Elliot Temple and Corentin Biteau Discussion

I’m going to stop posting at the EA forum because of a new rule, beginning yesterday, to CC BY license anything you post, which basically lets anyone do whatever they want with it, including sell it with no charges or make derivative works (with any license), as long as they give attribution to the author. I don’t want to give up my rights like that. Also EA staff won’t even try to clarify how the new rules work and literally told me to get a lawyer, and on review of their terms of use they have other unreasonable rules like a prohibition on posting anything untrue (which is so overly broad that I figure most posters are in violation). More info (and a few other posts above that one).

Relevantly, I figured EA would probably ban me at some point anyway, like Less Wrong did. I have a long history of finding forum moderators unreasonable and being banned from things for (IMO) bad reasons. LW, for example, banned me without a warning and without claiming I broke any specific rule. That was the ~fifth time LW moderators interfered with my ability to discuss with their community. The first time was Eliezer Yudkowsky himself taking moderator action to reduce the visibility of my posts on the basis that I had received a lot of downvotes (in other words, I was unpopular but didn’t take the hint and shut up, and the downvotes weren’t hiding what I said enough, so he took additional action to suppress my speech). EA had no communications, policies or anything else that reassured me it’s way better/different than other forums, so I expected from the start that my time there would be temporary, and I had to keep saving copies of my discussions in case EA deleted stuff (LW and some other forums have deleted some or all of my discussions in the past, sometimes targeting me personally like LW did and sometimes due to deleting the entire forum). I wish EA and many other forums (including this one!) had better data exporting options.

I’m reposting this message (by me) here because I deleted it on the EA forum after finding out about the licensing change (and replaced it with a link to a copy of it). This should make the EA topic plus this topic contain the full discussion without having to go to any other URLs.


I think a question you should ask yourself is “If I can only have a limited number of exchanges with people, and they have a limited time, what do I want them to learn?”. And then just mention a few things that are the best/most useful stuff you have in store.

That’s not my goal. My goal is basically to understand complex, important issues, figure out the right answers, explain them, and make it possible for others to learn (and/or debate) what I know. I’m more interested in enabling someone to become a great thinker by a large effort, not in offering some quick wins. Besides not being what I primarily care about, there are also various difficulties and downsides with quick wins.

Is this for everyone? No. Should some people want it? Yes.

Why should anyone believe me about the quality or importance of anything I say, or be interested to keep going past reading one or two things? Because they can’t point out any errors so far.

I think putting a time or quantity limit on engagement, independent of finding any errors, is the wrong approach. If they do find errors, they should debate instead of just assuming they’re right. They could at least debate until Curiosity – Claiming You Objectively Won A Debate

If someone else debates, maybe you don’t need to. But if no one else on your side will debate, then you ought to recognize you have no allies who are actually being useful and take action yourself. If none of the intellectuals you like and get ideas from will debate, nor any of their (other) followers, then you should lose some respect for those leaders and groups, and try to proceed rationally yourself as best you can.

I think one reason most people are not interested is that they don’t feel concerned by the idea. I don’t feel concerned by it. It feels it could work for public intellectuals

If you get ideas from public intellectuals who are doing rationality wrong, then you are in trouble too, not just them. You need to do rationality things right yourself and/or find thought leaders who are doing things right. So it is each individual’s problem even if they aren’t a public intellectual.


CB wrote:

I don’t think I will pay $20 [for a CF forum account] because all the money I earn beyond my basic needs is going to charities.

If $20 got you even a 1% chance to find out that much of your money and effort is going to the wrong charities and causes, wouldn’t that be a good deal? Error correction is high value.

I think what EA is doing by getting people to donate that much (all above basic needs) is extremely harmful to people like you. I’d believe that even if I didn’t also believe that the majority of EA causes and efforts were counter-productive.

There’s something really problematic about thinking a cause is so important that you’ll make large personal sacrifices for it, but not being willing to do much to pursue potential error correction. EA has a lot of people who will go to great lengths to help their causes – they just are so sure they’re right(?) that they don’t seem to think debating critics is very important. It’s weird. If you think every dollar you donate is a big deal, you should also think every tiny bit of risk reduction and error correction is a big deal. Those things are scarcer than dollars and can easily have larger impacts. But I come here and say I think EA is wrong about important issues, and I want to debate, and I ask if EA has any organized debate methods or even just individuals who’d be happy to debate much. And the answer was no and also no one seems to think that’s very bad or risky. That shows a widespread lack of respect for the risk of being wrong about causes that people are investing all their money above basic needs in, and a disinterest in criticism.

Anyway, if you find my ideas implausible and not worth pursuing or debating, or still don’t really value my time more than the time of the next guy you could talk with instead, then we should part ways.

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CB wrote:

Sorry - I exagerated a bit. I do not donate everything above my basic needs - still quite a good chunk but not everything.

I try to spend quite some time on error correction (and sometimes buy books instead of getting them from a library) - but in this realm I am still weighting that against, say, the impact I could obtain by donating to an animal charity instead. But I’m ready to do some spending if I feel there’s a good chance to know more and improve.

The problem here is rather that I am not sure subscribing to this forum will really allow me to improve.

I absolutely agree to your claim that EA has a lack of organized debate method, and could improve on fighting against bias. I could probably improve on that too, I think. I can agree with the “lacking methodology”.

However, to actually improve, I need practical advice on how to improve. Or an example: for instance, seeing a debate where I see that a specific claim very important in EA is not impactful (for instance, that donating to charities that do corporate outreach in factory farming), and seeing the methodology that led to this claim.
I want to point out that criticism of what exists currently is important but not enough - the way I personally work is that I need to see *something better *in order to update correctly. Then I can be inspired by that better approach.

For instance, I read your criticism of The Scout Mindset - it’s interesting, there are good points, for instance that the examples she gives could be really biased. But what would add even more value to your post is recommending a book which does the same thing but better (so basically, a book about how to get better at updating how we view the world, written in a clear, streamlined way, with examples and practical advice - just more rigorous).

I really like to improve. But I need practical stuff for that - and I asked for it and still feel you didn’t answer that (besides taking up a debate policy - you also made a list of actions but with no links to go deeper).

I fear it could prove difficult for you to spread your ideas even further without a greater focus on that part.

But I come here and say I think EA is wrong about important issues

By the way, have you issued claims about EA being wrong on its list of priorities ? You have done so on methodology - which is important, but not the most engaging topic, so few people interacted with it (which is too bad). But have tried to make more specific claims, like “EA is wrong about putting effort on factory farming” ?

I have a very limited willingness to respond to posts at the EA forum where I won’t speak due to the new licensing rules. But I have some things to say about this and I don’t like my discussions being interrupted in the middle when neither party wants to quit. But don’t expect me to say much more if you don’t come to the CF forum.

I wrote: Effective Altruism Is Mostly Wrong About Its Causes

I wrote: Effective Altruism Hurts People Who Donate Too Much

As my considered, long-held philosophical opinion, I don’t believe that animals are capable of suffering, so all the animal welfare charity work is misguided. However, factory farms have downsides, such as negative impacts on human health (though other food health issues like vegetable oil may be comparable or worse). But a lot of activism related to factory farms is counter-productive even on the premise that factory farms are super bad.

I have attempted to debate this with vegans and animal welfare advocates, but have not found anyone willing to debate or to give any literature cites arguing for their side which address key issues. I tried to ask some questions and couldn’t get meaningful answers from anyone, though EA was not one of the places I asked at the time. I have an animals blog category with information about this.

I didn’t bring animal welfare up at EA yet because I predicted that people would just yell at me or downvote and not engage, and it might derail all my discussions on other topics, and it might get me banned from the forum. It was on my list of things to maybe bring up later after trying to discuss topics like debate methodology and error correction. I also figured that anyone who cared what I think could search my blog or do a google search like Elliot Temple animal welfare – I’ve already made public statements on this issue and a variety of other issues that EA cares about.

On a related note, I wrote a few articles for Alex Epstein’s Center For Industrial Progress and helped him with research, and I have relevant articles sharing some of my views that disagree with EA related to technology, energy, capitalism, classical liberalism, etc. But I don’t know any productive way to get people to discuss or debate those issues. Actually I stopped working with Alex because he doesn’t have error correcting Paths Forward either. Meanwhile, Alex resorted to offering large amounts of money to prominent opponents to have short, verbal debates with him, but that was more about publicity than truth seeking. Bill McKibben debated Alex for $10,000 but Al Gore wouldn’t debate for $100,000.

For some book recommendations, Eli Goldratt is far better than Julia Galef. The Goal, The Choice, and It’s Not Luck are most relevant for learning about thinking processes. Karl Popper is much better too but is complex/intellectual/philosophical/academic. My work is also better (IMO) but not currently streamlined in the way you want. If you learned it then helped streamline it so people would use it instead of stuff like Scout Mindset, that could do a lot of good. Streamlining is one of the many things I’d like to do more of but I have way too many things to do and also I’m not a great culture fit with EA so my own streamlining won’t necessarily work well for the EA community. None of these resources are specifically about Bayesian updating because they disagree that Bayesian updating is the correct approach to thinking.

CB, I think it’s really bad to donate all your money beyond basic needs. I think EA is taking advantage of you and hurting you. You’ve clarified that you were exaggerating, but that only lessens the severity of the problem.

I don’t know you very well or personally. You probably won’t like to hear this. But we talked enough, on friendly terms, that I thought it was my moral responsibility to speak up once, in case it would help you. And you made a debate policy due to my suggestion, and I think you’re wrong about this and I’m willing to debate it (but I don’t want to use your debate policy to make you discuss this if you don’t want to).

If you want to discuss this further and are open to considering that maybe you’re being exploited by EA, but you just can’t bring yourself to part with $20, I will give you free access for a few months. (Context for others reading this: I won’t discuss at the EA forum due to the new CC BY licensing rule.)

If you want to read any more information to consider this in a lower pressure way, without talking with me, I’ve written some relevant things:

CB replied:

Oh, I had wrote a full answer in your curi.us debate space, but it says I need an account (it’s weird that the “post public answer” box appears if it doesn’t even if I don’t have an account).

I think I’ll take up your offer to have an access to the forum just for a few months, please.

Oh, and thanks for the concern you’re showing me, that’s kind :)

OK, I gave CF forum posting access to your account.

You’re right that I should make the curi.us comment section clearer than the current small-print note. If you lost the text of what you wrote, I should be able to retrieve it for you from logs.

I have not replied to:

There are other discussion topics active right now. I’m putting them here to keep track of for later.

For animals, what I’d like to do next is tell you a short story/summary about my previous attempts to debate with animal rights people and vegans. Does that sound OK as a way to steer the conversation?

Hmm, I don’t know. I know there are often irrational takes in this field, so I think it’d be distracting to recount the sometimes not so good arguments you’ve seen (I’m sure there are plenty !)

I’d prefer to get into the gist of it and understand why you think animals do not suffer despite the presence of stress and nociceptors and screams and stuff like that.

I think AG and CB are both caught up in problematic dynamics related to how the sides fight with each other. Productive activism should find other approaches which don’t cause lots of fighting and offend and alienate many people.

Yeah,you’re right - which is why I usually tend to do that. But with most people there is some initial common ground in the sense that they tend to at least acknowledge that some animals suffer, which can be a starting point.

From my experience, the “animal can’t suffer” claim is quite uncommon, especially when extended to cats and dogs. Most of the time, it’s invoked by people who didn’t really think much into the topic, but use it as a defense to justify their current meat consumption.

Which is why I have trouble seeing this claim as a well-though argument that came after a lot of deliberation, because this usually isn’t the case - most of the time meat consumption comes first, justification comes later. We’re very good at rationalizing, after all: doing stuff first (because of how we were raised, our culture, who surrounds us), then finding reasons afterward.

So I felt a bit like the need to land a more outlandish question to “test” the solidity of this assumption. Not the wisest tactic, I get that.

My position is compatible with the society we live in. That is, my claim (that animals can’t suffer) doesn’t imply our current society is bad or needs major changes. On the other hand, CB’s position implies that large changes to society are needed, which would potentially have large negative impacts on humans.

Of course, you will agree that just because our society does it means it’s good. So yeah, there’s plenty of important changes our society could do to improve, the same way most societies in history could have improved in major ways that were seen as ok at the time (getting rid of slavery comes to mind).

As an side note, you will also agree that while the “society could help with major changes” stance is ambitious, the other position, “our society is doing ok on that point”, is highly vulnerable to the statu quo bias, where beliefs that do not require any changes are preferred.

But yes, when I’m reading about factory farming, I find that terrifying. Most people do (in France, 88% of people say they oppose factory farming). What’s even more terrifying is that many good people, some of who really try to do good, many of whom I really like as humans, support something that does tremendous harm. Without even realizing it or thinking about it (much less than 88% of French actively avoid stuff from factory farming). I don’t think the problem would have ever arised if people actually saw the way meat is produced when actually buying it.

Please note, however, that while I’d like to see major change in the way we do thing, this doesn’t mean I think promoting major change as the best way to attain that goal. The “go vegan” message is pretty ineffective. Whereas I see, say, corporate reform as a much more promising pathway.

Note: I think we should not get into the debate of whether extensive farming, with much lower meat consumption but well-raised animals, like it was done 2 centuries ago, is bad. I personally think it’s rather unrealistic to think we can get rid of that, and even so I think most animals lives are overall worth living in this setting, so I don’t really oppose it.

I’d prefer we focus on factory farming.

Finally, I’d like to point out that I’m not sure getting rid of factory farming would have such a negative impact on humans. Excessive meat consumption by people in wealthier countries uses a lot of land, so we could feed many more people if less meat was eaten. It has a very high water consumption. Taste is a common worry, but from experience we adapt to changes in diet rather quickly - it’s just much harder when everyone else around you is not doing that. High meat consumption has a negative impact on health. Guilt is another negative impact.
A French book by a researcher in economics recently came out and made the calculation that getting rid of factory farming would be beneficial economically, given all the negatives impacts I mentioned above.
Not sure we want to focus the debate on that, but I feel it’s important.

Do you respect Peter Singer?

Are you aware of this criticism of the “eating less meat to save the planet” argument?

I watched 10min of the video. It has some good points but also some propaganda. It’s a typical example of mixing together some educational materials, some debate and some propaganda. Overall it’s one-sided and constitutes tribalist fighting. It’s contributing to ongoing, polarized fighting rather than contributing to resolving and ending the fights.

CB likely already knows multiple ways the video is inaccurate or incomplete, which is one of the reasons videos like this are ineffective at unifying people.

One problem with the video I noticed, which you and CB may not know, is: the connection between animal feed and vegetable oil isn’t discussed.

Lots of animal feed is left over from creating soy oil or corn oil (soy and corn are heavily subsidized in the US; the mix of oils consumed varies by country). The video is like ~“animals are eating what we can’t” but we can eat corn and soy if we don’t take out the oil first. Treating grass and corn/soy the same in the argument about what animals eat is ignorant or dishonest. (There are other parts of the corn plant which it makes sense to feed to livestock, as the video mentions. But it doesn’t mention taking edible corn and turning it into a mix of oil and animal feed.)

Making corn or soy oil involves high heat, pressure and chemical solvents. Then it tastes so bad that they have to bleach out the flavor. This process makes an unhealthy food which is used as an additive in tons of the processed foods in the grocery store and is used at many restaurants. This presumably makes the animal feed it produces unhealthy too, but I only actually looked into the oil being unhealthy.

Note also that corn and soy subsidies that help pay to create animal feed are artificially lowering the price of beef. That subsidy increases the price gap for factory farmed beef vs. grass-fed, grass-finished beef and the subsidy also increases meat consumption.

The point is, the video is part of the tribalist, politicized fighting. It’s not rational truth seeking. It contains some reasonable information, but that doesn’t stop it from also being propaganda. There are many worse videos which may help this video look good by comparison, but it’s still part of the problem not part of the solution.

I did not know about this. Nor did I think of the subsidy issue.

I think I can see this now when I think about it from a new perspective.

Do you respect Peter Singer?

Not sure what this has to do with what I just said.
I guess I respect a lot of the work he did. When it comes to actual impact I think he had an aggregate positive impact on the world. His The Life you can Save book is compelling, and he seems to have a lot of focus on the practical changes we can make instead of just abstract arguments, which is something I like (it’s so easy to do abstract thinking that doesn’t change you day to day behaviour).
But I have not read a lot of what he wrote (like Animal Liberation), and I know he has some more controversial claims on other topics that I didn’t really dig into and might not agree to.

However, I just hope we’re not going through a “debunking Peter Singer” session, where you bring up something he did and I have to say every time “I’m not in agreement with that particular claim”.
I’d personally prefer if we stayed focused answering what I said so far (or maybe answer the question of why you wouldn’t hurt a puppy if you think it cannot suffer).

Are you aware of this criticism of the “eating less meat to save the planet” argument?

I haven’t seen this particular video, but if as Elliot pointed out, it leaves out the fact that corn and soy are grown specifically for animal feed (I guess in a more subtle way that I wrote), this seems like a dealbreaker, it’s a very important thing.
Thanks Elliot for pointing that out in your thoughtful answer.

OK, so you don’t seem to want to hear about my experiences, intellectual history and methods when trying to engage with ideas like yours. I have some ideas about how to approach a big, controversial question like animal welfare in an effective, truth-seeking way, but when I tried to bring that up you didn’t want me to proceed, but you aren’t offering an alternative of the same type either. You also don’t want to hear some poor arguments from people with similar conclusions to you (I agree with that and wasn’t going to do that), and you also, I guess, don’t want to talk about my attempts to read and engage with the arguments of a well-respected thought-leader with similar conclusions to you (Singer). You’ve again seem to be trying to preemptively shoot down an approach before it starts, without really knowing what I had in mind, on the basis of some potential, imagined problem.

Based on prior comments, I think you also don’t want to talk about roombas or abstract stuff, e.g. you wouldn’t be up for reading or learning about Popper or Turing in order to understand my arguments. And you also haven’t seemed interested in looking through my prior writing about animals until you find an error to point out.

Is there someone you think made significantly better arguments than Peter Singer who should be engaged with instead? Or do you just want me to engage with arguments in your head that aren’t already written down, by rewriting things I believe? Or what? You have no laid out any overall plan for how to approach the subject and figure out the truth of the matter, and you have resisted my attempts to bring up my approach.

OK, so you don’t seem to want to hear about my experiences, intellectual history and methods when trying to engage with ideas like yours.

Oh, ok, I understand better what you were trying to do. I’m not used at all to any discussion that starts this way (other than in a quick introduction), so I am surprising, generally argument come rather quick so there aren’t these questions.
I was also a bit afraid .

In such case, let’s say that I find the general take that Peter Singer has on suffering good enough that it can serve as a basis.

And you also haven’t seemed interested in looking through my prior writing about animals until you find an error to point out.

I did, actually, read this post and half the comments in it (and not totally convinced by the recurring roomba argument, that was I was trying to initiate another approach).
Upon reading today’s comment, I also read this post and this post by you.

If I summarize the main reasoning of your argument in a (extremely) simplified way:

  • Brains work like computers (computational machines)
  • Non-AGI’s (computer stuff that moves, like roombas) cannot feel suffering
  • Animals cannot produce knowledge and appear to have skills similars to roombas and self-driving cars, so they are similar to non-AGIs
  • So animals cannot suffer
  • This argument doesn’t apply to humans, who can suffer, since they are more intelligent and thus similar to AGIs, who can have consciousness

Now I know this is an extremely simplified version of your argument that I wrote down this way to be quicker, I know what you say is more refined.

You may also be interested to know that I’m a programmer, which means I match the “IT + animal rights” profile you’re interested to.

So here’s my thought on that: I kind of understand how your reasoning goes, but there are some assumptions that seem kind of strong to me. One of them is that we can derive knowledge about consciousness and suffering from non-AGIs to animals.

I feel like a big part of your argument is that brains are just like computers, and that if our current computers don’t feel suffering, this means that something like general intelligence is required to feel suffering - so humans can feel suffering and animals don’t.

However, the more I read about it, the more I feel like we don’t know at all how subjective experiences are arising (sentience or consciousness). We can see brains as computers, yes, and maybe tie some brain activity to a mental state, ok.

But I don’t see how we explain going from atoms reorganizing in my brain to the arising of a subjective experience. These two feel like wildly different things. I know there are theories, and phisolophical debates about that, but frankly let’s just admit that there’s just a huge amount of unknown here. Which is why there’s been a lot of disagreement over this.

Does subjective experience comes from the organisation of atoms ? From a special property tied to life itself ? To something entirely different related to spirituality ? How do we go from atoms and the laws of physics to feeling sad ? We don’t really know that, and a big part of it is that we don’t have access to the subjective experiences of other beings.

Personally, I feel like we have no way of saying whether animals are working as present-day computers - because we have a limited insight of how subjective experience really comes from.

That you can emulate a few external behaviours with computers, like moving when there is an obstacle, is certainly not enough to show that you can emulate the internal perception of another beings.

So my question is : why are you so confident in such a claim ?

Ok great.

Yeah that is fine for a rough summary. Great.

OK, cool. I am a programmer too (I forget if my articles mentioned that).

Study of epistemology and some related topics like universality, plus debate.

OK so, here’s how I approached the animal welfare field.

For now I’ll skip over how I got my own views and get to the part where I tried to engage with people who believe animals suffer and therefore animals should be treated way better, animals should not be enslaved, it’s wrong to eat meat, it’s wrong to eat animal products (milk, eggs, honey, etc.), or various other conclusions like that.

I wanted to find the best opposing arguments. I did a brief review of intellectuals with writing. I found Peter Singer, who seems popular and respected. I decided that was good enough to begin with and started reading him. I read Animal Liberation and Animal Liberation at 30. I organized/outlined Singer’s arguments into a tree.

I reviewed Singer’s case and found a potential weakness/flaw/error/criticism.

I looked for additional literature by Singer which addressed that issue. I didn’t find it.

I looked for additional literature by someone else which addressed that issue. I didn’t find it.

I asked vegans and animal welfare advocates if they could direct me to any literature which addressed the issue. I was unable to get anyone to do that. I would have preferred literature by a recognized expert, but I would have been willing to consider a blog post by low status author too.

Some of the people I talked with wanted to debate by writing their own arguments and having me write new versions of my arguments. I mostly didn’t want to do that because I don’t think it’s an effective way to figure out the correct conclusions in the field. It’s better to look at the literature and use that in your approach and try to be organized and reasonably comprehensive, rather than just making ad hoc arguments.

Some people would debate some, but they just wanted to do stuff like ask me gotcha questions or write sloppy versions of well known arguments. None wanted to talk about literature or make more formal, careful, intellectual arguments.

Some of my reasoning and arguments are fairly obscure (e.g. about universality), so it’s less surprising if there’s nothing addressing it, and I wouldn’t assume I’m right just because no one wrote about that issue. Some of my arguments (are animals like robots with non-AGI software?) are really not that original or obscure or hard to think of, and therefore really ought to be already addressed by literature. If there is literature addressing that stuff, I want to find it. If there isn’t, I’d want to talk about why not rather than hearing someone’s ad hoc attempts to create that missing literature mid-conversation. Although it’s been a few years, I don’t mind continuing this project.

Does that all sound reasonable so far about my method of approaching the issues?

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On the paper, your method sounds reasonable.

However, I’m concerned about how it is applied.

One important point here is that, as you point out, the criticisms you point out about Peter’s Singer stuff are rather obscure. This means that the entire argument you point out is not present in the scientific litterature (I’m talking about your entire argument, with the link between non-AGIs and suffering and animals. There’s obviously a lot of stuff on the question of animals and suffering specifically that many people have given you links to).

Of course, that doesn’t mean that your arguments should be dismissed out of hand. But this means there is no litterature on that because your line of reasoning does not appear in the peer-reviewed litterature. What this means is that you cannot ask people to provide you litterature on this issue because there is none.

Now, if what you put forward was present in a peer-reviewed paper, there would probably be an answer to that in the litterature somewhere. But it’s not.

So this is how I picture how the people who received your argument saw things (this is of course my personal subjective view on the matter, from just reading a few posts):

  • You challenged animal right activists with a niche claim not seen in any serious paper. There are just some blogs posts about it.
  • You ask for counterpoints in the litterature
  • Nobody has seen such a thing in the litterature because why would there be one ? Your claims is not present in a peer-reviewed paper
  • Since this is a niche claim, they try to adress it with their own arguments, but you don’t want to engage with them
  • You say that you need litterature on it (even blog posts)
  • People feel like you come in with the exigence that they have to provide litterature stuff, but you are authorised to use your own blog posts in the debate. Of course, they feel like blog posts have no more credibility than a reddit comment, so they see that as a bit unfair.
  • On top of it, you want them to have expertise in computing

I can understand why the experience was not the best thing from both side. The methodology, relying heavily on litterature, probably wasn’t suited to the topic at hand.


A worrying thing I have seen, however, is that there are several answers that I found made good points, but you didn’t really answer them thoroughly, like here, here or here.
(since the user is deleted, I have a doubt - was it you or someone else ? Anyway, these arguments seem interesting)

Some are and some aren’t. If there’s no literature (written by people with a decent understanding of current non-AGI computing algorithms) attempting to differentiate animals from non-AGI robots made with metal and silicon instead of carbon, I think that’s unreasonable. Do you think that issue is too obscure to expect people like Singer or some other intellectual to have considered and covered in writing? I don’t.

since the user is deleted, I have a doubt - was it you or someone else ?

I only use one reddit account, /u/curi, which is not deleted. So it wasn’t me.

Do you think that issue [attempting to differentiate animals from non-AGI robots made with metal and silicon instead of carbon] is too obscure to expect people like Singer or some other intellectual to have considered and covered in writing?

Frankly ? Yeah.

I’ve never heard of it before - and I tried to spend quite some time looking on the topic of animal welfare. I’m not sure major thinkers have heard of this specific argument. Where would have they heard of it ?

Moreover (still my personal opinion), maybe people don’t spend a lot of time on the topic of differentiating animals from non-AGI robots because they don’t feel like the comparison is warranted ?

Animals seem to have a large amount of specific things that would differienciate them from robots: they have nociceptors, they tend to avoid less negative stimuli when under painkillers, they are evolutionary much closer to us (who can suffer) than from robots, some species can cry, play, squeal, mourn for days…

We can make a few analogies based on the external behaviour of a few robots, of course, but that doesn’t feel like solid proof. Robots and video game characters can copy external behaviours like that, but that’s only because we designed our technology to imitate life.

While we have reasons to copy human behaviours in technology, I also don’t see why evolution would favour things like, say, elephants mourning their dead, if they had no ability to feel grief and sadness in the first place?


Actually, upon looking back, I’m not even sure that the “robot” argument has been so ignored. As this comment here points out, the general idea of animals being just mindless processes is quite old:

This is literally just recycled Descartes from over 400 years ago and it’s still just as absurd. […] I recommend you and u/curi just read the responses to Descartes regarding automatons. Namely, the issues of special pleading.

Overall, I think that the burden of proof is on you here.

What evidence do you have that the litterature on animal suffering (which largely tend to say that animals can feel pain) has it wrong ?

Maybe they would have heard it from Decartes?

Or maybe from Programming the Universe: Are Animals Robots? (1999) which just came up on a web search. Based on skimming, this article isn’t very good, but it does bring up this issue right in the title. And it doesn’t treat it as an important new idea.

Could the lack of discussion of these issues in the animal welfare literature you found be a bias? It seems like that literature is agenda-driven rather than trying to brainstorm and then analyze all the possibilities.

Today, many smart people believe that humans and animals both have Turing-complete computers for brains, and intelligence is a matter of software not souls. I’m not aware of any alternatives that can stand up to criticism in debate today. Do you agree or disagree that brains are literal computers and the fundamental human/dog differences, if they exist, are in software?

In this modern context, it makes sense to consider what software animals run, and how it differs (or is the same as) human software or Mac software. So to me it’s very bizarre and problematic if none of the animal advocates have tried to consider such things. That seems like they rushed into activism before thinking the topic through to figure out if they were actually right, and then got all their followers to do that too.

Moreover (still my personal opinion), maybe people don’t spend a lot of time on the topic of differentiating animals from non-AGI robots because they don’t feel like the comparison is warranted ?

If animal welfare advocates think an argument that defends the meat industry is incorrect, that isn’t a very good reason to not spend any time trying to refute it.

Animals seem to have a large amount of specific things that would differienciate them from robots: they have nociceptors, they tend to avoid less negative stimuli when under painkillers, they are evolutionary much closer to us (who can suffer) than from robots, some species can cry, play, squeal, mourn for days…

I’ve heard all this stuff before, repeatedly. I don’t think you’ve given it a lot of thought, which is one of the reasons that someone (who agrees with you) should think it through more and write their thoughts down. You’re basically saying animals are different than robots because they have sensors and do complex behaviors. But robots can be and are designed to include sensors and do complex behaviors. E.g. it’s easy to make a robot that makes a squealing sound.