Summer Book Review Open Post

When having the time to be able to read more often I’m going to keep a general open post going of thoughts and highlights of things I’ve read this summer.

Speciesism: Why It Is Wrong, And The Implications of Rejecting It

This short work was posted on a few online groups for including a decent section on insect consideration and wild animal suffering in general. I found it to be a quick and concise read. If you’re new to the concept of sentience based moral consideration Magnus Vinding recommends you read his work Moral Truths: The Foundations of Ethics, which I haven’t read as of yet and can’t recommend. Although the general fundamental assumption I saw throughout the work was that bound experience is the only aspect or arrangement of physics which has intrinsic moral weight, whereas the rest of the universe is merely extrinsic in its spectrum of instrumental moral importance.

The book is first a guided tour through the reasons for rejecting the concept of speciesism mainly through comparisons to other mainly rejected forms of discrimination in the liberal/progressive western world: racism, sexism, or ranking moral importance of an individual by mental or physical potential. The questioning how well defined the notion of a species actually is, is also brought into question with a few different thought experiments.

Vinding also stresses veganism as our only means of being non-speciesist in our diets. Which even if you’re not making a case of intrinsic moral value in each life, veg*nism seems to me to be the most ethical and climate-considerate stance you could have with regard to what you eat. (Of course there are caveats which need to be considered)

Throughout the book the general method is to explain the speciesist aspect of some thought, ownership rights, use for food, etc.. and then replace the non-human animal in question with a human and see where moral intuition guides the reader. Probably nothing new to the animal rights activist but to someone just being introduced to the idea of speciesist thought it provides a concise and far reaching tour of the consequences of rejecting/accepting the moral consideration of all species.

After addressing the status-quo bias in most veg*n’s opposition to suffering in factory farming when applied to animals in the wild, it refreshingly touches on solutions to the problem. The two it presents are the only two fully fledged out theories to my knowledge (I’d love to learn about more, so please comment or email me any variants): reengineering or eradication.

The only point of personal contention that I had with the work was along the lines of vivisection, which Vinding claims is not morally defensible without being speciesist. But I take the more Singer-esque route and would bite the human version. Just as I feel abortion is morally permissible, I think that the sweeping magnitude of our scientific considerations should justify the inarguable exploitation of some species currently. I am hopeful of more thorough simulation software and ability to experiment non-invasively, but just as Vinding cites the eradication of rinderpest as a good intervention, he indirectly supports vivisection by nature of its result, in this case the ability to eradicate an unwanted illness.

This leads me to the only room for improvement I see in this work and that is an inclusion of stronger possible responses outside of the more strawman-like arguments posed while spelling out the validity of the argument. Especially since there is a nod to the effective altruist community in the latter pages but the EA opinion of animal issues is best summed up by David Pearce:

There is a gaping wound at the heart of the effective altruist (EA) movement. On the one hand, Peter Singer has perhaps done more than any person alive to promote the interests of non-human animals. Important strands of the EA movement give Sentience Politics in broadest sense a central role. (cf. http://sentience-politics.org/) On the other hand, Toby Ord, founder of the admirable Giving What We Can (cf. https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/) takes seriously the (to my mind transparently self-serving) “Logic of the Larder” argument.
http://www.animal-rights-library.com/texts-c/salt02.htm
Katja Grace argues at some length EA’s shouldn’t even be vegetarian. (cf. https://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/…/when-should-an…/)
MIRI’s Eliezer Yudkowsky doesn’t even believe nonhuman animals (or human babies) are conscious – which would make the whole question moot.

I very hope an EA consensus can be hammered out soon. Invoking the in vitro meat revolution offers one way forward. But how much longer until the death factories are shut and outlawed?

Overall Speciesism is a short and good read that I would highly recommend to anyone new to the ideas, with not too much to offer anyone already thoroughly acquainted with the material.

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Upcoming Projects & Summer Research:

So i find it hard to balance the amount of work that I find interesting with the amount of time I actually can put into thorough and well done work. In this post I’ll be formalizing a few topics and areas of independent research I hope to make progress on this summer for two purposes:
1) to get myself to sit down and make a well-defined structure for research topics in areas of research I see as having high returns
2) to share my desires to do this work in a public format, with the hope that I’ll be stricter with my time management to follow through on the work and to  be able connect with people outside of my social circle doing similar work.

Summer Research:  
I got accepted into University of Maryland’s CS department’s Combinatorial Algorithms Applied Research for undergraduates program. I’m working on the project involving modeling pricing functions over social networks with Dr. Hajiaghayi and another student. Which hopefully will allow me to apply some of the principles I learned in game theory last semester. That starts at the beginning of June and I haven’t taken a pure algorithms class before, so in the few weeks after the semester ends I’ll be working through the majority of Dr. Roughgarden’s Coursera course, using the obvious textbook to accompany.

Independent Research: 
A friend also has been curious regarding the more specific details of Bayesian methodology to statistics and I’ve had this notebook sitting around unread for a year or two, so prior to me leaving to Las Vegas -> Maryland, we’re going to work through a few chapters and examples using PyMC. I plan on putting our work and implementations on github so the work will be extendable.

*I plan on fleshing out more of my projects here in the future. Stuff related to: AGI takeoff scenarios, the state space of qualia, generalized wada tests (total order of consciousness), negative utilitarianism, the dimensions of drug effect space, and on a less riveting topic I’ve also been thinking of making decision trees/random forests which instead of just using the Fischer Discriminant projection, they do a nonlinear projection, I want someone else to help with this work and I think it will be publishable*

Summer Book List:
Speciesism: Why it is Wrong and the Implications of Rejecting it 
-The Effective Altruism Handbook
– Rationality: From AI to Zombies
– The Wave Function: Essays on the Metaphysics of Quantum Mechanics
– Quantum Computing Since Democritus
– I Am You: The Metaphysical Foundations for Global Ethics 

This is not another rationality/transhumanist/effective altruism/philosophy blog.

Alright I’m kidding, its all of them in one.

So I don’t plan on summarizing The Sequences or just spamming the same transhumanist memes that most people in these online communities are already familiar with. Rather I plan on synthesizing lots of topics which are often discussed disparately and hopefully contribute original insights as well.

My plan for content on here is to make synthesis posts, summarizing articles, monthly links, and hopefully creating a semi-active medium in which my thoughts won’t fade immediately in the case of an untimely passing.

Another value I foresee in writing publicly (as opposed to Facebook where I have found it harder to not fall into local maximum in the breadth of ideas considered) is to have an audience which will be able present flaws in my logic or give me material that I haven’t read on similar topics. My hope is to currently be wrong from the perspective of my future selves or at least have the same views but with more knowledge of why.

I’m also very new at the website/blogger etiquette & culture so I expect to learn quite a deal about all of that shortly.

Anyways hope you all enjoy and engage!

*if you have any advice regarding website setup/management/content please send it my way! *