• A thing has negative utility equal to the positive utility that would be gained from that thing’s removal. Or, more formally, for any state X such that the utility of X is Y, the utility of the state ~X is -Y.

• Yep, definitely needs some clarification there.

Humans don’t distinguish between the utility for different microscopic states of the world. Nobody cares if air molecule 12445 is shifted 3 microns to the right, since that doesn’t have any noticable effects on our experiences. As such, a state (at least for the purposes of that definition of utility) is a macroscopic state.

“~X” means, as in logic, “not X”. Since we’re interested in the negative utility of the floor being clear, in the above case X is “the airplane’s floor being clear” and ~X is “the airplane’s floor being opaque but otherwise identical to a human observer”.

In reality, you probably aren’t going to get a material that is exactly the same structurally as the clear floor, but that shouldn’t stop you from applying the idea in principle. After all, you could probably get reasonably close by spray painting the floor.

To steal from Hofstadter, we’re interested in the positive utility derived from whatever substrate level changes would result in an inversion of our mind’s symbol level understanding of the property or object in question.

• I think you need to be more precise about what states and ~ are.

• In that formulation, addition of the thing has utility equal to minus the utility of removal of the same thing. And that only if addition/​removal can be defined.

About states—there are too many of them, some are macroscopically different but irrelevant to human untility (I am next to sure it is possible to shift some distant galaxies in a way that many sapient being will be able to see different sky and none would care).

The meaningful thing is ratio of utility differentials between some states.

• that thing’s removal

How is this defined? If an airplane has a clear floor such that its passengers vomit whenever they look down, removing the floor would put them in an even worse position. We want to remove only the property of transparency, which would involve replacing the clear material with an entirely different opaque material that had all other properties identical.

What’s troubling to me about the counterfactual is that it doesn’t seem to have an objective baseline, a single thing that is ~X, so we are left comparing Y(X) with Y(Z), the utility of thing X instead of thing Z. I’m not sure how valid it is to talk about simply removing properties because the set of higher level properties depends on the arrangement of atoms. It seems like properties are their own thing that can be individually mixed and matched separate from material but they really can’t be.

• If we’re using ‘the object in question doesn’t exist’ as the baseline for comparison, I’d say that the clear floor actually has positive utility. That’s just counter-intuitive because we have such a strong tendency to think of the case that’s currently normal as the baseline, rather than the ‘doesn’t exist’ case.

I do agree that neither of those baselines is objectively correct in any sense (though the ‘doesn’t exist’ one seems a bit more coherent and stable if we find a need to choose one), and that remembering that properties don’t have independent existence is generally useful when considering possible cases.