# TheOtherDave comments on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011)

• As you say, a mil­lion iso­lated sec­onds of suffer­ing isn’t as bad as a mil­lion con­sec­u­tive sec­onds of suffer­ing, be­cause (among other things) of the knock-on effects of con­sec­u­tivity (e.g. PTSD). Maybe it’s only 10% as bad, or 1%, or .1%, or .0001%, or what­ever. Sure, agreed, of course.

But the moral in­tu­ition be­ing challenged by “shut up and mul­ti­ply” isn’t about that.

If ev­ery­one agreed that sure, N dust-specks was worse than 50 years of tor­ture for some N, and we were merely hag­gling over the price, the thought ex­per­i­ment would not be in­ter­est­ing. That’s why the thought ex­per­i­ment in­volves ridicu­lous num­bers like 3^^^3 in the first place, so we can skip over all that.

When we’re try­ing to make prac­ti­cal de­ci­sions about what suffer­ing to alle­vi­ate, we care about N, and pre­ci­sion mat­ters. At that point we have to do some se­ri­ous real-world think­ing and mea­sur­ing and, y’know, work.

But what’s challeng­ing about “shut up and mul­ti­ply” isn’t the value of N, it’s the ex­is­tence of N. if we’re start­ing out with a moral in­tu­ition that dust-specks and tor­ture sim­ply aren’t com­men­su­rable, and there­fore there is no value of N… well, then the work of calcu­lat­ing it is doomed be­fore we start.

• OK, I now un­der­stand the way the site works: If some­one re­sponds to your com­ment, it shows up in your mailbox like an e-mail. Sorry for get­ting that wrong with Vaniver ( i re­sponded by pri­vate mail), and if I can fix it in a lit­tle while, I will (edit: and now I have). Now, to con­tent:

Thanks for re­spond­ing to me! I didn’t feel like I should hi­jack the wel­come thread for some­thing I didn’t know hadn’t been thor­oughly dis­cussed el­se­where. So I tried to be suc­cinct, and failed and ended up gar­bled.

First, 3^^^3 is WAY more than a googol­plex ;-)

Se­cond, I fully rec­og­nize the ex­is­tence of N, and I tried to make that clear in the last state­ment of con­tent-value in my an­swer to you, by re­call­ing the cen­tral les­son of “shut up and mul­ti­ply”, which is that peo­ple, when faced with iden­ti­cal situ­a­tions pre­sented at one time as gain com­par­i­sons, and at an­other time as loss com­par­i­sons, will fail to rec­og­nize the iden­tity and choose differ­ently. That is a REALLY use­ful thing to know about hu­man bias, and I don’t dis­count it.

I sup­pose my com­ment above amounts to a quib­ble if it’s already un­der­stood that EY’s ideas only ap­ply to iden­ti­cal situ­a­tions pre­sented with differ­ent gain/​loss val­ues, but I don’t have the im­pres­sion that’s all he was get­ting at. Hence, my caveat. If ev­ery­one’s already be­yond that, feel free to ig­nore.

I agree that dust-specks and tor­ture are com­men­su­rable. If you will al­low, a per­sonal story: I have dis­tichi­a­sis. Look it up, it ain’t fun. My oily tear glands, on the in­sides of my eye­lids, pro­duce eye­lashes that grow to­ward my eyes. Every once in a while, one of those (al­most in­visi­ble, clear—mine rarely have pig­ment at all) eye­lashes grows long enough to brush my eyes. At that in­stant, I rarely no­tice, hav­ing been in­ured to the sen­sa­tion. I only re­spond when the lash is long enough to wake me up in the mid­dle of the night, and I strug­gle to pull out the in­visi­ble eye­lash. Some­times, rarely, it gets just the right (wrong) length when I’m driv­ing, and I clap my hand over my eye to hold it still un­til I get home.

If I could re­li­ably re­lieve my­self of this con­di­tion in ex­change for one full day of hot sting­ing tor­ture, I would do so, as long as I could sched­ule it con­ve­niently, be­cause I could then get LASIK, which dis­tichi­a­sis strictly dis­al­lows for me sta­sis quo. I even tried, with elec­trol­y­sis, which burned and scarred my eye­lids enough that the doc­tor fi­nally sug­gested I’d bet­ter stop.

So, an in­di­vi­d­ual’s choices about how they will con­sume their lot of tor­ture can be wide-rang­ing. I rec­og­nize that. Th­ese calcu­la­tions of EY’s do not rec­og­nize these differ­ences. Some­times, it makes sense to shut up and mul­ti­ply. Other times, when it’s available (as it of­ten is), it makes sense to shut up and listen. Be­cause of that in­her­ent fact, of the differ­ence be­tween in­ter­nal per­cep­tion and oth­ers’ ex­ter­nal per­cep­tion of your suffer­ing, we have a re­ally use­ful in­tu­ition built in to, in oth­er­wise equal situ­a­tions, defer to the judg­ment of those who will suffer. We op­ti­mize not over suffer­ing, but over choice. That is our hu­man na­ture. It may be ir­ra­tional. But, that na­ture should be ad­dressed—not only failing to mul­ti­ply hu­man suffer­ing suffi­ciently ob­jec­tively.