Re: Infinite boredom? (was: >H Re: The Desirability of Immortality)

Mark Crosby (
Wed, 22 Oct 1997 14:20:26 -0700 (PDT)

On Tue, 21 Oct 1997 23:39:49 +0000 Nicholas Bostrom

< Facts are not interesting in themselves. They are
interesting *for* somebody in a certain situation. >

Yes, so perhaps intelligence is also not an
objective, consistently discriminable quality outside
of some context.

< [Snip] I also think that John is right about
intelligent people tending to be interested in more
things than stupid people. This, however, I take to
be a fact about human psychology, not a neccessary
truth about the essense of what intelligence is; as
demonstrated by the existence of highly intelligent
people who don't find anything interesting, for
example because they are depressed. >

But, it seems to me that "highly intelligent people
who don't find anything interesting" are about as
EFFECTIVELY intelligent as a supercomputer that is
sitting idle. When they’re not doing anything,
they’re only potentially intelligent.

< My guess is that what produces the feeling of
intrigue and interest is activity in some fairly
localised center of the brain, perhaps somewhere in
the limbic system. >

Well, the limbic STRUCTURE may be localized, but the
effects "certainly circulate and are integrated into
the evolving global buildup pattern" [1]. Are you
suggesting that these ‘feelings’ are just some
evolutionary spandrels that are no longer necessary
as feedback mechanisms for other mental functions and
we can therefore utilize them for whatever we like?

< [SNIP] What typically triggers this feeling can of
course be some very high-level neocortical processing
-- say, a physicist being excited by a formula
because he understands its significance. But the same
feeling could, in principle at least, also be
triggered by means of appropriate electrical
stimulation of the brain or by manipulating the
emotive circuitry of the simulated intellect. In
fact, the only reason that certain things naturally
trigger our interest is that evolution has found the
link conducive to fitness on the African savanna. >

Even limiting ourselves to genetic evolution, you
seem to be implying that evolution has ceased over
the last few hundred thousand years; if so, then
please explain how white skin was "conducive to
fitness on the African savanna". My point is that, on
some things, evolutionary psychology is
straight-forward, while on others the explanations
some have provided seem clearly procrustean.

< I therefore see no reason why the present
discrimination function by which humans discriminate
between interesting ideas or facts and uninteresting
ones could not be replaced by any other criterion one
might come up with, including the one that *every*
idea is highly interesting. >

I am trying to suggest that the reason this may not
be so easy is that there is overlap between
structural components and functional components.
Creatures at our level of complexity (at least so
long as their expressed features have been developed
through mutual coupling with the environment, as
opposed to some hard-coded, externally-imposed design
- and even there, most of us know the hazards of
changing one part of a program without considering
its impact on other parts), can not have easily
cut-and-pasted components, certainly not without some
ripple effects.

Not to say that hedonistic engineering should be
taboo, only that it can’t assume that all, or even
most, mental components can be replaced in a
plug-and-play approach.

< Nor do I see any grounds for supposing that the
present discrimination function is optimal for life
in the modern world, less for the sort of life a
superintelligence would live. "Optimal" should here
be understood in the relative sense, as being
conducive to achieving whatever other goals might be
held by the individual. Instead I would expect that
beings in the future, if they have the technology to
do so, will adjust their curiosity to whatever level
made them most efficient in achieving their other
goals. If pleasure is one of these goals, then rather
than making themselves inefficient by being too
curios, they could leave their curiosity at the
optimal level and turn on the pleasure directly,
without going through the trouble of first
encephalising it and associate it with a thought or
an idea. >

But, how can curiosity (or pleasure) be some
knowable-in-advance optimum that can be tuned without
feedback from current goals or tasks. How can it be
divorced from priority interrupts. (I’m curious, and
enjoying this analysis, but my curiosity is keeping
me from other tasks, which could have unpleasant
consequences ;-)

Taken to a perceived optimal extreme, this approach
would suggest that there are no tradeoffs between
various goals, that every function is isolatable.
But, removing other sources and simply tuning in a
‘pleasure channel’, keeping the volume low while
multiplexing other tasks, seems to imply that
pleasure, or its opposite, can, in this designed
post-human creature I presume you're talking about,
be disassociated from the performance of these other

< These considerations suggest to me that while more
intellectual curiosity, and its objective correlates
(such as diversity, information, novelty etc.) might
be very excellent things for people like us in a
world like the one we are living in today, it might
nevertheless be overly anthropocentric to assume
that these things will also play a central role for a
superintelligence or a society of uploaded humans. >

Unless you’re implying unlimited resources, the
ability to clone oneself to endless tasks (AND
somehow maintain a thread of cohesive experience), OR
a society of predominantly mono-functional agents,
why would the economics of incentives would be
radically different?

Mark Crosby

[1] This quote is from Peter Cariani’s VERY recent
essay, "Broadcast Networks, Temporal Codes, and
Global Integration" at which
is part of the currently active online ASSC seminar
on Bernard Baars "Metaphors of Consciousness and
Attention in the Brain".

Sent by RocketMail. Get your free e-mail at