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

Nicholas Bostrom (
Sat, 25 Oct 1997 00:31:22 +0000

Mark Crosby wrote:

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

> < [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.

Not necessarily. If they are not too depresed, they might continue to
do some work out of habit or fear of the consequences of neglect.

> < 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?

By no means! These structures are very necessary today. What I was
saying was that in the future we might want and be able to change the
way these feelings are triggered, so that they would only be
triggered by thinking that might be practically useful. To put it
more provocatively: art tends to be useless, so it would seem like a
good idea to rewire us so that we no longer find art interesting, and
to use other methods to get the pleasure or emotional experiences
that we would have obtained from wasting mental resources on art.
Unless, of course, we think that art is valuable in itself. (And
unless and until such rewiring becomes commonplace, art will also
maintain an instrumental value.)

> 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".

I certainly did not intend to imply that. I used the reference to the
African savanna only in order to vivify my point that what we find
intellectually interesting today is (at least partly) dependent on
our evolutionary prehistory. Many people seem to regard "pure
intellectual curiosity" almost as if it were a sacred and
unimprovable gift from God. (I do think it is a extremely valuable
trait of character in humans, though.) But what is interesting is
not, so to speak, a metaphysical truth; it is a contingent fact about
human (and animal) psychology that we tend to find such things as
complexity, variety and self-organization interesting. There is no
reason why we should not change what we find interesting, if that
would make us more efficient.

> < 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. >

> 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.

Yes, certainly we should not assume that.

> < 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?

You have a point, but let me clarify what I am arguing: Consider
anger. It's an emotion that did more good than bad to the
individual (or his genes) in our evolutionary past, but might
nevertheless be maladaptive in today's world. Most agents nowadays,
whether persons or countries, have enough intelligence and education
that they would get better results if they control their anger and
decide what to do by means of rational deliberation than if they let
loose their wrath. Similarly, I suggest, with intellectual curiosity.
That is another emotion. I thinkt that in the future we will have
enough intelligence and knowledge that we will get better result if
we decide what to devote our intellectual resources to by means of
rational deliberation rather than following our instinct. As opposed
to anger (which, it should be said, might still be useful on some
rare occasions), intellectual curiosity has not yet become redundant
as an instinctual guide to appropriate behavior, but as we learn more
about the potential of different research fields, this will probably

Nick Bostrom

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