Responding to Conundrum

A YouTube user named “Conundrum” posted a series of questions on the video Efilism: Arguing the Argument. I will answer them here. Each question begins with a quote from me, followed by his questions/criticisms. I will put the quote from me in bold font.

Pain is the experience of increased desire.

So… when you have a leg blown off by a land mine and you scream from pain, what exactly do you desire, apart from the pain to stop? Desire for what has increased?

You don’t desire for the pain to stop. That way of thinking about emotion is fundamentally flawed. It’s a kind of homunculus fallacy.

Desire doesn’t start out as being “for” anything. It is preconscious. If you break your leg, the nerves in your leg send information to your brain that simply conveys that something bad happened to your leg. They have location information and they signal “injury”. This then generates the motivation to do something. It’s not the conscious recognition that your leg is broken that causes the pain. It’s the nerves firing in the leg. The conscious idea of what to do is secondary. A desire for something is secondary. That can only come later, once the motivation has been processed through an idea to become an intention.

An injury generates the motivation to do something. That motivation could generate an action that solves a problem. For example, if a crocodile is biting your leg, then you might try to escape from the crocodile. But to have the intention to escape from the crocodile, you must first identify the crocodile as the problem. The pain in your leg doesn’t carry that information. Other information (e.g. seeing the crocodile) has to be integrated with the information of the pain by your brain, to generate an idea of the problem and how to solve it. The motivation itself does not contain that information. Motivation has no representational content by itself. It is attached to ideas to create desires, such as “I should escape from the crocodile!”.

There might not be anything you could do about a broken leg, However, there is typically something you could do, such as calling for help, and keeping the leg still. If your leg is blown off by a land mine, you’re motivated to get help quickly so you don’t die. Maybe your leg can be saved. There are various things that you could do, but the nerves in your leg don’t have that knowledge, nor does the emotion center in your brain. The idea of what to do comes later, after information from the senses has been integrated with background knowledge. The motivation to do something precedes the idea of what to do.

If there is nothing you can do, then you might say “Fuck, I wish the pain would go away”. In that case, the desire is for the cessation of the “physical pain” sensation (nociception). You will habituate to it after a while, and then you will only notice it occasionally, or when it changes. The motivation will still exist, and it has an important function: to prevent you from moving, so that your leg can heal. In most circumstances, that motivation generates inaction, not action, but it’s still motivation.

The homunculus fallacy is a common error that people make in thinking about psychology. People often think of different parts of the brain as if they were conscious entities themselves, or talk about the brain as if the brain had its own inner brain. There is a subtle homunculus fallacy in viewing pain and pleasure as punishment and reward. A cupcake is a reward, because it satisfies hunger, which is a type of motivation. Pleasure is not a reward, because it does not reduce motivation. It is the experience of decreasing motivation. There is no little homunculus inside the brain that desires pleasure and could thus be rewarded by it. If there were, then a theory of motivation would have to regress inside the homunculus. We’d have to figure out what motivates the homunculus, or in other words, why the homunculus seeks pleasure and avoids pain. It is begging the question to assume that pain is simply bad and pleasure is simply good.

There is no homunculus in the brain that runs away from a pain whip and toward a pleasure carrot. Pain is not a punishment. Pleasure is not a reward. There is a mechanism in the brain that generates and evaluates action. Pain and pleasure are the subjective experiences of changes in the state of that mechanism.

Pain and pleasure are symmetric.

I disagree. They are different and pain has greater moral weight. You can check my video The Primacy of Suffering for details, if you’re interested.

Okay, so you disagree. “Moral weight” means nothing to me.

Hedonism situates value in subjectivity. Value is a subject-object relation.

There are two ways people express hedonism: 1) only sentient beings are valuable, 2) only conscious experiences are values. I don’t see any important difference between the two. They express the same idea.

Wikipedia page on Hedonism has quite a good overview of it, though I think incomplete. Pain and pleasure have been crucial to Hinduism and Buddhism - so thousands of years now. The First Noble Truth of Buddhism says, basically, that pain (dukkha) is an inherent part of life.

Lots of other philosophical positions are like that: Sentientism/Sentiocentrism, utilitarianism (and negative utilitarianism), and very specific positions, like veganism. You can also check out the umbrella term: suffering-focused ethics.

Was there a question buried in there somewhere? Are you disagreeing with the statement that you quoted?

Hedonism is the belief that pleasure is intrinsically good and pain is intrinsically bad for the experiencer. Since pleasure and pain are subjective experiences, aka feelings, hedonism clearly situates value in subjectivity.

Hedonism does not mean that sentient beings are valuable. Hedonism is a theory of what is good or bad for the subject, not what is objectively good or bad. Regardless, I clearly defined the term before using it, so you know what I mean by it.

Value is a subject-object relation. A subject judges things as good or bad for the subject. It makes no sense to think of value as an object or as independent of a specific subject.

Imagine a fox chasing a rabbit. The fox values eating the rabbit. The rabbit values escaping from the fox. Those values are not in objective reality. They are projected onto reality through representations. Each perspective generates different value judgments. Those judgments cannot be detached from their perspectives.

Valuing and value are not the same.

This point doesn’t make sense to me. Feelings are the things that do the “valuing” of external objects/events. Feelings are the inherent values. So the love you feel for someone is (a positive) value. You may say that you value the person you value, but it’s because of the feeling, so the target (person) would have an instrumental/external value, as you - the subject - experience this value through your subjective value of feelings of love. Another way to express this is that you recognize the inherent value of the person you love, as only sentient beings can experience, only sentient beings are valuable. All the other things (cupcakes, nails in eyes) have only external/instrumental values (positive or negative), because they affect sentient creatures (they provoke appearance of values - feelings - in them).

Inherent values (conscious experiences, e.g. love) are the light that enable you to do the valuing, to see value, in the outside world.

I haven’t seen any justification for why you would say that you could value something else than internal values (feelings).

Psychologically, feelings and values are different. Values are stored conceptual knowledge of what has value to you. Valuing is making judgments about what is good or bad for you. Valuing can be associated with feelings of pleasure and pain, but it isn’t feeling.

For example, if you are in love with someone, then you value being with that person. That value could make you feel pleasure or pain. Suppose that you ask a woman on a date. If she says “no”, then you feel pain. If she says “yes”, then you feel pleasure. The same value can generate different feelings. The value judgment isn’t the same as the feelings.

When you’re in love, you walk around thinking about the object of your affections, not the pleasure that she will bring you. When you are hungry, you think about food, not about the pleasure of eating. You are motivated toward real objects and outcomes, not toward subjective experiences.

Feelings are not inherent values. Feelings are feelings. They are associated with valuing things, but they are not value.

You don’t “see value” out there in the world. You project it onto the world. Nothing has value in itself. Brains value things positively or negatively. This has a biological function: to drive action. We act toward what we positively value, and away from what we negatively value.

Pain and pleasure are transient.

Yes, everything in the universe is transient. Everything exists “in the moment”. Some moments may last longer - a few billion years. If you don’t want to value this type of transient things, then what would be the reason to value other type of transient things?

Pain and pleasure are immediately transient. They exist only in the moment and are gone.

If you have children, they do not disappear the moment they are born. They exist over some period of time, and can generate children of their own. If we make our civilization sustainable, it could last for thousands of years, maybe even millions. There is no theoretical limit to how long things might last. Yes, perhaps the universe will die a heat death, but perhaps it won’t.

I was making two points.

First, I was pointing out the hypocrisy of efilists who say that everything we do in reality is meaningless because it will eventually be destroyed, while also saying that suffering is incredibly meaningful, even though it only exists in passing.

Second, I was pointing out that subjective experience is not physical. Inmendham often uses physical metaphors, such as “money”, to talk about feelings. That is misleading. Feelings are not an objective substance. Unlike money, feelings can’t be stored. There is no pile of feelings in your head. The feelings of the past no longer exist. We don’t value feelings in the way that we value money or other physical objects/events. Thinking of internal, subjective experiences as external objects is very misleading.

Pointing out the transient nature of feelings is not, in itself, a critique of hedonism. It is, however, a critique of the naive conceptions of pain and pleasure that are usually involved in hedonism.

My critiques of hedonism are:

  1. It is futile, because pain and pleasure balance out.
  2. It is an unjustified assumption.

Does it make sense to value transient experiences?

It reads as “Does it make sense to value values?”

Maybe if you would provide your alternative to hedonism, this question would be understandable.

No, it does not read as “Does it make sense to value values?”, because values are not transient experiences. Of course, it wouldn’t make sense to value values either. It only makes sense to value things.

I did provide my alternative to hedonism: valuing objects and outcomes in objective reality, and specifically valuing reproduction as the ultimate purpose of life.

Morality is a delusion/deception.

Is science also a delusion/deception? What’s the difference between the two?

No, science is not a delusion or deception.

What’s the difference between the two? Well, there are lots of differences between them. Science is a body of knowledge about the world and/or the process of acquiring that knowledge from experience. Morality can be understood in multiple senses: as collective values, intuitive knowledge of those values, or the belief that collective values are universal and objective. Belief in morality is belief in objective good and evil, or in other words, objective values. That belief is a delusion/deception. Objective value is an oxymoron. I have talked about morality elsewhere, and explained how it is a delusion/deception.

See What is Morality?.

Where do the efilists think morality comes from?

From recognition of values, reasoning, arguments, convincing other people, people agreeing on ways of doing. Once the fact of subjective experiences are recognized and agreed upon, people can start working in appropriate directions.

But it’s a meta-ethical question, so other people may answer differently.

You didn’t answer the question. You begged the question in “recognition of values”.

If moral values are objective, then they must be independent of my subjective perspective. What is this subject-independent existence? How are these objective values imposed on a subject? In other words, what is moral goodness and why should I be morally good?

I can explain where social values come from. People can agree on laws or norms within a society. In that case, we recognize that those laws or norms come from us. We made them up to govern ourselves. We can change them. Different societies can have different laws or norms. I understand that the laws of my society are imposed on me by social power, not by reason or by God. The laws and norms of a society are not universal, objective standards.

Morality is viewed as a universal, objective standard of value, and yet it is also viewed as subjectively normative. For example, Inmendham believes that I have an obligation to minimize the suffering of other sentient beings. Where does this obligation come from? Physics? Logic? How would you persuade me that this obligation exists? How do you know that it exists?

If you reject life, you are still a reproducing machine. You are just a defective one.

OK. And?

It was an “objective purpose” of black slaves in America to be servants, workers, etc. If they rebelled somehow, they were “defective slaves”. It didn’t change the purpose of why the slave owners bought them / bred them into existence. But they could, on occasion, choose otherwise and fight for themselves. You can treat it as an example, or if you have a problem with the “objective purpose” part you can treat it as a metaphor.

Being a worker or a servant is not the objective purpose of a slave. That is the slave’s instrumental purpose/function to his master. As an organism, his objective purpose is to reproduce. That purpose is intrinsic to him, not applied to him by someone else.

Slaves or not, we have instrumental purposes to other people. We use each other as instruments of our desires all the time. That’s what society is. The person working at McDonald’s has the function of making hamburgers for other people. He also has the intrinsic biological purpose of reproduction.

You are a reproducing machine, and you can’t choose to be something else. If you choose not to reproduce, then you will be a defective reproducing machine. You will go through the motions of a reproducing machine. You will pursue love and sex. But those actions will be detached from their ultimate purpose.

See Reproduction | Masturbation.

We aren’t radically free to choose what we are. You can subjectively reject your objective nature and purpose, but that doesn’t change it. I talk about this in Lucifer’s Question and To EyesWideOpen.

I choose to be an effective reproducing machine. I affirm life.

Sorry, but there must be something I missed in the video. I don’t see why do you choose to be this.

Yes, this is what you missed:

“There is no a priori foundation for value. We are not compelled to accept any value premise. We are not forced to accept or reject life.”