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Author Topic: A survey/series of questions about ethics/preferences
Aris Katsaris
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I want to conduct a small survey. The following sentences will all have the format "I'd rather save X people from suffering a [insert lesser harm] each, than to save a single person from suffering [insert greater harm]."

Your job would be for each sentence to state a number of X that's sufficient to make the sentence true for you.

Guidelines:
Rule A) It'd be preferable if you erred on the side of greater X -- e.g. if you believe that a single migraine equals the suffering of some number between 10,000 or 100,000 paper-cuts that would equal a migraine, please state the larger boundary. Feel free to state even large numbers (a billion, a trillion) -- as long as you believe those numbers *suffice*.

Rule B) In each case imagine that the suffering is just the minimum amount of suffering that can reasonably be associated with the word -- e.g. if the type of suffering in question is a "dust speck in the eye" you do NOT have to consider outlandish scenarios like "a dust speck in the eye of a Formula 1 driver, which caused him to crash and killed him". We're talking just about the minimal annoyance possibly associated with a dust speck in the eye -- one in which you just blink and it's gone.

Rule C) In each case imagine that we do not have the consent of the people involved, nor is there any method to receive it, nor can we ask them their opinions about the situation. We just have to make our own value judgment about which option is better.

Rule D) If at some point you feel a particular sentence can't be made true with any X, namely that you would ALWAYS rather prevent the single person from suffering that greater harm (no matter how trillions or quadrillions people you might save from the lesser harm), please state that explicitly for the specific question, and skip to the next question.

Rule E) All these people are innocent of any wrongdoing. They can be assumed to not deserve the potential harms done to them.

Rule F) If you can, read the following sentences in order, and answer them as you read them, without reading ahead. If you didn't obey this rule, please answer them anyway as best as you can.

Let us begin:
-

1) I'd rather save [X1] people from suffering a tiny dust speck in the eye, causing them each a momentary annoyance, than to save a single person from suffering a paper cut.

2) I'd rather save [X2] people from suffering a paper-cut each, than to save a single person from having an annoying hiccup for 5 minutes.

3) I'd rather save [X3] people from having an annoying hiccup for 5 minutes each, than to save a single person from having a headache for half an hour.

4) I'd rather save [X4] people from having a headache for half an hour, than save a single person from having an evening of diarrhea.

5) I'd rather save [X5] people from having an evening of diarrhea each, than save a single person from breaking a leg in an accident.

6) I'd rather save [X6] people from breaking their leg, than save a single person from going to jail (solitary confinement) unjustly for a month.

7) I'd rather save [X7] people from going unjustly to a month of solitary each, than save a single person from suffering a month of torture.

8) I'd rather save [X8] people from suffering a month of torture, than save a single person from suffering a year of torture.

9) I'd rather save [X9] people from suffering a year of torture, than save a single person from suffering five years of torture.

10) I'd rather save [X10] people from suffering five years of torture, than save a single person from suffering twenty years of torture.

11) I'd rather save [X11] people from suffering twenty years of torture, than save a single person from suffering fifty years of torture.

Last question:

12) I'd rather save [X12] people from suffering a tiny dust speck in the eye, causing them each a momentary annoyance, than to save a single person from suffering fifty years of torture.

----

Thank you for participating. As a last step, you can choose to multiply [X1]*[X2]*[X3]*[X4]*[X5]*[X6]*[X7]*[X8]*[X9]*[X10]*[X11], and see whether that number is larger or smaller than the number you assigned to [X12].

[ October 19, 2011, 08:59 PM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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Grant
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I'm trying to play, but this flies right in the face of triage proceedures, and probably my morals as well. I don't know if I can answer any of the questions. Guess my answer is 0.

I will tell you this much. If I come to a school bus that was in an accident, with 100 kids with broken noses, and one kid with a broken leg, they I go to the kid with the broken leg. Even if I could magically fix all 100 broken noses, I would magically fix the broken leg. I don't care if it's 1,000,000 broken noses.

That pretty much sums up my answers for all the questions. I hope I didn't upset the applecart.

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Aris Katsaris
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I'm only asking for sincere responses, Grant, so thank you for offering yours. I didn't expect for someone to apply "Rule D" to ALL twelve of the questions, but it's a valid response.

[ October 19, 2011, 09:49 PM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by Aris Katsaris:
I'm only asking for sincere responses, Grant, so thank you for offering yours. I didn't expect for someone to apply "Rule D" to ALL twelve of the questions, but it's a valid response.

After further consideration, I will agree to round up at a certain point.

Say the choice was between one person being tortured for 20 years, and two people being tortured for 19 years and 360 days. At that point to me the difference is inconsquential, though it is definate.

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Chael
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I'm invoking rule D on questions #1-7 and 12.

On #8-11, where we are discussing equivalent types of harm, the question becomes one I do not have sufficient data to answer. Namely, whether the amount of suffering generated by one month of torture is the same whether it is one's first month, or one's fortieth. I expect it is not, but this is not a matter I have decided to study (nor is it one I'd like to, to be perfectly honest).

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philnotfil
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quote:
Originally posted by Aris Katsaris:
1) I'd rather save [X1] people from suffering a tiny dust speck in the eye, causing them each a momentary annoyance, than to save a single person from suffering a paper cut.

I don't care either way.

quote:
2) I'd rather save [X2] people from suffering a paper-cut each, than to save a single person from having an annoying hiccup for 5 minutes.
I don't care either way.

quote:
3) I'd rather save [X3] people from having an annoying hiccup for 5 minutes each, than to save a single person from having a headache for half an hour.
I don't care either way.

quote:
4) I'd rather save [X4] people from having a headache for half an hour, than save a single person from having an evening of diarrhea.
I don't care either way.

quote:
5) I'd rather save [X5] people from having an evening of diarrhea each, than save a single person from breaking a leg in an accident.
I don't care either way. (but I'm starting to get close)

quote:
6) I'd rather save [X6] people from breaking their leg, than save a single person from going to jail (solitary confinement) unjustly for a month.
This number is pretty high, possibly approaching infinity.

quote:
7) I'd rather save [X7] people from going unjustly to a month of solitary each, than save a single person from suffering a month of torture.
This number is also very high, greater than the population of the USA.

quote:
8) I'd rather save [X8] people from suffering a month of torture, than save a single person from suffering a year of torture.
I can't make that choice, but the logical answer is 13.

quote:
9) I'd rather save [X9] people from suffering a year of torture, than save a single person from suffering five years of torture.
I can't make that choice, but the logical answer is 6.

quote:
10) I'd rather save [X10] people from suffering five years of torture, than save a single person from suffering twenty years of torture.
I can't make that choice, but the logical answer is 5.

quote:
11) I'd rather save [X11] people from suffering twenty years of torture, than save a single person from suffering fifty years of torture.
I can't make that choice, but the logical answer is 3.

quote:
12) I'd rather save [X12] people from suffering a tiny dust speck in the eye, causing them each a momentary annoyance, than to save a single person from suffering fifty years of torture.

Infinity +1. There is no number high enough that I would choose to save that number of people from a tiny dust speck over a single person being tortured.

In all of the above scenarios where I can't make the choice between two bad things, my solution would be to stop the person(s) doing the bad things. If I fail in that attempt and bad things still happen, I am content that I did everything in my power to prevent those actions.

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Pete at Home
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1) I'd rather save [X1] people from suffering a tiny dust speck in the eye, causing them each a momentary annoyance, than to save a single person from suffering a paper cut.

_12_ Hard to care about this one, unless the latter is a hemophiliac, in which case change my answer from 12 to "Rule D."


2) I'd rather save [X2] people from suffering a paper-cut each, than to save a single person from having an annoying hiccup for 5 minutes.

_100_ Assuming that none of the papercutees were hemophiliacs, in which case change my answer to "Rule D:" -- always save the hemophiliac papercuttee. My reasoning is this: I'd rather get a paper cut myself (since I am not a hemophiliac) than even spend five minutes in a room with someone with an annoying case of the hiccups.


3) I'd rather save [X3] people from having an annoying hiccup for 5 minutes each, than to save a single person from having a headache for half an hour.

_1_ As stated in 2, I'm concerned not only for the folks who have the hiccups, but also for those that they annoy. Particularly if one of those persons is me [Wink]


4) I'd rather save [X4] people from having a headache for half an hour, than save a single person from having an evening of diarrhea.

_12_


5) I'd rather save [X5] people from having an evening of diarrhea each, than save a single person from breaking a leg in an accident.

_60_


6) I'd rather save [X6] people from breaking their leg, than save a single person from going to jail (solitary confinement) unjustly for a month.

_60_

7) I'd rather save [X7] people from going unjustly to a month of solitary each, than save a single person from suffering a month of torture.

_1_ unless torture is specifically worse than solitary confinement. In my views solitary confinement for a month is torture.

8) I'd rather save [X8] people from suffering a month of torture, than save a single person from suffering a year of torture.

_12_


9) I'd rather save [X9] people from suffering a year of torture, than save a single person from suffering five years of torture.

_3_ At this point it's diminishing returns and the damage done is so great that one would almost rather minimize the persons screwed up and then returned to society.


10) I'd rather save [X10] people from suffering five years of torture, than save a single person from suffering twenty years of torture.

_3_

11) I'd rather save [X11] people from suffering twenty years of torture, than save a single person from suffering fifty years of torture.

_2_ No one survives more than 20 years of torture.

Last question:

12) I'd rather save [X12] people from suffering a tiny dust speck in the eye, causing them each a momentary annoyance, than to save a single person from suffering fifty years of torture.

_Rule D_ unless the prospective torturee is a dedicated masochist to whom the very prospect of 50 years of torture is virtually orgasmic.

[ October 20, 2011, 08:46 AM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
If I fail in that attempt and bad things still happen, I am content that I did everything in my power to prevent those actions.
The superpowerful aliens that abducted you say. "The Intergalactic laws of Minimal Philanthropic Intervention (IMPI) allow us either to save either this single kid from having his leg broken, or a hundred million kids worldwide from having an evening of diarrhea each. We brought you here to choose. But if you can't choose, then we can't save any of them from any harm. They'll *all* suffer the harm we could have prevented."

Will you just flip a coin? Is that what you mean by "I don't care either way"?

"Everything in your power" right now means actually stating a preference.

----

To make it clear to anyone else who wants to answer: please don't just *ignore* the guidelines I set out. If you don't care either way, if you consider the two harms exactly the same, then you might just as well say "1". If you consider what I thought of as the greater harm in actuality lesser than the other harm, you might just as well use decimal numbers like 0.2 -- your meaning will be quite understood.

But please don't use phrases like "pretty high" or "very high" or "approaching infinity". Either use a number, or invoke Rule D (Infinity), as Grant and Chael did for most of the questions and Pete did for the last one, which is a perfectly valid response. But fuzzy sentences are worse than useless.

[ October 20, 2011, 08:42 AM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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Pete at Home
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So the aliens came all the way here to play a benign version of Sophie's choice? [Smile]
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Aris Katsaris:
To make it clear to anyone else who wants to answer: please don't just *ignore* the guidelines I set out. If you don't care either way, if you consider the two harms exactly the same, then you might just as well say "1". If you consider what I thought of as the greater harm in actuality lesser than the other harm, you might just as well use decimal numbers like 0.2 -- your meaning will be quite understood.

But please don't use phrases like "pretty high" or "very high" or "approaching infinity". Either use a number, or invoke Rule D (Infinity), as Grant and Chael did for most of the questions and Pete did for the last one, which is a perfectly valid response. But fuzzy sentences are worse than useless.

Are my qualifiers OK? Are we supposed to enter the possibilities of hemophiliac papercutees into our numeric calculations, or can we assume no hemophiliac papercuttees and masochistic torturees?
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Grant
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The experiment has a point and if you ignore the rules I think the experiment becomes invalid.

It's like somebody asks what you would do when you're on the 10 yard line in the 4th quarter with 5 seconds left on the clock down by 3 points, and you answer that you would have the scoreboard fixed to give you an extra 10 points.

If the alien story is too far fetched then try to use the imagination to come up with a story that fits and you are able to suspend disbelief.

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
Originally posted by Pete at Home:
Are my qualifiers OK? Are we supposed to enter the possibilities of hemophiliac papercutees into our numeric calculations, or can we assume no hemophiliac papercuttees and masochistic torturees?

I don't mind the qualifiers, though probably unnecessary.

As per Rule B, we can assume no hemophiliacs, and also no masochists -- each of these scenarios *is* harm, but for the purposes of the question can be considered the minimal harm that can be typically associated with the word (in which case for example, the hiccup-sufferer would be suffering hiccups in his own home, without annoying others -- nor would the torture victim be forced to reveal the nuclear secrets of America which would cause a nuclear armaggedon and the eradication of humanity).

Apologies for the hoops I'm making you all jump through.

[ October 20, 2011, 09:00 AM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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philnotfil
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I would delete my post, but the time has elapsed, so you will have to suffer through it.
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threads
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I didn't obey rule F.

1.) 50.

Paper cuts can sting for a while. I tried to think of this in terms of how many dust specks would one have to suffer from before being the suffering is equivalent to that caused by a paper cut.

2.) 2

3.) 4

I'd rather have a headache for 5 minutes than the hiccups for 5 minutes.

4.) 5

5.) 50

6.) 15

My answer here depends on whether the person gets released with a criminal record or gets released with a clean record. If they get released with a criminal record then the answer is closer to 100.

7.) 250

I'm trying to account for the long lasting psychological effects of torture. I don't think this violates Rule B. If it does then Rule B is bad.

8.) 20

A person suffering from a year of torture will have psychological damage for life and will probably never work again. A person suffering from a month of torture might be capable of going back to work and living a normal life. It depends.

9.) 3

After a certain point there is guaranteed severe psychological damage so the years don't scale linearly.

10.) 2

11.) 2

12.) I'm going to cop out on this one. The best way for me to answer here is to multiply the previous numbers because I have no good references for calculating X here.

50*2*4*5*50*15*250*20*3*2*2 = 90,000,000,000

That's much lower than I would have thought, but it makes sense upon reflection. If there were enough dust specks to cause 90 billion people to be out-of-commission for 1 minute then that would lead to up to 170,000 years of lost productivity (that's an upper bound of course, the actual number will be significantly lower).

edit: 90 billion, not 90 million

edit 2: fixed more math

[ October 20, 2011, 09:31 AM: Message edited by: threads ]

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Aris Katsaris
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threads, that calculation actually equals 90 billion, not 90 million.
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threads
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Ah, you're right. Google calculator wrapped the last 3 zeros to the next line [Razz]
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Pete at Home
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Aris, thank you for expounding on Rule B. If you run this survey somewhere else, I'd suggest adding some of that language to Rule B. I also think that you should add your clarification:

quote:
The superpowerful aliens that abducted you say. "The Intergalactic laws of Minimal Philanthropic Intervention (IMPI) allow us either to save either this single kid from having his leg broken, or a hundred million kids worldwide from having an evening of diarrhea each. We brought you here to choose. But if you can't choose, then we can't save any of them from any harm. They'll *all* suffer the harm we could have prevented."
This is important because it establishes that the sufferings are independent, i.e. that the chooser is not causing one group to suffer by removing suffering from another group.

[ October 20, 2011, 11:42 AM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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Pyrtolin
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1) D

2) 1, but that's effectively D based on a personal valuation that the cut is the more painful scenario

3) D

4) 1, similar to 2, I'd find the headache the less desirable issue

5) D

6) Given rule B, which negates what to me would be the worst consequences of being confined, but not the lasting issues inherent to physical injury, I'll put this at 1 as well.

7) D

8)-11) I roughly agree with Pete's assertion of diminishing returns pushing the scope in favor of the most people free rather than trying to minimize the total time.

12) I'd put this at 0, but that seems to flow from so many Ds and effective Ds early on.

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Wayward Son
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X1: 20
X2: 10
X3: 100
X4: 1000
X5: Rule D
X6: 50
X7: Rule D
X8: 13
X9: 6
X10: 5
X11: 3
X12: Rule D

The only thing I noted about myself is that I abhore severe physical pain. Thus, Rule D in 5 and 7.

The numbers in 8 through 11 are quite arbitrary, since I would not allow either torture scenarios if I could prevent them. So asking which is the lesser evil is really moot; they are all simply evil. [Mad]

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Clark
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1) 30
2) 2
3) 14
4) 6
5) 477
6) 53
7) 211
8) 25
9) 11
10) 9
11) 3
12) I'll just use the product of my other answers: 199,619,837,802,000. Don't worry folks, 200 trillion people won't have to get something stuck in their eye on my watch!

I had a hard time once I got to question 5, because I've never broken a bone, nor suffered anything listed in the questions after that. I tried to picture a whole bunch of people in jail, next to someone being tortured, but I'm not sure how effective that really was.

Also, I don't feel compelled to choose arbitrary numbers that are divisible by 2, 5 or 10.

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Jordan
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quote:
Clark:
I had a hard time once I got to question 5, because I've never broken a bone, nor suffered anything listed in the questions after that.

Quite. Reading through the questions, my mind flipped twice. Once from "I barely care" to "this is getting serious" and a second time from "yeah, pretty serious" to "woah, when did this become high-octane nightmare fuel?"

I can't conceive how bad a day of earnest torture would be, never mind fifty years. I know that Aris said to imagine the minimum harmful outcome one would normally expect from something like this, but what does that mean when it comes to torture? My understanding is too limited (and my imagination too wild) to quantify that.

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RickyB
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1) I'd rather save [X1] people from suffering a tiny dust speck in the eye, causing them each a momentary annoyance, than to save a single person from suffering a paper cut.

I'm tempted to say infinite X, since then I'll catch the formula 1 driver too.

2) I'd rather save [X2] people from suffering a paper-cut each, than to save a single person from having an annoying hiccup for 5 minutes.

Again, since in the one person case I have to assume the minimal damage - that is no "hiccup turned to chocking to death", an infinite paper cuts will include the one that coincides with a violent toxin contaminating it.

3) I'd rather save [X3] people from having an annoying hiccup for 5 minutes each, than to save a single person from having a headache for half an hour.

Same, due to the chocking factor, the hiccup happening at inopportune moments that really cause a setback for the person (middle of a big speech, presentation, intimate moment, whatever).

4) I'd rather save [X4] people from having a headache for half an hour, than save a single person from having an evening of diarrhea.

Hmmm. Here we have to turn to the morality of the very proposition. Whether I do it for me, for a loved one or whatever, what right do I have to throw even minute packages of bad juju on a bunch of strangers just for my comfort or that of others I happen to care about?

5) I'd rather save [X5] people from having an evening of diarrhea each, than save a single person from breaking a leg in an accident.

OK, assuming almost everyone in the world has an evening of diarrhea ahead of them at some time, I'd accept the sacrifice of an ordinary, no special complications broken leg if it simply skip the next evening of diarreah for everyone on earth once, since there are bound to be people for whom the next will be the last, so I'd be pushing their death back at least by some time and that'd be a worthwhile net worth.

6) I'd rather save [X6] people from breaking their leg, than save a single person from going to jail (solitary confinement) unjustly for a month.

If that is the only way to save him, there have to be a great many legs out there I'd feel ok with breaking on the way of preventing the injustice.

7) I'd rather save [X7] people from going unjustly to a month of solitary each, than save a single person from suffering a month of torture.

Tougher territory here. It would have to be a lot, because I imagine there would be quite a few volunteers (for a month in the hole to prevent a man from being tortured).

8) I'd rather save [X8] people from suffering a month of torture, than save a single person from suffering a year of torture.

Assuming no children were involved? Assuming everyone to be tortured is equally truly at odds with the torturers?

9) I'd rather save [X9] people from suffering a year of torture, than save a single person from suffering five years of torture.

Murky territory here. I would ask the guy facing five years.

10) I'd rather save [X10] people from suffering five years of torture, than save a single person from suffering twenty years of torture.

OK, Twenty years of actual continual torture is something nobody comes back human from. Five is borderline. I'd say that as absolute commander/deity I'd spare five men and women of equal value in my eyes for the one guy sentenced to death. But I'd probably mount a rescue mission for the one first...

11) I'd rather save [X11] people from suffering twenty years of torture, than save a single person from suffering fifty years of tortur

Last question:

12) I'd rather save [X12] people from suffering a tiny dust speck in the eye, causing them each a momentary annoyance, than to save a single person from suffering fifty years of torture.

Meaningless. That's a sentence that won't even be served in half. 2 completely spared of torture can be worth it. 1, if the condemned party so feels. [Smile] Then again, one person can be worth twenty others in the big picture.

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Aris Katsaris
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If anyone cares about my motives behind this survey, it was inspired/motivated by the threads in LessWrong about "specks vs torture":
http://lesswrong.com/lw/kn/torture_vs_dust_specks/
http://lesswrong.com/lw/12b/revisiting_torture_vs_dust_specks/
http://lesswrong.com/lw/81f/seq_rerun_torture_vs_dust_specks/

Some people, including me, accepted that there must be a finite amount of dust specks that can outweigh even torture. Others argued that no amount of dust specks (not even 3^^^3 of them) can equal a single person getting tortured.

I've made some changes from the initial question, so that it's now about saving people from harm rather than inflicting harm to them. The distinction isn't really significant for a consequentialist (to choose to inflict the lesser harm is morally equivalent to saving from the greater harm), but I'm sure it would be significant for at least some varieties of deontologists. And as it's not the point of the question (the point is really about whether tiny harms multiplied can exceed a single vast harm), it's better away removed to avoid distractions.

The other main point of difference ofcourse was that I wanted to see if people could specify at what exact point their objection to multiplying lesser harms actually began. Hence the twelve layers.

I think Pete here was the only person who managed to place numbers for 1 to 11 (those numbers multiplied would only go to about 11 billion specks), but for answer 12 went for "infinity" instead. Everyone else had a "Rule D" objection either before the final question, or alternately bit the bullet and assigned a number to that one as well, by multiplying.

Btw, let me make it clear that I'm not truly accusing anyone of "inconsistency", neither Pete nor any of the others. The human utility function is too complicated to make such easy judgements.
I'm quite unsure that the multipliers are right in their attitude, even though I'm one of them too.

[ October 21, 2011, 10:41 PM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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Pete at Home
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Whether you said it or not, I do see that what I said was inconsistent, but that was before your detailed explanation of Rule B.

In light of your explanation, I would change my answer to question five to "Rule D," since I understand that an evening of diarrhea is intended to be minimal, i.e. 100% non-Lethal, not contagious, etc. I see a threshold at broken bones. I believe this also renders consistent my reply to Question 12.

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Jordan
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My considered response to the multiplicative approach is that it relies on a very naïve sort of utilitarianism, not to mention some powerful assumptions about the nature of pain. I have difficulty accepting the idea that you can aggregate the pain experienced by an arbitrarily vast number of different people in any meaningful way. Whether it is the concept itself that is problematic or merely my mental model of pain is difficult for me to determine.

Edit: I also want to commend you, Aris, for starting one of the most interesting threads I've seen for a while.

[ October 22, 2011, 08:48 PM: Message edited by: Jordan ]

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Chael
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When formulating my answers (hey, there /were/ two of them!), I was trying to take into account 1) the likely psychological effect of the two harms, 2) the physical pain represented by the two harms, and 3) the duration for a single person of each of the two harms.

What I discovered is that when the psychological and physical harm represented is minimal, I prefer to err on the side of least duration per person, rather than least duration in total. When the psychological harm is minimal but physical pain and duration are not, the scales become more even for me. I am still more convinced by duration than discomfort (as long as noticeable discomfort is present in both cases), but if the durations represented were more closely aligned than, for example, an evening of discomfort versus a month or two of disability and discomfort, I can see myself deciding in favor of the many rather than the one.

On the other hand, when both psychological and physical harm are in the mix (as in the torture cases), my decision becomes one of 'fewest and least-wrecked lives.' In these cases, I am more ready to decide in favor of the many.

What this means is that when making these decisions I am balancing two factors which only sometimes compete: 1) least global suffering, and 2) least-permanent suffering.

Because of the 'least-permanent suffering' principle, I cannot conceive of a number of people suffering from minimal and fleeting dust mote exposure which could justify not saving one person from a day of torture. The longevity of the dust-mote suffering for each individual life, assuming no formula 1 drivers, is simply insufficient for my particular moral algebra.

Of course, this is how I think about these things. I acknowledge that others may quite sensibly think about them differently.

[ October 22, 2011, 09:31 PM: Message edited by: Chael ]

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Chael
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And now that I think about it, my unwillingness to convert from one unit-type of suffering to another (as represented by 'least global' and 'least-permanent') is quite interesting, and renders the validity of a term like 'moral algebra' for what I'm doing somewhat dubious. [Wink]
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RickyB
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"Some people, including me, accepted that there must be a finite amount of dust specks that can outweigh even torture."

Um, no. I beg to differ. In fact, if I were a deity and that was the only way to prevent the torture? I'd give everyone on the planet a dust spec a day. Let them remember next time. [Smile]

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Aris Katsaris
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RickyB, "some people, including me," wasn't meant to include you.

"everyone on the planet" is far too small a number for the quantities debated here -- even the multipliers would agree that the harm of a mere 7 billion dust specks (one person each) would not be sufficient to outweigh the harm of torture. Too bad you didn't specify exact numbers; then we might have known if 7 billion (or 7 trillion, or 7 quantillion) *broken legs* would have been sufficient for them to outweigh it in your mind.

[ October 23, 2011, 07:58 AM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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RickyB
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Shrug. I see no change in my position no matter what extent of humanity. we can't hit anyone more than once, because that invalidates the whole thing.
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Jordan
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Tricky things about these questions:
  • My internal representation of "pain" is insufficiently developed for me to quantify in any meaningful way, especially when dealing with combinations of physical discomfort, short- or long-term physical disability and psychological damage.
  • I am struggling to find a simple way to aggregate pain experienced over different periods of time. Is forty years of torture meaningfully less painful than fifty? Is it precisely four fifths as painful? If not, how much less painful is it and why?
  • I am not sure that, even if the pain of discomfort/disability/damage can be quantified using some base unit, there is a linear additive rule such that the pain of two people having the same experience is twice the pain of one person experiencing the same. Whether this is an intuition born of my inability to scale pain or has some other bias, potentially rational, is something I'm trying to determine.
  • Even ignoring the former issues and assuming that pain can be quantified and there exists an additive rule that is monotonic increasing, is there a least upper bound to our scale of pain, with respect to momentary individual pain, pain experienced over time or pain experienced by different people?
Those are the main issues I've encountered in trying to answer the question, and I'm still thinking about them: meaningful quantification, and the additive rule for pain experienced by multiple individuals over time.

[ October 23, 2011, 08:21 AM: Message edited by: Jordan ]

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Aris Katsaris
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RickyB, I don't understand your position. By which I don't mean "I disagree with", I mean "I don't know what the hell your position is". And this non-understanding was done by your own choice, as you deliberately went for "cutesy" instead of clear, when you were answering my survey by ignoring every single guideline.

Frustration feels like pain. Tiredness feels like pain. Confusion feels like pain. Annoyance feels like pain. Wanting impossible things like "you clarifying your position as per guidelines" feels like pain. Being obsessive compulsive enough that I can't easily walk away from all this feels like pain.

And I know I'd prefer if you had inflicted the clean, sharp, but brief pain of five papercuts instead of this fuzzy frustration of mine over this, which is surely close enough to the feeling of a headache.

Now I'm gonna go and have a lie down. See you all later.

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Jordan
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If it's any consolation, your survey has plagued me with painful questions since I read it, though as it happens I'm something of a masochist.
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Aris Katsaris
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Apologies for the whininess/self-pity of my last comment. I shouldn't have posted that.
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Pete at Home
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Part of the problem with torture as a calculable is that many, including myself, connect a see significant evil of torture what it does to the perpetrator.

Rule 2 enables us to imagine the broken legs occurring in isolation, with a breakee and no intentional breaker. Not so with torture. It's hard to weigh accidents against intentional acts.

What happened to my son is comparable in actual victim suffering to someone being tortured for years, and I can understand someone trying to balance that against the relief of say 25,107 persons who never get measels, mumps or Rubella or associated complications. But if someone was intentionally inflicting that harm, e.g. by simulating what happened to my son by lobotomizing his limbic area and setting roman candles off in his small intestine ... that would be hard to calculate.

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Jordan
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quote:
Pete:
What happened to my son is comparable in actual victim suffering to someone being tortured for years, and I can understand someone trying to balance that against the relief of say 25,107 persons who never get measels, mumps or Rubella or associated complications.

In my opinion that's an excellent recasting of the problem, Pete, and a very effective real-world equivalent to these hypothetical scenarios.

Say we have a treatment can save a large number of people from suffering some unpleasant and dangerous condition, at the price of one in a very large number of people having an adverse reaction that causes them years of ghoulish suffering.

Do you administer the treatment? What sort of numbers are we talking? Is torture inflicted by chance less "bad," though no less painful, than intentional torture conducted by an actual person?


Edited to add: Those are rhetorical questions; I'm trying to provoke input on whether questions along these lines might be valuable with respect to the broader aims of Aris' project in this thread, particularly from Aris himself.

[ October 24, 2011, 01:13 PM: Message edited by: Jordan ]

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RickyB
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LOL. I didn't go for "cutesy" but may have erred on the literal and practical side.
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JWatts
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Assumptions: I mentally performed each weighing as if I had to choose and the result would apply to my own self. This reasoning might breakdown in the later steps and might violate the implicit assumptions.

[QB]
quote:
Originally posted by Aris Katsaris:
1) I'd rather save [X1] people from suffering a tiny dust speck in the eye, causing them each a momentary annoyance, than to save a single person from suffering a paper cut.

1,800

Explanation: If I had too choose between blinking uncontrollably once a second, I'd chose that option for up to 30 minutes before I'd chose the paper cut.

quote:
2) I'd rather save [X2] people from suffering a paper-cut each, than to save a single person from having an annoying hiccup for 5 minutes.
0.5

Explanation: It would take 10 minutes of annoying hiccuping to equal a paper cut. (I don't like paper cuts).

quote:
3) I'd rather save [X3] people from having an annoying hiccup for 5 minutes each, than to save a single person from having a headache for half an hour.
2


quote:
4) I'd rather save [X4] people from having a headache for half an hour, than save a single person from having an evening of diarrhea.
18

Explanation: I assumed an evening meant 6pm to 12 pm. And if I had to choose, I'd take 6 hours of diarrhea before 9 hours of headache.


quote:
5) I'd rather save [X5] people from having an evening of diarrhea each, than save a single person from breaking a leg in an accident.
30

Explanation: Assume a good broken leg is painful when it happens, will take at least 6 hours to get back from the hospital and will be a major annoyance for 6 weeks.

quote:
6) I'd rather save [X6] people from breaking their leg, than save a single person from going to jail (solitary confinement) unjustly for a month.
1.5

Explanation: If I had to choose between Guido breaking my leg (in a reasonably painless way guaranteed to be a simple fracture) and him sticking me in a nice, well lit cell with good food and some books with a shower and toilet for a month, it's close to a toss up.

I'd pick the Guido hammer to the leg vs 1 month in solitary. But if it was both legs, I'd definitely take solitary. So, I split the difference between 1 and 2.

quote:
7) I'd rather save [X7] people from going unjustly to a month of solitary each, than save a single person from suffering a month of torture.
6

Explanation: For torture, I assumed something similar to John McCain's experience in Vietnam. With the occasional beatings and bad food in a small bamboo cell.

quote:
8) I'd rather save [X8] people from suffering a month of torture, than save a single person from suffering a year of torture.
13

Explanation: A long stretch is worse than smaller shorter stretches. But how much worse? I'm not sure what I would pick. If I could get a day off after every month to be with the family, I'd pick it. If I could get a whole weekend, I'd pick it also. But I wouldn't want to stretch the whole experience out for ever, so I'm just going to go with the bare minimum.

quote:
9) I'd rather save [X9] people from suffering a year of torture, than save a single person from suffering five years of torture.
5.5

quote:
10) I'd rather save [X10] people from suffering five years of torture, than save a single person from suffering twenty years of torture.
5


quote:
11) I'd rather save [X11] people from suffering twenty years of torture, than save a single person from suffering fifty years of torture.
3

quote:
12) I'd rather save [X12] people from suffering a tiny dust speck in the eye, causing them each a momentary annoyance, than to save a single person from suffering fifty years of torture.

I have to default to the math also. Is says:

1,800x(.5)x2x18x30x1x6x13x5.5x5x3 =
6.2 billion

According to this Blinks per lifetime the average blink takes .03 seconds.

6.2 billion X 0.3 secs = 186 million seconds

That's about 6 years.

Would I chose blindness for 6 years over 50 years of solitary confinement. Absolutely. So my numbers look low.

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Pete at Home
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Question for Aris:

You said you can quantify dust specks against 50 years of torture.

Can you quantify them against death?

How many dust specs in eyes to balance against the painless death of one perfectly healthy 16 year old child?

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
You said you can quantify dust specks against 50 years of torture.
Though it occurs to me that I've not offered my own numbers. (lots of application of Rule A here, btw: erring on the side of higher values)
20,000 dust specks worse than papercut.
50 papercuts worse than a 5-minute hiccup
20 hiccups worse than a half-hour headache
50 half-hour headaches worse than a evening of diarrhea
400 diarrheas worse than a broken leg.
30 broken legs worse than a month of unjust imprisonments.
200 unjust imprisonments worse than a month of torture
100 torture-months worse than a torture year
10 torture-years worse than a torture of 5 years
10 torture-5-years worse than torture of 20 years
5 torture-20-years worse than torture of 50 years
That takes us to 120 quintillion dust specks.

quote:
Can you quantify them against death?
Good question. Simple answer is that I *can't* in good conscience come up with an answer I'd feel comfortable with, either to quantify it or not quantify it. I could start with some easier calculations (better save ten 26-years old than a a single 16-year old, better save ten 36-year olds than a single 26-year old) and in such a manner reach the first obvious and mostly comfortable conclusion that I'd rather save ten million 86-year olds, each one with only a handful years left, than a single 16-year old with his whole life ahead of him.

Rationally I can make some additional multiplication over whether I'd really rather save a 86-year from death, or a random person from 50-years of torture, and I think I'd rather save the latter. So 1.2*10^27 dust specks should *rationally* be enough to cover the death of a 16-year old, but I'm not comfortable with such a conclusion.

I guess death is my own 'can't compute' point; and not just about specks vs death, but about torture vs death.

(As a sidenote further complicating things is the fact that with transhumanism and singularity at at least an imaginable horizon, the 16-year old, if left alive, has the potential to live forever (or at least until the heat-death of the universe) or change into modes of existence currently inconceivable by us. This throws off any conceivable quantification of the consequences of death, while any *temporary* suffering, even that of torture, may be ultimately considered forgotten in a transhumanist future. But that's a weak excuse mostly, and for the sake of the argument we can consider biological immortality unavailable to the 16-year old in question)

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