Responding to Conundrum

A YouTube user named “Conundrum” posted a series of questions on my video Efilism: Arguing the Argument. I am going to 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 motivation to do something. It’s not the conscious recognition that your leg is broken that generates 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 motivation to do something. That motivation could generate an action that solves a problem. For example, if a crocodile is biting your leg, you might move your leg and try to escape or fight off the crocodile. But to have the intention to fight off 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 emotion itself does not contain that information. Motivation, in itself, has no representational content.

If you break your leg, there might not be anything you can do about it, although screaming might be a useful action (it could bring help). 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 lots of things you might be able to do, but the nerves in your leg don’t know anything about that stuff, nor does the emotion center in your brain. That level of understanding arises in consciousness after a lot of information has been integrated into ideas. Desire/motivation precedes intention.

If there is nothing you can do about the injury, then you might say “Fuck, I wish the pain would go away”, because there’s nothing you can do about it. After a while you will get used it, and only be periodically aware of it. The motivation will still have a function: to prevent you from moving, so 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 alleviates hunger, which is a kind of motivation. Pleasure is not a reward, because it does not alleviate any 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. To assume that pain is simply bad and pleasure is simply good is to beg the question.

There is no homunculus in the brain that runs away from a pain whip and toward a pleasure carrot. Pain is not a punishment and 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 you quoted?

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

Hedonism does not mean that only sentient beings are valuable. I don’t know where you got that from. 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 her on a date. If she says “no” then you feel pain. If she says “yes” then you feel pleasure. The value can generate different feelings. The value judgment isn’t the same as the feelings.

When you are in love, you walk around thinking about the person you’re in love with, not the pleasure they 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. They are the subjective experience of value judgments. If you want to go on a date with the girl, and she says “no”, your brain judges that as a bad outcome and you feel bad as a result.

You don’t “see value” out there in the world. You project it onto the world. Nothing has value per se. Valuing things is something that brains do. Brains value one thing versus another, in order to drive action toward one thing versus another, and ultimately to make organisms reproduce. Valuing is a brain function that evolved to generate behavior.

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 create a civilization, it might last for thousands of years, perhaps even millions. There is no theoretical endpoint to how long things might last. Yes, perhaps the universe will die a heat death, but perhaps it won’t.

The point I was making is twofold.

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

Second, I was pointing out that subjective experiences are nothing like objects or events, even though they are often thought of, metaphorically, as objects and events. (Inmendham has used dozens of metaphors, such as “golden eggs” and “smoke”, to refer to feelings.) If you metaphorically view feelings as objects, then you can be fooled into thinking that you value feelings in the way that you value objects. Thinking about feelings as transient qualities of subjective experience shatters this illusion.

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

My critiques of hedonism are:

  1. It’s an assumption with no justification, not self-evident as most hedonists believe.
  2. It’s futile due to the symmetry of pain and pleasure.

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.

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.

If moral values are objective, then they must be independent of my subjective perspective. They must therefore exist somewhere outside me, while also somehow being imposed on me. What is this subject-independent existence? How is it imposed on a subject?

People can agree on laws or norms within a society. In that case we recognize that those laws or norms come from us. We constructed them. 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 some cosmic authority figure. 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 rebeled 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.

Black slaves had the purpose of being workers to their masters, but not to themselves. Being a slave is not an intrinsic purpose of black people. They have the potential to be slaves, of course, but also to be many other things.

You do not have the potential to be anything other than a reproducing machine, because that is what you are. You can reproduce or you can masturbate. In the latter case, you’re still acting out the purpose of reproduction, but in a fake way. That’s the point: that we aren’t radically free to choose what we are. You can reject what you are, but you can’t fundamentally 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.”