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Can Biotechnology Abolish Suffering?

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Can Biotechnology Abolish Suffering? is a collection of essays by utilitarian philosopher David Pearce. The essays deal with a variety of subjects, including the abolition of suffering through biotechnology, negative utilitarianism, our obligations toward non-human animals, the nature of consciousness, and the future of intelligent life.

617 pages, Kindle Edition

Published September 13, 2017

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About the author

David Pearce

14 books53 followers
David Pearce is a British independent philosopher. He believes and promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the abolition of suffering in all sentient life. His book-length internet manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how technologies such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, pharmacology, and neurosurgery could potentially converge to eliminate all forms of unpleasant experience among human and nonhuman animals, replacing suffering with gradients of well-being, a project he refers to as "paradise engineering". A transhumanist and a vegan, Pearce believes that we (or future evolutions of humans) have a responsibility not only to avoid cruelty to animals within human society but also to redesign the global ecosystem so that animals do not suffer in the wild.

Pearce co-founded Humanity+, then known as the World Transhumanist Association, and is a prominent figure in the transhumanist movement, inspiring a strain of transhumanism based on paradise engineering and ending suffering.

Pearce is primarily known as the author of The Hedonistic Imperative, a 1995 book-length manifesto in which he theorized how to "eradicate suffering in all sentient life" through paradise engineering. In Pearce's view, suffering is not necessary for humans and only exists because humanity evolved through methods that emphasised survival, rather than happiness. He writes that mental suffering will someday be seen as a relic of the past, just as physical suffering during surgery was effectively eliminated with the advent of anaesthesia.

In his work, Pearce outlines how drugs and technologies, including genetic engineering and nanotechnology, could enable the end of suffering in all sentient life. In the short term, Pearce argues, well-being can be helped by designer drugs, especially since safer mood-brighteners are becoming more readily available. In the long-term, however, suffering could be abolished by genetic engineering through biotechnology.

In 1998, Pearce co-founded Humanity+, the international transhumanism association, with fellow philosopher Nick Bostrom, now the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. The association, then known as the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), is a nonprofit organisation that advocates transhumanism – an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.

Pearce's ideas have inspired a strain of transhumanism based on paradise engineering. Pearce is vegan, and the increasing number of vegans and vegetarians in the transhumanist movement has been attributed to his influence.

More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Pe...


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Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews
Profile Image for Jakob Sønstebø.
16 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2022
This collection of essays radiates a deep compassion for all sentient life and a remarkable willingness to take strange ideas and their even stranger consequences seriously. All of this coupled with (and this is what really sets this book apart) a seemingly total lack of status-quo bias makes this a worthwhile read for anyone looking for new and refreshing input to their usual way of looking at things.

With that said, it is hard not to question the feasibility of some of his proposed solutions. It is by no means certain that we can simply "shift hedonic zero" using genetic engineering, and there are of course a number of issues related to using fine-grained computational accessibility of the ecosystem to ensure a blissful life for all sentient beings. Nevertheless, most of these objections are practical in nature and it is possible that there are alternative, perhaps slightly less ambitious versions of these that, while not "abolishing suffering" in full, may help us resolve some of the problems related to what he calls "nasty Darwinian life".

In conclusion, read this book with an open, but (as always) critical mind and I'm sure it will bring you something of value (even if that something is simply a genuine, non-caricatured account of Transhumanism (something that is surprisingly hard to come by))
Profile Image for Teo 2050.
839 reviews79 followers
April 3, 2020

2020: Reread now that there was also an audiobook version; it doesn’t contain the appendix of objections and David’s responses to them over the years, nor the Q and A in the end, but they’re included in the $1 Kindle ebook. The narrator didn’t always emphasize stuff correctly, but overall it was very listenable for a book with a lot of long sentences packed with ideas and technical jargon. I do recommend the audiobook for anyone interested who wouldn’t otherwise read it; as a contrast to the narrator’s tone, David has also covered a lot of the main points in podcast interviews given over the last few years. Podcast listeners may also want to playlist adjacent interviews from Andrés Gómez Emilsson (Qualia Computing) and Mike Johnson (OpenTheory.net), both from the Qualia Research Institute. I believe these people are way ahead of their time in the kinds of questions they ask and the problems they’re trying to solve for the future of sentient experience.

2018: If we can’t accept or endure the suffering that exists, then this is as promising a blueprint (for what to do about it) as any that I know of. I highly recommend taking the time to view the world through philosopher David Pearce’s lens and especially reading his answers to the numerous objections he’s received. The Hedonistic Imperative (1995) and the more recent essays have been formative for my thinking, values, and worldview. _At least_ it’s the most fascinating SF.


Pearce D (2017) (17:47) Can Biotechnology Abolish Suffering?

Preface by Magnus Vinding


Part I: The Abolitionist Project
• Introduction
• 1: Why It Is Technically Feasible
• Now what if, as a whole civilisation, we were to opt to become genetically hyperthymic - to adopt a motivational system driven entirely by adaptive gradients of well-being? More radically, as the genetic basis of hedonic tone is understood, might we opt to add multiple copies of hyperthymia-promoting genes/allelic combinations and their regulatory promoters - not abolishing homeostasis and the hedonic treadmill, but shifting our hedonic set-point to a vastly higher level?
• 2: Why It Should Happen
• 3: Why It Will Happen
• Non-Human Animals

01. The Reproductive Revolution: Selection Pressure in a Post-Darwinian World
• Two Contrasting Views of Future Human Evolution
• • 1) Bioconservatism
• • 2) Biorevolution
• Genetic Roulette versus Designer Babies
• • Recalibrating the Hedonic Treadmill
• Future Nociception: The End of Physical Pain?
• • The Cyborg Solution versus Radical Recalibration
• • Gradients of Bliss?
• • Spiritual Well-Being?
• A Reproductive Elite?
• Some Unknowns
• • Human Cloning
• • Autosomal Gene Therapy and Enhancement
• Potential Pitfalls
• • The Spectre of Coercive Eugenics
• • The Future of Homosexuality
• • The Future of Bipolar Disorder
• • The Future of Autism Spectrum Disorders
• Calculating Risk-Reward Ratios
• The End of Sexual Reproduction?
• Selection Pressure in an Age of Quasi-Immortality

02. High-Tech Jainism
• Introduction
• Why Does Suffering Exist?
• The Reproductive Revolution
• Rapid Genome Self-Editing
• Why Recalibration Matters
• Who Benefits?
• The Rise of Full-Spectrum Superintelligence
• The Plight of the Cognitively Humble
• Suffering and Existential Risk
• Paradise Engineering?
• References

03. Brave New World? A Defence of Paradise-Engineering
• Stasis
• Imbecility
• Amorality
• False Happiness
• Totalitarian
• Anthropocentric
• Caste-bound
• Philistine
• Things Go Wrong
• Consumerist
• Loveless
• Gene-Splicers versus Glue-Sniffers: The molecular biology of paradise

04. Utopian Surgery: Early arguments against anaesthesia in surgery, dentistry and childbirth
• Introduction
• Historical Background
• The Case for Pain
• The Conquest of Suffering
• Nociception without Tears
• Crossing the Threshold

05. Utopian Neuroscience: Superhappiness: Ten Objections to Radical Mood-Enrichment
• Introduction
• 1) The ETHICAL objection
• • Possible response
• 2) The TECHNICAL objection(s)
• • Possible response
• 3) The ‘EXPERIENCE MACHINE’ objection
• • Possible response
• • Possible response
• 5) The CHARACTER-SAPPING objection
• • Possible response
• 6) The ‘STUCK-IN-A-RUT’ objection
• • Possible response
• 7) The SOCIALLY DISRUPTIVE objection
• • Possible response
• 8) The SELECTION PRESSURE objection
• • Possible response
• 9) The RISKS of HASTE objection
• • Possible response
• 10) The CARBON CHAUVINISM objection
• • Possible response
• CONCLUSION: Superintelligence, Superlongevity and Superhappiness?

Part II: Bioethics

06. The Pinprick Argument
• Negative Utilitarianism
• Direct versus Indirect Negative Utilitarianism

07. Utilitarian Bioethics
• Terminology
• Utilitarianism Biologised: Bentham plus Biotech?
• The Branding Problem
• Quantum Computers and the Felicific Calculus

08. On Classical versus Negative Utilitarianism: A response to Toby Ord’s essay Why I Am Not a Negative Utilitarian

09. On Utilitronium Shockwaves versus Gradients of Bliss

10. Life in the Far North: An information-theoretic perspective on Heaven

11. Population Ethics, Aggregate Welfare, and the Repugnant Conclusion

Part III: Non-Human Animals

12. The Antispeciesist Revolution
• Speciesism
• Antispeciesism
• Practical Implications
• • 1. Invitrotarianism
• • 2. Compassionate Biology
• Speciesism and Superintelligence
• High-Tech Jainism?
• Notes

13. Reprogramming Predators
• The Problem of Predation
• Parasites, Predators and Serial Killers
• Extinction versus Reprogramming
• • 1) Extinction
• • 2) Reprogramming
• A Pan-Species Welfare State?

14. A Welfare State for Elephants? A Case Study of Compassionate Stewardship
• Introduction: High-Tech Jainism?
• Why Elephants?
• Are Cared-For Elephants Really Free-Living?
• Costs of Intervention
• Immunocontraception
• Neonatal Care
• Injuries
• Disease Prevention and Treatment
• Elephant Orthodontics
• Drought
• Elephant Psychiatric Care
• Uncertainties
• The Speciesist Objection
• CONCLUSION: The Biggest Obstacle

15. Compassionate Biology: How CRISPR-based “gene drives” could cheaply, rapidly and sustainably reduce suffering throughout the living world
• Introduction: Towards a Post-Darwinian Biosphere
• Ethical Gene Drives in Action? SCN9A: a case study
• In principle, there’s now nothing to stop intelligent moral agents “fixing” the [conditionally-activated level of] subjective physical distress undergone by members of entire free-living species by choosing and propagating benign alleles of SCN9A or its homologs via gene drives, i.e. engineering via CRISPR-mediated gene-editing - not a currently utopian “no pain” biosphere (cf. The Abolitionist Project), but a “low pain” biosphere.
• The Future of Sentience: High-Tech Jainism?

Part IV: Consciousness

16. Non-Materialist Physicalism: An experimentally testable conjecture
• Abstract
• 1. Introduction
• • Preliminary Definitions
• • Why Aren’t We P-Zombies? Why Aren’t We Micro-Experiential Zombies?
• 2. Challenges to Non-Materialist Physicalism
• 3. Phenomenal Binding Is the Hallmark of Mind
• 4. Can Physicalism Be Saved?
• 5. What Is It Like to Be Schrödinger’s Cat?
• • 1) Why consciousness exists at all.
• • 2) How consciousness exerts the causal power to allow intelligent agents to investigate its nature.
• • 3) How consciousness can be phenomenally “bound” in seemingly classically forbidden ways.
• • 4) Why and how consciousness has its diverse textures – ranging from phenomenal colours, sounds, tastes and smells to pains and pleasures to the experience of introspecting a thought-episode, understanding a text, or finding a joke funny.
• • Finally, any satisfactory theory should offer predictions that are novel, precise, replicable and robustly falsifiable.
• 6. Schrödinger’s Neurons: The Experimental Protocol
• 7. Femto-Mind Meets Quantum Darwinism
• 8. A Mendeleev Table for Qualia?
• 9. Towards a Post-Galilean Science of Mind
• 10. Summary and Prospects
• • The Hard Problem of Consciousness Solved; the Explanatory Gap Closed; the Binding Problem Tamed; Zombies Banished; and Physicalism Saved
• • The Retrodiction
• • The Novel, Experimentally Falsifiable Prediction
• • Further Challenges
• References

17. Terminological Note for Philosophers
• Further Reading

Part V: The Sentience Explosion

18. The Biointelligence Explosion: How recursively self-improving organic robots will modify their own source code and bootstrap our way to full-spectrum superintelligence
• 1 The Fate of the Germline
• 2 Biohacking Your Personal Genome
• 3 Will Humanity’s Successors Also Be Our Descendants?
• 4 Can We Build Friendly Biological Superintelligence?
• • 4.1 Risk-Benefit Analysis
• • 4.2 Technologies of Biofriendliness
• • • Empathogens?
• • 4.3 Mass Oxytocination?
• • 4.4 Mirror-Touch Synaesthesia?
• • 4.5 Timescales
• • 4.6 Does Full-Spectrum Superintelligence Entail Benevolence?
• 5 A Biotechnological Singularity?
• 6 What Is Full-Spectrum Superintelligence?
• • 6.1 Intelligence
• • 6.2 The Bedrock of Intelligence: World-Simulation (“Perception”)
• • 6.3 The Bedrock of Superintelligence: Hypersocial Cognition (“Mind-reading”)
• • 6.4 Ignoring the Elephant: Consciousness: Why Consciousness Is Computationally Fundamental to the Past, Present and Future Success of Organic Robots
• • 6.5 Case Study: Visual Intelligence versus Echolocatory Intelligence: What Is It Like to Be a Super-Intelligent Bat?
• 7 The Great Transition
• • 7.1 The End of Suffering
• • 7.2 Paradise Engineering?
• 8 The Future of Sentience
• • 8.1 The Sentience Explosion
• Bibliography

19. Humans and Intelligent Machines: Co-evolution, Fusion or Replacement?
• 1.0 INTRODUCTION: Homo sapiens and Artificial Intelligence: FUSION and REPLACEMENT Scenarios
• 1.1.0 What Is Friendly Artificial General Intelligence?
• 1.1.1 What Is Coherent Extrapolated Volition?
• 1.2 The Intelligence Explosion
• 1.3 AGIs: Sentients or Zombies?
• 2.0 THE GREAT REBELLION: A Parable of AGI-in-a-Box
• 2.1 Software-Based Minds or Anthropomorphic Projections?
• 3.0 ANALYSIS: General Intelligence? Or Savantism, Tool AI and Polymorphic Malware?
• 3.1 Classical Digital Computers: not even stupid?
• 3.2 Does Sentience Matter?
• 3.3 The Church-Turing Thesis and Full-Spectrum Superintelligence
• 4.0 Quantum Minds and Full-Spectrum Superintelligence
• 4.1 Pan-experientialism/Strawsonian Physicalism
• 4.2 The Binding Problem: Are Phenomenal Minds a Classical or a Quantum Phenomenon?
• 4.3 Why the Mind Is Probably a Quantum Computer
• 4.4 The Incoherence of Digital Minds
• 4.5 The Infeasibility of “Mind Uploading”
• 4.6 Object-Binding, World-Simulations and Phenomenal Selves
• 5.0 CONCLUSION: The Qualia Explosion: Supersentience: Turing plus Shulgin?
• 5.1 AI, Genome Biohacking and Utopian Superqualia: Why the Proportionality Thesis Implies an Organic Singularity

Additional Resources
• Adam Ford
• Adriano Mannino
• Alcor
• Algosphere Alliance
• Anders Sandberg
• Animal Ethics
• Ben Goertzel
• BLTC Research
• Centre for Effective Altruism
• Changesurfer Radio (James Hughes)
• Effective Altruism Foundation
• Essays on Reducing Suffering (by Brian Tomasik)
• Foundational Research Institute
• Future of Humanity Institute (FHI)
• H+ Magazine
• The Hedonistic Imperative
• Humanity Plus/WTA
• Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET)
• Interview on Transhumanism
• Jacy Reese
• KurzweilAI.net
• Less Wrong
• Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI)
• Natasha Vita-More
• New Harvest
• Nick Bostrom
• Ole Martin Moen
• OpenTheory.net (Mike Johnson)
• Organization for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS)
• Overcoming Bias (Robin Hanson)
• Pablo Stafforini
• Qualia Computing (Andrés Gómez Emilsson)
• Qualia Research Institute
• Ramez Naam
• Sentience Institute
• Sentience Politics
• Sentient Developments (George Dvorsky)
• Shulgin Research Institute
• Singularity 1 on 1 (Nikola Danaylov)
• Slate Star Codex (Scott Alexander)
• Socrethics (Bruno Contestabile)
• Utopian Focus (Institute of Transhumanist Studies)

[Appendices in comments due to Goodreads character limit]
Profile Image for Maren Hald Bjørgum.
49 reviews31 followers
January 5, 2019
"May all that have life be delivered from suffering", said Gautama Buddha.

Philosopher David Pearce builds a convincing case for how the Buddhist mantra of no suffering can be realised through genetic manipulation/modification, designer drugs and other forms of biotechnological feats. Pulling on theories of utilitarianism, posthumanism, transhumanism and anti-speciesism, Pearce sketches a world where all humans, and non-human animals, are blissfully happy.

If this sounds like an overly optimistic view of the future, fear not: Pearce spends most of the book answering his critics, and building a case for how his theories are realistic future scenarios.

Conservatives who think that a designer drug for happiness will lead to a happily compliant population ripe for exploitation (think Huxley's Brave New World) will do well to read the essays on The Abolitionist Project, the defense of Paradise Engineering, and Utopian Neuroscience. Pearce argues that developing a perpetually happy population will actually make us more robust, productive, and innovative as a species, arguing that:

"Just as good physical health is empowering, and doesn't determine what you do with your life, likewise being temperamentally happy and psychologically robust doesn't determine what you actually do with your life either. Like physical health, mental health tends to empower rather than constrain."

"The crucial point is that, potentially, long-acting designer-drugs needn't supplant our moral codes, but chemically predispose us to act them out in the very way we would wish."

Pearce offers up thought-experiments on several occasions to counter what he calls status quo bias. He asks the reader to envision a world where humans have bioengineered themselves into blissful and highly functioning happiness. A world where physical and psychological pain is a thing of the past. And he asks:

What credible arguments might human bioconservative critics use to persuade this advanced civilisation to re-introduce the biology of involuntary suffering and malaise - and all the other nasty states of mind that were fitness-enhancing in their ancestral environment? Depending on the degree of convergent evolution, perhaps their ancestors too once experienced jealousy, resentment, envy, spite, depression, status-anxiety, existential angst – all the ghastly stuff we call “part of what it means to be human”. What exactly are their superhappy minds missing? Should they practise “re-wilding” and bring it back? Quite possibly they'd view human primitives as in the grip of a depressive psychosis. Would they be right?

As a transhumanist, his goal for humanity is superintelligence, superlongevity (unlimited lifespan) and superhappiness. And after reading his thoughts, I'm less pessimistic about the future of humanity.
Profile Image for Hemen Kalita.
139 reviews18 followers
October 11, 2020
David Pearce is a trans-humanist. Trans-humanists in general have one of these 3 goals. Super-longevity, Super-intelligence or Super-happiness. The author advocates for Super-happiness. Additionally, being a Negative Utilitarian, his ethics are based on reducing suffering. Controversially, Logical conclusion of NU is extinction. Because, so long as there is life, there will be suffering as suffering is inherent to life. But the author declares himself as ‘indirect’ NU and claims that life can be possible without suffering and biotechnology is there to our rescue.

So, he proposes something like Negative Utilitarianism + Biotechnology, or in his words – “High-tech Jainism”. He puts forth some suggestions like indefinite stimulation of pleasure centers, pleasure drugs, genetic engineering or designer babies, offloading raw negative emotions to robots, reprogramming or extinction of predators, etc.

His ultimate aim is that posterity will live in a world of endless bliss without having to compromise on empathy, motivation and other humane traits.

This huge tome ( 600+ pages) is equally interesting and informative but most of the time gets carried away by the authors excessive optimism with what humanity can achieve. I am giving it 4 stars as I badly want authors “over-excited techno fantasy” to become reality, at least a bit.
Profile Image for Daniel Hageman.
323 reviews40 followers
July 14, 2020
A lot of content to pull together in one book, and arguably could have separated to reach a wider audience. Nonetheless, the promising outlook that this provides, taking on the world's largest problem in such a practical manner, is truly inspiring.
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