Re: Moral issues of uplifting
Tue, 7 Dec 1999 11:37:14 EST

>> There is more to behavior than just "preprogrammed behavior" and volition.
I assume by "preprogrammed behavior" Glen means stuff that is unlearned, i.e., stuff that's in there before experiences. I bet most of us associative conditioning -- the Pavlovian stuff. Pavlov's dogs were not "preprogrammed" to salivate, but were trained to. Yet it did not seem to require volition. I think, for the most part, octopodes are mostly the same.<<

Ouch, ya got me there<g>. Yes, there is a whole spectrum in between. I suppose what I should have said is that octopods show signs of problem solving behavior, which goes beyond instinct and conditioning. In the classic food in a jar example, an octopus who has never seen a screw-top jar figures out how to open it. The octopod has a goal (get the food), and is able to learn from trial and error in a relatively short time how to open the jar using a novel behavior. Now, whether you think this represents volitional behavior or not may depend on your definition of volition. I would say that when something engages in a contingent, novel behavior it is likely to be volitional, though the level of understanding may be low (but never-the-less present). I don't know if this would meet your criteria for rationality, however.

>>Of course, trying to pin down volition is a difficult (I do NOT believe it's
impossible) thing. So, Glen might be right that octopodes have volition yet not for the reason he gives above. (Granted, going beyond "preprogrammed behavior" is a necessary condition for volition -- at least, for volition that has an impact on behavior. If volition does not have an impact on behavior, then I have no idea how to test for it.:)<<

I wonder, does conditioning also count as "programmed" behavior (granted, not preprogrammed)? Just a thought. As for pinning down volition, it is difficult. I know that in patients recovering from severe brain injury, we use a behavioral definition for conscious, aware behavior, basically similar to the one I gave above, which is contingent, novel behavior. Often times the signal-to-noise ratio is rather bad when trying to figure this out in patients (random movements may mask the behavior, fluctuating level of consciousness may mean the patient's behavior is not always consistent, etc.), so we use statistical analysis to see if the patient responses are nonrandom.

>> I agree with the first statement. I gather the way to test understanding is
to present the organism with puzzles of the sort that it will want to solve, such as mazes to get to food or mates.<<

Yes, this is the way (see my examples above). However, how do you figure out what and why it wants? I suppose by starting off with something hat it is known to want and start offering a choice between that and other items. Wouldn't it be interesting to offer repeatedly a choice between a simple puzzle where there is food and a more complex one where there is not. If the animal after a time started to show more interest in the more complex puzzle when the food is clearly only in the redundant simple one, that may be an indication of pure curiosity in the test subject....and that might be the beginning of laying a foundation for justification for uplifting the species. Another good indication might be if the animal practices behaviors it has learned even in the absence of rewards (perhaps a hint that the animal might welcome improvement in its performance). True, this is reading a lot into these types of behaviors, but it is at least an attempt to understand life from that species' point of view and guage crudely how they might feel about uplift.

>> I disagree. The definition appears too ambiguous. In any discussion on
rights, the first thing to ask is Why rights? Why not do without them? The answer inside Objectivist and some libertarian and classical liberal circles is that rights are the means of defining individual autonomy in a social sphere so as to allow freedom of action. For instance, my right to property allows me to do what I want with my stuff regardless of what others want -- provided, of course, I don't use my property to violate their rights.<<

I tend to divide rights crudely into two categories, freedoms and protections. The second one, protections, I tend to apply to more individuals than I do freedoms. For example, an infant has many protections, but virtually no freedoms. In my way of thinking, protections apply to beings capable of feeling (and caring) about sensory input, whereas freedoms require more understanding of the situation (and the ability to care about what they care about?<g>). Also, to my way of thinking, responsibility goes hand in hand with freedom (but that's another subject). So, for the basic protection-type rights, I don't believe that rationality is necessary, just subjectivity. I'm in a rush now, but will be happy to elaborate later.

>> Now this does not answer the question either. It merely defines fuzzily
what rights are for. Why would we need them? gets closer to the mark. We need them because we need to live socially, materially, and long range, and also since we are rational beings. (Dogs, too, are social and require material stuff to live, yet they've not reached the point of drafting a constitution and the like. Why? Because they are not rational -- at least, not in the sense of a having a conceptual consciousness like ours.)<<

Humans didn't have any written code of laws at one time (and were still rational in my opinion). I would guess that several species have "cultural" rules of socialization which are learned from their family unit, but this doesn't necessarily indicate rationality.

>>Does caring fall under this? I think it's easy for a being which is nonrational to care. Territoriality (caring about something like one's nest, food cache) and kinship/mate affection (caring for relatives and mates) seems well demonstrated in many animals.<<

And I would say that we should respect these desires.

>> We could retreat to "reflective caring," but that does not help us, since
we need to know how to test for reflection. I submit that once we have reflection, caring or no, we will have sentience.<<

I would argue that you still need to have caring, otherwise you just have a knowledgable automaton. In my opinion, it takes more than being able to model yourself to achieve true must also have a model of what you want to be.

>>Also, I submit that individuals have rights even when they don't exercise their abilities. Thus, a guy who has the ability to be rational could own property, be free to do as he pleases even though he is irrational -- provided he does not violate anyone else's rights.<<

I agree that the capacity is more important than the constant functioning of that capacity, though I would argue that when someone is blatantly nonrational, there is a role for curtailing freedom in order to preserve protections for that person and others. It is where there is room for doubt that I err on the side of freedom.

>> The species itself does not think. Members of it do.<<

True enough, but there may be a genetic bias for how members of the species would feel about uplift.

>> However, asking them beforehand is impossible -- unless they are already
sentient, in which case uplifting would be redundant.<<

Does increasing the intelligence of already sentient beings then only count as IA? In that case, I'm not sure it would be possible to truly uplift the great apes (maybe not even dogs<g>).

>>Asking them afterward doesn't matter, since we won't be able to undo the
uplift and each on of them will be free to change his/her/its brain if he/she/it wants to. I'm not sure that the uplifting party has an obligation to undo the uplift, though I would suspect not.


Daniel Ust<<

Then I would suggest that the uplifter might be at least liable for providing the means for reversing uplift, or if the desire to regress is considered pathologic, then providing appropriate treatment. Can't just leave your uplifts to fend for themselves until their on their feet, or tentacles, or paws, etc.

Glen the very rushed Finney