David Musick (
Tue, 17 Dec 96 03:29:50 UT

Eleizer Yudkowsky has suggested that it would be wrong to kill a sentient
being, such as a human, but it is okay to kill a non-sentient being, such as a
cow. Many people feel this way. But what is so special about sentient beings
that it is "wrong" to kill them? Considering the view that uploading is
possible because sentient beings are basically certain types of highly complex
computer programs, why is it any more "wrong" to terminate a sentient program
than it is to exit Windows? Does the program gain any sort of mystical
"life-force" when it becomes 'sentient'?

According to one of my most persuasive currently active belief systems,
'sentience' is a particular quality that physical systems may exhibit, if they
are arranged in a certain way, sort of like a crystalline structure is one
quality physical systems may exhibit when arranged the right ways. I don't
know much about the details of sentience, but from an objective point of view,
I don't see why it is "wrong" to terminate sentient systems.

However, being a sentient system myself, I have a certain affection for
sentient systems in general, but I think this comes from my instincts for
self-preservation, a desire which also extends to anything sufficiently
similar to myself. So, I certainly don't advocate terminating sentient
systems; in fact, I want to do all I can to help them become even *more*

I am thinking that nothing is objectively "good" or "bad", but that these
words are really used to indicate whether something is helping or hindering
the achievement of our goals. If we like something, we say it is "good", and
if we don't like something, we say it is "bad". It seems like it's basically
a matter of personal taste.

However, I am a person who identifies easily with others, who automatically
internalizes other beings in my mind and feels a great deal of empathy for
others, and because I do this, it really upsets me when I am aware that others
are suffering. My system of ethics is entirely selfish, based only on my
personal desires, but because I have the habit of identifying myself with
others and because I have a difficult time making a clear distinction between
myself and my internal models of other people, my system of ethics also drives
me to work for what I consider to be the well-being of others. I also
identify easily with certain kinds of animals, especially mammals, and it is
upsetting to me when I imagine certain types of animals experiencing anything
too unpleasant. That is why I don't eat certain types of animals. I do eat
sea food, however. When I imagine being a fish or a clam or something like
that, it doesn't feel like there's much of a capacity for suffering, so eating
them doesn't cause me any discomfort.

Of course, I'm aware that my discomfort in eating certain animals is
completely self-generated, but that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable.
The discomfort I feel when I consider harming myself or members of my family
is also completely self-generated, but knowing that doesn't make the thought
any less disturbing.

- David Musick

-- Notice the subtle details in everything --