Re: Tragedy and Boredom was Re: Why just simulation? (fwd)

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Sun Mar 18 2001 - 16:04:50 MST

"Robert J. Bradbury" <> writes:

> I'm thinking of the oft-quoted figure that the average American watches
> 8 hours of TV a day. If you had all of your material needs met and
> could hit the artificial-"cocaine" button to experience continual
> pleasure, are you suggesting that there is not a significant fraction
> of humanity that would *not* take that route? One only has to look
> at the strategies people will adopt and the illegal things they will
> do to experience one or another form of "pleasure". Lower the
> barriers to that and I strongly suspect you will have a large
> number of people jumping in the boat.

The question is how large percentage that would stay in the
boat. Something always left out of anti-drug propaganda is the
percentage of people people who try various drugs and do not become
addicted; it is fairly high (can't remember the figures I have seen
for the moment, and for natural reasons they are just estimates
anyway). Most likely addiction requires more than just pleasure,
likely a certain vulnerability in the reward and behavior inhibition
systems (which could be caused by genetic, social or internal
factors). A certain part of the population are addiction prone and
would get stuck in the above scenario, another part of the population
(and, given the figures I saw) is likely to try it, sometimes
repeatedly, but still go on.

> > Tragedies might be useful training for recognising complex (but
> > possibly common) dilemmas where the outcome is a lose-lose situation.
> There is probably survival value in observing tragedies (or even
> experiencing them) because it teaches one what should be avoided.

Take Hamlet as an example. The plot describes a number of situations
(uncles ursuping power, duty getting in the way of love, too clever
plans with weak follow-ups etc) and the consequences. After seeing
Hamlet you might be less likely to remain indecisive when aware of a
crime, or you might take action in some way to avoid getting caught in
the Hamlet trap.
> Nick, while I will admit that some people are complex enough to
> motivate themselves to avoid boredom and find useful things to
> occupy their time. But I question how hard even we would work
> at these things if there were "short-cuts" we could take to
> feeling very pleased with ourselves.

Pleasure is a complex state. The more I study it in neuroscience,
psychology and philosophy the more complex it becomes. There is a
distinct difference between the pleasure sensation you get from an
injection of morphine and the pleasure in writing a brilliant but hard
paper. There might be some common signal systems involved, but they
are very different. I think Cszikzentmihaly pointed out something
important (something that began already with Aristotle and his concept
of eudaimonic happiness) when distinguishing between 'flow' and
> > Did I mention that one of my students implemented a kind of boredom in
> > his neural network agent to make it get out of loops?
> They let you have students now?!? I hope the school gave them an
> informed consent agreement to sign before they got enrolled in
> *that* experiment.

Let's see, one is programming missile wayfinding with genetic
algorithms, one is doing stock index prediction with neural networks
and the above student works on a reinforcement learning agent. As you
see, soon I will both have teh funding and weaponry for my easily
bored killer robots :-)
> > I think this is the reason why a certain propensity for
> > boredom is useful. The problem is tuning it: if the buildup is too
> > slow, you become obsessive, if it is too fast you jump from project to
> > project.
> Boy, do I ever....

As transhumanists, one interesting issue is how to tune these settings
to work with our goals and environments.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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