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Waking Up With Sam Harris #52 - Finding Our Way in the Cosmos (with David Deutsch)

STARTING at 00:49:58

Sam Harris: Imagine that this future of a completed science of the mind where we not only understand the brain basis or computational basis but we can intervene as completely as we want,

we now have this machine that we can put on your head and we can dial in any possible conscious machine, it's just this perfect experience machine...

David Deutsch: Well, wait, we’ll always have limited knowledge, and therefore the only states we’ll be able to download are the ones with knowledge we already know. The vast majority will always be, I mean the infinite majority will always be unknown.

SH: Can't we use this device to plumb experiences that have yet to be characterized?

DD: Well there are exponentially many of them.

SH: Right.

DD: So we can’t.

SH: We won't know all them, I'm not claiming that there's a finite number of experiences and we’ll know all of them...

DD: There are the experiences of knowing tomorrows scientific discovery which we’ll never be able to download until tomorrow.

SH: Well, I’d exclude all experiences of that type, I’m talking about conscious states, lets just say, we’ve recorded, let's trim it down to [something] simpler. Let's say we’ve taken a range of people who are good candidates for having the best of human experiences, so we’ve taken the best scientist and the most saintly people [of] the ethical space, the best athletes and the most creative artists and we’ve not only recorded their experience, and you’re able to sample their direct experience but we’ve extrapolated from their experience and sampled their various commonalities among different class of experience and have produced novel experiences that are in some ways even better or certainly more extreme or fundamentally new to the human mind. You take a little bit John Von Neumann, and you take little Mozart, or their equivalents that we have access to, and you throw in what it’s like to be Lionel Messi scoring his record breaking goal and you can get all this tuned up in various ways, and you’ve got all the time in the world to explore various states of consciousness to see which you prefer.

So my question, is there is something about my thesis that presupposes that we will converge on the value of those kind of experiences, you and I will not have radical disjunctions in our sense of what is good, given a ever expanding menu of possible experience. And if we do have disjunctions, if you really like experience 45 and I really like experience 46 and I detest experience 45 and vice versa, then that difference will have an explanation about neurological one or a computational one that will also be open to revision. Then the question is how should we change our intuition of what is good in light of what is possible, and is it good to change one's senses of what is good?

DD: There's a kind of misconception there about or at least a mismatch of how I think of minds. This assumes that there is such a thing as a happy state of mind that’s like orthogonal to the question of what is being processed. You said you can be as happy as Mozart, that kind-of emits what kind of specific music -- what specific problem are you solving as mozart? Are you solving one of the ones that he solves when he was alive, one specific one, well in that case you’re just repeating an experience which is not the same as, I mean that is, that can’t be what happiness consists of because we need to make progress. I think we’re more characterize by our problems than by our particular ideas at a particular time. What are the problems? A happy person is someone who has a set of problems that are hard enough to be worthwhile, at devoting a lot effort to, interesting enough and yet not so hard that you can’t make any progress, and these problems will consist of conflicts, between theories, the conflicts again be interesting. It’s not obvious that you can download this into something without it simply being a recreation of the individual person, you know. If I get a download of mozart’s theories at a particular time, then I don’t think it would be, I could sort of have the equivalent of remembering what it felt like to solve that problem but it wouldn't be my problem unless they managed to integrate it so much that I was actually mozart, and in that case what’s the point.