An excerpt on gorilla sign language for emotions and memories from this paper (bold mine):
Which nonhuman animals may be near-persons like Jenny? Reviewing the evidence, Varner argues that the category includes great apes, cetaceans, elephants, and, perhaps, corvids and parrots. To defend his claim that great apes do not have the kind of episodic memory required to have a biographical sense of one’s past, he examines the evidence provided for believing that Koko, the gorilla, has narrative and uses it to communicate deeply emotional personal memories from the distant past.
Koko was five years old in July, 1976. According to Francine “Penny” Patterson, who worked more closely with Koko than anyone, in 1976 Koko narrated an event that had happened three days prior:
(P = Patterson; K = Koko)
P: What did you do to Penny?
P: You admit it? (Koko had earlier called the bite a SCRATCH.)
K: SORRY BITE SCRATCH. (Penny shows the mark on her hand; it does resemble a scratch.)
K: WRONG BITE.
P: Why bite?
K: BECAUSE MAD.
P: Why mad?
K: DON’T KNOW
(Patterson & Cohn, 1994, p.282)
Koko’s one and two word responses here, drawn from her knowledge of more than a thousand American Sign Language (ASL) signs, clearly show an understanding of concepts, words, and causal relations (What did you do to Penny? BITE). However, as Varner notes, there is no evidence here of episodic memory, in which one remembers oneself at a particular place at a particular time. Koko is using ASL which, Varner tells us, does not include tenses. Consequently, he observes, “temporal references must generally be inferred from the context, and in these studies, that context is provided by the English sentences uttered by the human trainers” (Varner, 2012, p.155). Varner has his doubts about whether Koko is here communicating a conscious memory of what happened three days ago. Rather, Koko may simply be making signs she knows will succeed in eliciting the responses Koko desires from Patterson.
But if Koko is not capable of expressing memories of events three days in the past, she is able to communicate her emotions. When asked, “How do you feel?” she will respond appropriately, for example, with FINE, or HUNGRY, or SAD. In children, internal immediate-state language reporting one’s mood emerges in the third and fourth years. We are on firm ground, then, in thinking Koko has words and concepts, social communication, rationality in the sense of cause and effect thinking, emotions, awareness, and beliefs and desires. But she does not seem to have the second-order desires, executive control, or autonomy required for a biographical sense of self.
Varner is similarly cautious about long-term memories allegedly recounted by a gorilla, Michael, who was captured by poachers as an infant. Patterson made a video of Michael allegedly recounting this memory of the incident in which Michael’s mother was killed. In the recording we see Michael’s signings rendered in the following captions provided by Patterson: “SQUASH MEAT GORILLA. MOUTH TOOTH. CRY SHARP-NOISE LOUD. BAD THINK-TROUBLE LOCK-FACE. CUT/NECK LIP(GIRL) HOLD” (The Gorilla Foundation, n.d.). Varner, noting the ambiguity of the string of words, observes that “even Patterson’s sympathetic co-author Eugene Linden doubts her claim that Michael was telling the story about his mother’s death” (Ibid, pp.155–156). Varner concludes that in spite of such anecdotes and Patterson’s claim that Michael told her this story on several occasions, there is “no good evidence that apes understand or use language to express thoughts about the non-immediate past” (Ibid, pp.156). If Varner is wrong and Michael is recounting an episodic memory, Michael has an important claim to personhood. If Varner is right, perhaps Michael is just making signs he thinks Patterson is subconsciously nudging him to make, perhaps in Clever Hans fashion. In that event, Michael may not have episodic memories of the traumatic events. Rather, he may only be signing in sequences he has learned satisfy Patterson’s promptings.
Also, for another comparison, children only really start passing the mirror test at around 2 years old.
(Maybe this comment would be more appropriate on another one of the posts of the series, perhaps this one or this one, but I’ve decided to leave it here since this is the most recent post about sentience across species. This is mostly speculative and suggestive of areas for further research and questions that could inform our credences in consciousness.)
I haven’t been able to find the paper, unfortunately, but I thought this might be pretty good evidence for consciousness:
Another way to tap into an animal’s emotions is to train them to communicate how they feel. A group of researchers from London taught pigs to give one response when they felt normal and a different response when they were anxious (in this case they were given a drug designed to induce temporary anxiety). Not only could the pigs discriminate between these two states, but later they made the same “anxious” response when exposed to novel events such as an unfamiliar pig or a new pig pen. It seems that, since pigs are smart enough to tell researchers how they feel, they could be trained to understand that although a routine husbandry procedure might be frightening, it could be over relatively quickly and painlessly.
If an animal can discriminate between their own emotions and be taught to react to them in different ways (and not just to external stimuli or representations thereof), is this a sign of some kind of higher-order consciousness? Their learning systems are taking their own emotions as input to learn about, rather than just as final signals (e.g. reinforcers) for learning, and their emotions are being passed through their learning systems and not just directly to changes outside their brains (tail wagging, growling, stress hormones in the blood, etc.).
More recently, there’s the dog who was trained to press buttons that play words. At about 4:00, after a button didn’t work, the dog pressed “No” and “Help”.
And then cows may be able to react emotionally to their own learning, specifically, to their progress on a problem. Maybe this kind of learning is distinct from the kind of learning pigs and dogs seem to do about their own emotions.
Together (although I’m generalizing between species), this may suggest these animals can:
1. learn about their own emotional reactions, and
2. react emotionally to their own learning.
I suppose learning might not imply “knowing”, though. Many simpler forms of life seem to be able to learn without “knowing” anything, according to RP’s review. So the pigs and dog seem to be able to learn about their emotions, but do they “know” their emotions? The cows seem to react to their own learning/progress, but do they “know” that they’re learning/making progress?
On the other hand, how far is this kind of behaviour from nonhuman primates being able to communicate using sign language and how good was that as evidence for nonhuman primate consciousness? I suppose nonhuman primates seem to have learned to communicate more than just their emotions, including perhaps past events (skepticism here, though), which would be evidence for episodic memory.
But maybe even rats have episodic memory and perform mental time. It seems worth investigating whether or not these memory replay events are associated with emotions similar to the original events; if that’s the case, that would be a good sign that they’re actually experiencing the “simulation”. I’d imagine that when a dog runs in their sleep, they’re simulating experiences and actually experiencing the simulation, emotions and all, although that dreams are actually experienced while they’re happening in humans if not lucid—rather than at recall—is debated in philosophy. Some related reading: 
It also seems worth looking into intentionality here: do they ever consider alternatives (e.g. run multiple simulations) and then make a decision based on the alternatives? Can they choose to recall or run simulations in the first place?
I would think hard about what the relevant resources are that you’re trading off against each other. Are your hobbies important for your well-being and relaxation? Is it possible that by starting to monetize your hobbies, you might get less enjoyment out of them? Maybe it will also create some imbalance as you spend more time on them than you otherwise would? Or perhaps it’s the opposite and monetizing your hobbies would actually increase the quality of your leisure time? Perhaps you can run a time-limited experiment to find out.
Also, as a full-time online entrepreneur my opinion is that neither blogging nor streaming are particularly good income streams unless you have reason to think you would be exceptionally good in either of these.
Also, have you read this? https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/3p3CYauiX8oLjmwRF/purchase-fuzzies-and-utilons-separately
I don’t think there’s anything necessary or inevitable about it! My sentiments reflect things I’ve seen other people say (e.g. “I don’t know if I count as an ‘effective altruist’, I’m new here/don’t have belief X”), but how people feel about this and other identity questions is (of course) all over the map. And as I said, I have no problem with anyone referring to themselves as an effective altruist—I just don’t have a problem with the opposite, either.
To use the church analogy: If some people at a church call themselves “Christians”, others “Southern Baptists”, others “religious seekers”, others “spiritual”, and still others “agnostic/uncertain”, I wouldn’t expect that to make things less comfortable for newcomers. (Though attending Unitarian church as a kid might have left me biased in this area!)
I agree that there are many reasons someone might feel uncomfortable at a conference or community event, and I think we both see the particular question of when to use “effective altruist” is just one tiny facet of community cohesion.
Welcome to the EA Forum! Kudos to you for your generosity! You’ve probably already joined Giving What We Can, but you may also be interested in Bolder Giving (giving high percentages, but not focused on effective giving).
Since you can deduct state taxes and interest on a mortgage, I would guess you are already exceeding the $14,000 standard deduction. So then I think it would be important to donate every year to make sure you are saving taxes on the money you make in the top bracket. Here is a post that might be helpful. There are also quite a few posts (e.g. this recent one) on investing with an EA mindset.
Maybe you could choose to only vote in a party’s primary if you also precommit to voting for your chosen candidate in the general election if they win the primary.
Thanks for writing this! I am coming somewhat late to the party , but I wanted to add my support for what you have both written here. I back the concerted research effort you propose and believe it somewhat likely that it will have the benefits you suggest are probable.
I was digging through the Pritchett paper in hopes of doing my own analysis, and I do have a question: how did you calculate the median figure for Vietnam that you reference in section 4 ($6,914 GDP per capita)? I’ve been looking at the Pritchett paper and I can’t quite figure it out. It seems close to the median absolute growth in $PPP presented in Pritchett’s Table 4, but I imagine that’s not right since Table 4 only lists the top 20 growth episodes from the full set of about 300. When I look at the those figures in Appendix A, though, it seems like the median growth episode (depending on how you calculate it) is somewhere around Ecuador’s negative growth in 1978. This obviously doesn’t line up with your figure, so some direction on this front would be greatly appreciated.
Your comment helped me understand this discussion better. It seems I was indeed assuming causality in the stronger sense, though I now see there wasn’t much justification for this assumption. As you point out, the stronger sense would fail to vindicate many relationships we generally take to be causal.
I still feel reluctant to assert that marriage causes death from the data you provided. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure what type of link exists between marriage and higher rates of childbirth. Though it seems clear that married people have more children, I’m not sure it’s correct to say that marriage causes people to have more children. People often get married because they want to have children. Even when this is not the initial motivation, it seems odd to say that marriage explains why these people have children. By contrast, the link between smoking and cancer seems much more tight.
I haven’t thought much about whether the causal attributions we make in social science tend to be more similar to “marriage causes higher rates of childbirth” or to “smoking causes higher rates of cancer”.
I subtracted the reference to martingales from my previous comment because: a) not my expertise, b) this discussion doesn’t need additional complexity.
I’m sorry for having raised issues about paradoxes (perhaps there should be a Godwin’s Law about them); I don’t think we should mix edge cases like St. Petersburg (and problems with unbounded utility in general) with the optimizer’s curse – it’s already hard to analyze them separately.
In line with the spirit of your comment, I believe, I think that it’s useful to recognise that not all discussions related to pros and cons of probabilities or how to use them or that sort of thing can or should address all potential issues. And I think that it’s good to recognise/acknowledge when a certain issue or edge case actually applies more broadly than just to the particular matter at hand (e.g., how St Petersburg is relevant even aside from the optimizer’s curse). An example of roughly the sort of reasoning I mean with that second sentence, from Tarsney writing on moral uncertainty:
The third worry suggests a broader objection, that content-based normalization approach in general is vulnerable to fanaticism. Suppose we conclude that a pluralistic hybrid of Kantianism and contractarianism would give lexical priority to Kantianism, and on this basis conclude that an agent who has positive credence in Kantianism, contractarianism, and this pluralistic hybrid ought to give lexical priority to Kantianism as well. [...]
I am willing to bite the bullet on this objection, up to a point: Some value claims may simply be more intrinsically weighty than others, and in some cases absolutely so. In cases where the agent’s credence in the lexically prioritized value claim approaches zero, however, the situation begins to resemble Pascal’s Wager (Pascal, 1669), the St. Petersburg Lottery (Bernoulli, 1738), and similar cases of extreme probabilities and magnitudes that bedevil decision theory in the context of merely empirical uncertainty. It is reasonable to hope, then, that the correct decision-theoretic solution to these problems (e.g. a dismissal of “rationally negligible probabilities” (Smith, 2014, 2016) or general rational permission for non-neutral risk attitudes (Buchak, 2013)) will blunt the force of the fanaticism objection.
But I certainly don’t think you need to apologise for raising those issues! They are relevant and very worthy of discussion—I just don’t know if they’re in the top 7 issues I’d discuss in this particular post, given its intended aims and my current knowledge base.
I am an immigration lawyer and I have trouble taking anyone seriously when they propose “decriminalizing the border”, because it’s so irrelevant to the actual legal issues most immigrants face. People usually don’t get prosecuted for crossing the border illegally, and when they do the consequences are pretty minor. The government does it once in a while to make a point but the really inhumane stuff happens on the civil side of immigration enforcement, where you can still be detained indefinitely and the procedural protections of criminal law don’t apply. If it were a choice, I’d MUCH rather be prosecuted for illegal entry than have a deportation case brought against me.
The other things are fine as far as they go. I’m pro-open borders but since I don’t see it happening anytime soon I’d prefer to see a more serious attempt at reforms that could actually go somewhere.
Re: climate refugees your point about refugee quotas is right, but the standards for asylum are exactly the same as the standards to be a refugee; it’s just about whether you’re in the US or out at the time you apply. And there are no quotas for asylees so revising the eligibility standards there is meaningfully helpful. I would prefer to see a broader “economic refugee/asylee” category but I think accepting climate refugees/asylees is a good practical step in that direction. Someone like me can probably twist the hell out of that in court to basically create a broader “economic asylee” category but I need that crack in the door so I can pry it open.
Hmm, so to be explicit, the claim I’m making is that marriage has a causal effect on mortality, mediated through complications in childbirth.
In Pearl’s do-calculus, this is
1. Marriage → greater rates of childbirth → Death.
I haven’t fully established this connection. The main way this argument falls is if it turns out marriage does not increase rates of childbirth. I assumed that marriage increases childbirth, but I admit to not looking into it.
I think when people are thinking about a strong causal relationship between marriage and mortality, they are mostly thinking of other mediating variables (weak claim, since most things are not childbirth). So:
2. Marriage → (collection of other mediating variables) → Death.
However, based on your and Liam’s comments, I’m starting to suspect that both of you mean causality in a much more direct sense. In that framework, perhaps the only relationship that will be considered “causal” should be:
3. Marriage → Death (no mediating variable).
If that is the case for your definition of causality, I agree that #3 is pretty unlikely. I also think it’s too strong since it probably rules out eg, smoking causing death (since you can’t use the mediating variable of lung cancer).
am DIFFO Frédéric, Ph.D student in université d’Artois. I am doing francophone comparative literature and my supervisor is professor Anne Gaelle Weber. My research topic is based in immigration and representation of alterity in some selected subsaharian and maghrebian
If “human-compatible” means anything non-speciesistic, then I agree that it is an unfortunate phrase, since it is misleading. I also think it is misleading to call idealized preferences for “human values,” since humans don’t actually hold those preferences, as you correctly point out.
You write that
“Which ethical system is correct?” isn’t written in the stars or in Plato’s heaven; it seems like if the answer is encoded anywhere in the universe, it must be encoded in our brains (or in logical constructs out of brains).
Let X be the claims, which you deny in this quote. If X is taken litterally, then it is a straw man, since no one believes in it. If X is metaphorical, then it is very unclear what its supposed to mean or whether it means anything. The claim that “ethics is encoded somewhere in the universe” is also unclear. My best attempt to ascribe meaning to it is as follows “there is some entity in the universe, which constitutes all of ethics,” but claims seems false. The most basic ethical principles is, I believe, in some ways like logical principles. The validity of the argument “p and q, therefore p” is not constituted by any feature of the universe. To see this, imagine an alternative universe, which differs from the real in basically any way you like. It’s governed by different laws of nature, contains different lifeforms (or perhaps no life at all) has a different cosmological history etc. If this universe had been real, then “p and q, therefore p” would still be valid. Basic ethical principles like the claim that the suffering is bad, seems just like this. If human preferences (or other features of the universe) where to be different, then suffering would still be bad.
It’s also posted here on the forum—https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/43aMk2mYoch9c3aM5/james-snowden-the-evolution-of-givewell-s-research :)
OK, thanks for explaining how this works!
Excellent question, thank you! I am delighted to hear that people enjoyed the event. Our objectives were primarily to celebrate the progress since the initial launch of The Life You Can Save in 2009, further strengthen our relationships with our networks, and create new ones. As an organization we place a huge value on these relationships as much of what we do relies on them to be successful. On attendees, I think this is an example of a positive consequence of the diversity of the backgrounds of our team members that Jon mentioned above. Our organizing team contacted their networks which led us to a mix of attendees all of whom were excited to be there. Personally, I spent around 10-20 hours, primarily during EA Global in London, inviting people and asking my networks for advice. Including people already involved and leaders of the EA community meant that we had a group of really enthusiastic attendees who were willing to discuss what they find inspiring about effective giving and Effective Altruism and guide attendees who were perhaps earlier in their journeys. Our London-based recommended nonprofits also attended which allowed us to highlight the practical consequences of our work which is natural to lose sight of if you aren’t doing direct, in-country work. Since the event, we have had a significant amount of great feedback, including from our largest donor which is obviously really important for us. I also like to think that people will reach out to us in the future more willingly now they know more about our team and guiding values but I think it probably a little too soon to tell. We have some new leads coming out of the event, but expect it to take time to learn what the results might be. On costs, we spent £5,425 hard costs. There are other costs that you mention like staff time. An incredibly back-of the envelope calculation would be <£10,000. Overall, we are pleased with the event, learnt alot, and, of course, are very grateful to our networks for helping make it a success.
there’s literally a strong causal relationship between marriage and having a shorter lifespan.
there’s literally a strong causal relationship between marriage and having a shorter lifespan.
What causal relationship are you alluding to? As far as I can tell, the data you mention three comments above establishes a correlation between marriage and mortality, not causation. Moreover, that data also appears to show that the mechanism implicated in this correlation is complications during childbirth, which rules out marriage as the causal factor.
Has active agents, namely tobacco companies, that push against interventions in this space
I wonder if that’s so bad: considering we are playing a zero-sum game against this companies, each $ we make them spend to defend themselves against public policies will impact the price of their product—and, given price-elasticity, will deter consumption.