understanding of non-harm to all living things?

Dispassion? CygnusX, I wonder if you might reconsider. If I may quote Robert Lynd:
“It is a glorious thing to be indifferent to suffering, but only to one’s own suffering.”

One of the more insidious effects of materialist science is its relegation of first person facts to some kind of second-rate ontological status. Yet we’ve no good grounds for believing that the “raw feels” of consciousness are less intense in some of our fellow vertebrates than in Homo sapiens.

My own personal sympathies lie closer to
than the costly, complicated and technically challenging project described in Reprogramming Predators. But either way, it’s impossible to reconcile maintaining the biological status quo with a compassionate ethic of harm reduction.

Yes dispassionate posthumans?

This is why I posed the question to you previously? Could you “accept” that this is also a viable projection of possible future human existence and relationship with nature?

“It is a glorious thing to be indifferent to suffering, but only to one’s own suffering.”

Indeed! And more specifically, is that enlightenment to the truth that one’s own, (human), suffering is inherently caused by one’s own outlook towards cravings, grasping, (of status quo also), and overcome by dispassion and rationalisation towards acceptance of circumstance, and impermanence? Moral-nihilism? As I said, I don’t see it this way?

This is what I see as a more viable future scenario. Yet this in no way diminishes your convincing argument, and I am now more open than I was previously towards the abolitionist goals.

Uploaded minds and space colonisation for other posthumans would also make them highly indifferent towards planet/spaceship Earth and its natural evolution?

I don’t agree with indifference proposed in the article you linked to however.

I suggested above, that non-interference would let Darwinism take its course of the natural extinction of predators, (specifically mammals), which may also sound harsh and indifferent? And then suggested perhaps reintroduction/resurrection of species with adjusted genome - this seems to soothe my conscience more towards overcoming a personal moral dilemma concerning the ethics of interference and consent?

Of course this also sounds like hypocrisy, (inescapable)? - to continue to let non predators suffer to support the status quo, and to help relieve (my) human conscience - yet it is a scenario I am still mulling over - then we could perhaps have our meta-ethical cake and eat it?

And this does not negate the possible tweaking of varied animal genome along the path of posthuman evolved ecosystem management, with presumably many species and plants adjusted along the way, (as you indicate, mosquito’s reproduction management as a priority for the welfare of all species and elimination of disease?)

I know this may still all sound unpalatable, yet I do believe that posthuman neo-Buddhists would be more aligned and focused with tweaking increased intellect towards elimination of “human” suffering and towards increased human wisdom and enlightenment - I am not sure how much Buddhism really aligns itself to overcoming animal suffering in opposition to a position of non-interference?

Jains predominantly have motive and concerns towards non-harm, as they believe that souls may be reincarnated to all and any species, as well as philosophy of non-interference to preserve karma, and acceptance of fate?

If there are any Buddhists out there.. then please let us know?

“It is a glorious thing to be indifferent to suffering, but only to one’s own suffering.”

I suspect that all ethical systems deal in fact with obligations to behave in fashions different from what gives us a most intense and immediate personal reward, or from what is often described as the “easiest” path.

OTOH, I also suspect that a substantial and self-serving component neo-buddhist attitudes is an individual hyperaesthesia to suffering in others.

Conversely, in many time-honoured value systems, the idea that not feeling empathy is a despicable and pathological trait goes together with the idea that there may be circumstances where we are ethically called to *overcome* our natural empathy towards others. So, no “indifference” perhaps, but “acting as if indifferent” may actually been considered, depending on the circumstances, as “glorious” in self-consistent worldviews.

One’s ethics and cognitive style tend to be closely linked
(cf. )
At first blush, any plea to tackle free-living animal suffering might seem to reflect an extremely empathetic, low-AQ mind-set.
But actually, extending the abolitionist project to the rest of the living world reflects a hyper-systematising, “Aspergers-ish” cognitive style.
Thus many “animal lovers” find the implications of an ethic of global veganism in the literal sense quite disturbing.

Anyhow, enough psychologising. We could presumably analyze each other’s cognitive biases indefinitely.

Two distinct questions:
1) Is a discipline of compassionate biology technically feasible?
Conservation biology elevates status quo bias to the status of a scientific discipline. I have tried to provide a “proof of concept” that a discipline of compassionate biology is technically feasible instead. (viacCross-species fertility control, reprogramming predators, behavioural-genetic modification, “catnip-favoured” in vitro meat, neurochips, GPS monitoring, computationally micro-managing every cubic metre of our wildlife parks, etc)

2) If the project is technically feasible, is the long-term application of compassionate biology ethically appropriate?
Philosophers love theorising, But I have aimed here for a “lowest common denominator” approach. What follows from a homely platitude on the lines of “other things being equal, act so as to reduce avoidable suffering.”
Given modern biotechnology, a cruelty-free living world is consistent with an Aristotelean, Kantian and utilitarian ethic.
I would argue that engineering a cruelty-free living world is ethically mandatory; but this is a much stronger claim.

1) Is a discipline of compassionate biology technically feasible?
2) If the project is technically feasible, is the long-term application of compassionate biology ethically appropriate?

Incrementally applied, the greater case may be proved as feasible and worthy and ever more convincing to wider audiences? So short term applications and successes will and should lead to greater acceptance..?

Knowing where to start? Utilitarian methodology towards priorities and selected groups must be the most pragmatic, (as is the norm) - thus Mosquito’s first! Species in immediate threat of extinction.. Big cats?

A good point regarding animal lovers, and I regard myself as such, despite my tendencies towards dispassion and rationalism. This may indeed explain my reluctance towards interference with “some” species, (mammals), rather than others. (I think all warm blooded animals/mammals including humans, share levels of empathy and compassion - warrior genes and predatory natures, packs, hunting groups, social hierarchies all comprise our favoured mammalian species?)

Posthuman groups? - which I feel, (intuitive), may be mostly disinterested and indifferent towards extending future compassionate biology?

Uploaded minds and absorbed VR existence
Cyborgs and other materialists
Interplanetary explorers and pioneers
Hedonists and applied human objectivism

Neo-Buddhists, and Neo-Hindu’s? (although I may still be wrong that evolved dispassion and rationalism would not lead to greater compassion extended towards management of the entire ecosystem).

Ps. Thanks for the link to the AQ test (Simon Baron-Cohen has also been discussed here previously) - I am somewhat relieved by my score as I get the impression that my age and lame brain has been leaning me towards lack of focus and fear of autistic tendencies, (and I do feel one’s age/aging and insanity has relevance also).

If somebody is still following the thread, I also wonder why priority should be given to predation over aggression. In fact, amongst predators aggressive instincts are often expressed in ritualised and relative innocuous confrontations. This is not necessarily the case amongst herbivores, who happily harm themselves and one another with any need for a predator’s intervention.

Accordingly, at least on a simultaneous basis with reprogramming the make, metabolism and ethology of lions (snakes, eagles, dolphins, spiders, swallows, penguins, etc.), it would be required in this perspective to produce hornless, sex drive-less, deers, or work at their extinction as well. And what about aggression amongst bulls, hens, rats, goats?

But, hey, physical pain as a consequence of violence is just one form of suffering. Frustration in the competition for food, sex, territory, or for social status when applicable, can be equally or more detrimental to an individual “happiness”. By definition, I dare say, given that while I am inclined to maintain that when we project our internal statuses on others we are simply hallucinating in the PNL sense, they can be equally or more detrimental to the Darwinian success of the the bearer’s genes, and so it can be expected to generate and equally strong or stronger reaction.

So, at the end of the day, it seems difficult to allow any kind of compeition

So, at the end of the day, it seems difficult to allow any kind of competition or social interaction between and within species, unless we take measures to prevent “suffering” from the receiving end. Something which I suspect might require to make the latter a kind of “philosophical zombie”, a category which is per se quite dubious (see Dennett, etc.).

True, even when gross threats such as starvation, predators and disease are removed, other sources of potential distress remain.
To give a concrete example of the aggressive behavior to which Stefano alludes, consider musth
in elephants. During musth, testosterone levels rise some 60 times above normal (cf. “roid rage” in anabolic steroid-using humans). Winning dominance battles can be intensely psychologically rewarding. The loser often undergoes long-lasting depressive withdrawal - quite aside from any physical injuries.

Technically, such distress isn’t an insoluble problem, Once again, _if_ ethically we seek to minimise and ultimately abolish experience below “hedonic zero”, then testosterone function (and aggressive behavior) in nonhuman animals is eminently controllable by artificial means.

One obstacle to compassionate biology is that most people today exhibit a degree of status quo bias. Thus most people would oppose such hormonal intervention as “unnatural”. But they typically do so wearing clothes: the natural-unnatural dichotomy is a colossal red herring.

P-zombies? Well, there is a sense in which our silicon (etc) robots today _are_ insentient P-zombies. The sentience and the pleasure-pain axis of traditional organic robots like us are just one way of implementing intelligent life. Empirically, conflict and cooperation can play out in both sentient and non-sentient robots. But critically, I know of no evidence that the raw textures of unpleasantness are functionally indispensable to high-functioning intellect. And on some fairly modest philosophical assumptions, information-sensitive gradients of intelligent bliss are ethically preferable to today’s nasty and mediocre states of mind - in human and nonhuman animals alike.

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