So, as we've heard earlier, the usual way of making big decisions is simulating expected outcomes, and choosing according to a combination of probabilities of expected value, including both objective elements, and more problematic subjective elements. These subjective elements are great because you should follow the dream in your heart, ie there is something special and particular about your own personal internal view on your own future. They are problematic in the case of transformative experiences, like having a durian baby, because you can't know how you'll feel about that in the future. Therefore, to make a rational decision, you have to decide on the basis of the transformative experience, not the outcome. You should like jumping the fence, not the colour of the grass on the other side.
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The afterword provides some DVD bonus features and previously never seen footage from this argument.
Firstly, why not value objective criteria more? It's not that third person or objective criteria are irrelevant. Paul is a fan of objective criteria really and doesn't seem hung up on accessibility of truth or other hard skeptical positions, as they aren't mentioned, and scientific results are seen as objective enough to count, which is practical. The concern is that ignoring personal subjective values entirely seems inauthentic. Sartre would call us a phony. That stings. More rigorously, the findings of science around human behaviour and psychology apply as trends across populations. They are too coarse-grained to be predictive for individuals; over-specific prediction (the specific lives of individuals) is here a type of over-generalizing (the scientific result). This is linked to the fundamental identification problem in science: that tests on human psychology aren't as strictly repeatable, because of greater variation among people, each of us being a special snowflake. The main concern flagged isn't that subjective experience is different in kind, but more a problem of data quality, model coherence and bandwidth. This suggests to me that if we had mind observation and simulation of sufficient granularity, which would be vastly more sophisticated than today, Paul might consider following that over gut feel as rational.
Informed consent around transformative experiences isn't very informed, because you can't know what you'll really feel like in the future. Doctors sometimes get patients facing such choices to tell stories about the future instead and decide based on that, and that seems to make everyone recover better. Choices around addictive substances like durian cocaine have a similar structure.
Games designed to break mathematical models of decision making, like ones which unpredictably have infinite gains and losses (the Pasadena game), are pretty good at breaking it. Maybe we should throw out the normative model of rationality.
Paul then has a technical passage that struck me as the main concern, though not the main argument, of the book.
"the main problem with truly transformative choices is not a problem in formal epistemology; it is a problem in formal phenomenology. To make a start on the problem, we need to think about the possibility of developing models for epistemically indeterminate values, perhaps starting by examining ways to model imprecise values (although since the real problem is the special kind of epistemic inaccessibility of the values, models for imprecise values won't be able to do all the work)."
"which parts of a person's previous experience, understood from her subjective point of view, could be exploited to give her the information or the ability she needs to determine the contours of what it is like [?]"
How do you deal with lo-fi knowledge of the future, or in the jargon, imprecise credences?
One approach is to use a type theory, or higher order decision procedure. You generalize your future experience by assigning it a category (type) and then generalizing from personal historical experience of things of that type. You liked green and red grapes, so you guess you'll like golden grapes, even though you've never tried them. Perhaps this works for grapes but not more major differences, say across sight and hearing. Interesting psychological research indicates that despite some long philosophical traditions, there are fundamental similarities between the way a blind person and sighted person think about movement and space: this supports the category approach. You could use a hierarchical Bayesian model as your type system and evaluation function. There might be problems of the knock-on consequences of an action being multitudinous, and therefore hard to think about; the decision tree might be computationally extraordinarily expensive to search.
Maybe some transformative experiences are too profoundly unknowable even given partial knowledge based on a category. There are still rational approaches to situations of extreme ignorance (perhaps we should say very low bandwidth). You can follow simple conservative rules based on the little you do know, and your knowledge of your own ignorance. Perhaps the only knowledge you can rely on is your own attitude to the transformation itself, and so you decide based on that.
I thought deciding based on partial data and a model of how preferences might change under transformation was reasonable, and a better description of what people already do. I don't know that you need a research program or a hierarchical Bayesian model of great computational complexity for that, even if they would help. You just muddle along with your human limitations and pattern matching, much as you would when trying to win a game of chess, without being able to search the game-space as well as a computer. I tend to think people are ok at this muddling, because if radical transformation includes having a child (fair), it's not a historically new phenomenon.
I'm sure Prof Paul could explode my brain from across the room with the mere power of her thoughts, but I suspect this corner of philosophy has some long held assumptions about decisions that are hard to relate to internally. In a way I would have liked the book to have started where it ended. I guess that means I'm still open to a sequel.
Lastly, a song.
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Repetitiveness generally isn't all that grave a crime in pop music. For example, literally every song the Red Hot Chili Peppers have ever recorded is just Anthony Kiedis saying "Llama gamma busy hella fizzy California" over the opening credits music from The Cosby Show, and they've been doing it for over 30 years and nobody cares. This is because the Red Hot Chili Peppers are just some goofballs turning the crank and hoping it'll spit out another "Under the Bridge," and they know it as well as we do, and hey, the world is full of people turning cranks. Much of life is crank-turning. Nobody can get mad at the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It would be like getting mad at a fry cook because his quarter-pounders always taste the same.
The problem with U2--with Bono, really, I mean c'mon, who the fuck are the rest of them anyway?--is not that their shit is repetitive, but what they are repeating (neutered khaki wussbag crap designed to make you proud of yourself for being capable of feelings) and how they are repeating it (with the pomp, grandiosity, and embarrassing self-seriousness of a 14-year-old Redditor telling you he doesn't see race, man), and to whom they are repeating it (shitdick Red Sox stans). U2 is the world's foremost creator of Oh Man, So Deep faces--furrowed brow, closed eyes, overbite--on dudes who tuck in their T-shirts. My theory is, Bono starts with the face and works backward.
*Yeah, a Gawker site. I followed a shortened link and then it was too late!
This is played for laughs, but the more I think about it, the more genuinely impressive it seems. Shaq is something like 350 pounds. She's walking in heels with him on her back. She's also smiling the whole time. Maybe the crucible of sexism is even more annealing than we believed.