On the red, diamond and opal button thought experiments
The concept of a thought experiment with a red button that would annihilate all life when pressed emerged as part of the discussion of extinctionism. The most popular version of the experiment is to imagine a mechanism that, when activated, would immediately end all life in space. What should a person faced with such a choice do, what good arguments for each action can be distinguished, and how does the thought experiment relate to practical, present, and future actions, including the goals of advanced civilizations and superintelligence, remain unambiguously unresolved. If there was an option to eliminate only suffering, or only the desires that are its source, without the cosmic euthanasia of life, maybe another mechanism should be selected. Would it be a moral duty to save a life from an inevitable, completely natural catastrophe by pushing a button? Is the creation of a completely new universe subject to the same ethical judgment as not pressing a button? It would seem that there is a morally significant difference between not creating a new life and physically taking an existing life. In fact, the differences are significant, and they usually result from the adopted hierarchy of values and more or less arbitrary assumptions. Indeed, I am convinced that it is precisely for the original set of assumptions about the value of life and the various forms of experience that play a key role here. I greatly respect coherent systems of assumptions, wholly whatever conclusions they lead to. I don’t know if my system of assumptions is accurate. I think so at the moment. Certainly, regardless of the assumption system adopted, as long as suffering is seen as something of great value, as something that should be stopped, at least some of the proposed thought experiments and their variations may turn out to be thought-provoking.
(I apologize for my highly imperfect English)
The version of the red button originally presented by Gary Inmendham sounds more or less like this: if you, knowing the history of the earth, its evolution, and its nature, knowing that the most intelligent creature on earth is the great apes, and knowing with 100% certainty that never, and in any way, no higher intelligence would emerge on it. If you were out of the earth with a button in front of you that annihilates the earth instantly, would you press it? Would you feel comfortable knowing the amount of suffering you haven’t prevented, allowing all the sentient life in the biosphere to torture and kill themselves the most sophisticated ways, only to die out eventually?
The second version, presented a moment later, is already slightly changed: A button does not exterminate everything, it only causes global sterilization. From now on, reproduction is not possible. Originally, only non-sentient beings remain, the last generation of animals is quietly dying out. We can assume that sentient beings will not rise again. Would you press that button?
Nothing seems to be said in the original version about the extinction of intelligence. The only intelligent element in the original experiment is a being with the choice of pressing the button.
Imagine another version. Earth is the only planet where life will ever develop. Nothing alive exists yet. By pressing a button you can stop life from being born of chemicals. Would you press that button?
If you could stop the universe from creating any kind of life, not only the earth but billions of other planets, from allowing the development of sentient creatures, would you do it?
Knowing that there is a completely natural phenomenon in the universe that prevents life from arising, and being able to stop it, just like that, with one choice, would you consider letting the universe be naturally empty the same thing as pressing a button that makes life never arise?
Depending on what we base our value system on, we can treat different versions of the thought experiment differently, depending on how much suffering is prevented, how much satisfaction is prevented, or what effect what we do will have on intelligent beings.
In the case of nature, the relationship between suffering and satisfaction is clear. The process of evolution is pointless, brutal, and cruel. There is no serious doubt that the amount of suffering contained in nature is many times greater than any pleasure felt by living creatures.
In the public discussion, if a red button thought experiment is already emerging, it is usually presented in a more controversial form, involving people. What if we could wipe out all existence in an instant, assuming that there is no life outside the earth? All life, all animals, including humans, would be unconsciously annihilated, and life would never appear again, in any way and any form? All future suffering and future satisfaction, along with all potential for their existence, would evaporate in a millisecond. Is it possible to justify not pressing a button? Is it possible to justify pressing it?
What if, in a totally deterministic universe, we were shown the future. Trillions of years of future lives, developing and dying civilizations, destroyed and renewed biospheres, tens of trillions of lives being born and dying in thousands of paradises and hells. All of this can be stopped at the cost of less suffering. When you press a button, there will be a hundred years of torture for any living being, with or without you, at will, but it will be a lot less suffering than if you didn’t press the button. We can assume that the ratio of profit and loss would be the same if pleasure or fulfillment were treated as a positive value in itself. Is it possible to justify, not from a psychological but from an ethical point of view, not pressing a button? What if after pressing a button there was a minute of agony? What if the probability of causing pain was only at a certain level?
Here again, the answer depends on the assumptions we made. Surely a pure negative consequentialist should lean towards the option that causes less suffering, even if it were only a unit of measure less. The question comes down to specifying whether life has value, and more specifically what forms of conscious experience have what values.
A consistent approach to an experiment is often hampered by paying attention to things other than the final gains and loses ratio. According to some concepts, there is a possibility that the vacuum that makes up our universe is so-called false vacuum, unstable, and it is possible to collapse into a real vacuum. It can happen at any moment and in any place in the cosmos with some minimal probability. The resulting reaction propagates at the speed of light, creating bubbles in space. They are essentially death bubbles and this is also their name. Everything outside such a bubble is immediately annihilated when it comes into contact with a real vacuum. Suppose the earth is naturally annihilated in this way. There is no other possibility, every scenario of earth’s life existence requires just such death, immediate, unconscious, and painless, for every being on the planet. Only by pressing a button, you can stop this scenario. When we press a button, it will never happen, and the universe will continue to function as it does now, with no signs of death bubbles and false vacuum decay. Would you press that button? Is it possible to convincingly justify pressing a button, or is it possible to justify not pressing it?
The end-of-life scenario with the push of a button is no different from not stopping a death bubble. The scenario of stopping the decay of the false vacuum is no other than letting the earth exist. What’s the difference? Is the imaginary “no one has the right to decide for others”, even when cosmic suffering is at stake, torture that no human mind can even imagine, a sufficient reason?
In addition to several versions of the red button experiment, other experiments have also been proposed. A green button would only eliminate suffering. I’ll try to use another term, because the concept of the green button is not widely publicized yet, and the green button itself has already been used in another thought experiment where a person teleporting to Mars pushed the button, which resulted in her body disintegrating on the earth and reintegrating immediately on Mars. The question, in this case, is whether it is safe to press such a button. Therefore, for the description of an already known experiment, it will be more pleasant to imagine another button, especially since I would like to break the original version into two.
We have a red and an opal button in front of us. Red causes an immediate annihilation of all life, desires, and sufferings. Never again will no life appear in the abyss of space. The opal button causes an immediate annihilation of suffering itself. All desires can be fulfilled, the world becomes a paradise. As David Pearce writes in his hedonistic imperative: “The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how genetic engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life. The abolitionist project is hugely ambitious but technically feasible. It is also instrumentally rational and morally urgent. The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved because they served the fitness of our genes in the ancestral environment. They will be replaced by a different sort of neural architecture—a motivational system based on heritable gradients of bliss. States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health. It is predicted that the world’s last unpleasant experience will be a precisely dateable event. ”. After pressing the opal button, the gradient of dissatisfaction and unfulfilled desires will be replaced by the gradient of bliss. From now on, the world will be full of happy, fulfilled beings. There will be no longer dissatisfaction and suffering. From a hedonistic perspective, this seems to be the most desirable future.
The hedonistic way of perceiving the world, therefore considering suffering as bad and pleasure as good, is not the only one, however. In 2017, Lukas Gloor coined the term tranquilism, rejecting philosophical hedonism. In a heuristic shortcut, satisfaction in the form of tranquility is posed here as good, while the existence of unfulfilled desires is an undesirable state. This view is not new, it was already presented in ancient Greece, and now, in some forms, it is the basis of Buddhism and other eastern philosophical and religious currents. The existence of the greatest paradise and the fulfillment of billions of desires is no better than an average life in which several dozen basic desires are absolutely and perfectly fulfilled, or a state of technological nirvana in which desires are eliminated to the maximum extent possible. It is not an active euphoria but peace, deep satisfaction that makes the state we are in is complete, 100% sufficient, is a goal worth achieving. From a subjective point of view, being fulfilled after realizing all dreams, experiencing all mystical exultations, and experiencing all the greatest loves is nothing better than a state of complete, undisturbed peace devoid of euphoria and mystical sensations, as both are complete satisfaction.
So, temporarily relinquishing hedonism, let us consider the idea of a diamond, tranquilistic, button. Imagine that by pressing a diamond button we can make all metaphysical non-fulfillment disappear. In one moment, minds will be desireless by experiencing immediate enlightenment. Feeling pain will not imply suffering, and the minds of all sentient beings will only feel complete satisfaction. Contrary to the previous scenario, we are not dealing here with the fulfillment of desires, but with their elimination. The world might look like it always has, but pointlessness would no longer be essential, suffering would not exist, although the pain would not have to go away. Every living entity would be completely indifferent about what is going to happen to them since without any needs there would be no preferences. Mechanical reproduction, devouring, rape and murder, genocide, industrial farming, catastrophes, and torture would bring about the same amount of suffering as euphoria or the fulfillment of dreams that no longer exist. The second scenario is to get rid of even that, give up any lives, give up experiences that are already unnecessary and indifferent, and produce an equivalent of nirvana for each being. contemplating absolutely nothing for eternity, or to the end of the universe, as long as it gives us perfectly same amount of satisfaction as the wildest heavens, seem to be no worse, and maybe better, than living to fulfill new desires, even if the gradient of orgasmic bliss is what motivates sentience.
I’m pretty sure there would be a great number of people who would find the second scenario, as well as the sole idea of the diamond button unacceptable. The question is, why exactly would it be so? Eternal peace and satisfaction are in no way worse if we contemplate nothing than to experience cosmic love and fulfillment of desires guided by a gradient of bliss. Outlining the differences in the best possible worlds postulated by philosophical hedonism and tranquilism is an extensive topic that deserves its own discussion.
One can think of a situation in which the presented thought experiments cease to be fiction and become reality. At present, nothing seems to prevent advanced civilizations from creating simulated realities, and there are convincing arguments that we ourselves if we are one of the identical copies or a significant part of our measure if we accept some form of trans-world identity, are contained in simulations. The red button dilemma can actually be a real moral problem, in the distant future or at different levels of nested simulations. The beings with the power to create simulations, perhaps future posthumans, or even our own civilization in the not-too-distant future, may find themselves in such a situation. what will they do? If we could turn the simulation off, would it be different from not creating it in the first place? If we could create simulations, would we treat that as a moral duty? Is it even justifiable to create a simulation in which there is suffering, even along with all fulfillment and pleasure?
So we have three buttons in front of us. They all work immediately. Red annihilates all existence, all life along with its potential to exist is immediately turned off. The opal button causes the gradient of dissatisfaction to be replaced immediately by a gradient of bliss, or gradually so that there is no objection to the destruction of the personality of people experiencing change. A diamond button causes the elimination of unfulfilled desires, every mind, including the minds of animals, of course, feels only enlightened peace and satisfaction, completely indifferent to the world around it. Which button should you choose, or any at all, and what should you base your choice on?
I do not consider myself a moral pluralist and from my perspective, suffering is the only value. However, this is not a complete certainty, as dissatisfaction or fulfillment set as the only value may result in a similar worldview. I don’t find life worthwhile in itself, nor am I convinced that the gradient of fulfillment is metaphysically different from the gradient of dissatisfaction. For the time being, however, I don’t see desires as bad in themselves. Likewise, I don’t see life or existence as bad in and of itself. Suffering is bad in itself, it is a negative state, if we treat suffering as intense dissatisfaction, we can consider any state of unmet need as a negative state, even if it is not related to suffering. However, this is not a view that must be held.
If there was a button to annihilate suffering, all its forms, including those negatively perceived by the mind as non-fulfillment, so all I perceive to be worthy and all I care about, it would be more than enough.
If I had a choice of three buttons, none of which would allow any suffering and no potential for its existence, I don’t see a compelling reason to prefer either of them. Perhaps, not being sure of one’s value system, recognizing that perhaps happiness or fulfillment has value in itself, one should press the button that annihilates the least. Red annihilates life, desires, and suffering, diamond annihilates desires and suffering, opal only suffering, leaving fulfilling desires, happiness, and life. With good reasons to believe that happiness matters in itself, or even without good reason to doubt it, in a hypothetical situation, perhaps an opal button should be pressed. I hope that when a future existence chooses its future, it will be guided by well-thought-out motives and knowledge we don’t have for now.
I would like to separate what I feel from what I think after reflection. I associate the vision of a diamond button with taking existing beings of their entire identity, destroying them, and replacing them with mechanisms that feel only blissful indifference, perhaps only indifference, a fate not much different from death. Feeling eternal bliss itself seems to be burdened with one desire, the desire to persist in this state, while the complete elimination of desires should remove the desire to persist as well. I do not find this scenario tempting, but I do not see a compelling reason why it should be an undesirable state.
Cravings can be minimized by combining visions of the world after pressing a diamond and an opal button. Eternal fulfillment, the maximum mystical union with the nature of the world and sentient existence, should be synonymous with the diverse paradise usually imagined by transhumanists. For people at the present level of development, paradise, a place where desires are fulfilled and not abandoned, seems the most tempting for now. However, seeing that it is because of our psychological mechanism, which forces us to pursue goals and strive for new achievements, I do not see this mechanism as something necessary or useful. Any progress, dreams, pure satisfaction, or ensuring existence for an eternal blissful existence is completely pointless to me in my innermost being. Yes, it is beautiful, I would like to taste such a paradise myself, but nothing has yet convinced me that metaphysically it would be a state in any way better than non-existence. The fact that there is probably no vision more beautiful for the human mind than eternal bliss, a diverse paradise devoid of boredom and suffering, shows to me how deeply ingrained in the psyche is the desire to change the present state of the cosmos.
Beauty, delight, and existential fulfillment can be created in a potentially unlimited number of ways. The paradise of alien civilizations, animals, or even transhumans would probably be completely different from our imaginations. In fact, we would probably perceive most of the havens as caricatured anomalies. None of the havens could even exist forever, as I have described before for the sake of simplicity. The number of sensations possible for the minds to feel is absolutely finite, sooner or later, after a billion, a trillion, or a quintillion years, the whole of the possible experiences in life would be realized. Then what? What, when there is nothing left to feel? Does the nonexistence, waiting for our souls, postponed by an unimaginable number of joyful cosmic eras really make existence anything better than immediate, unconscious, and painless death?
Therefore, I do not see the need to implement the vision presented by David Pearce in the hedonistic imperative. I don’t see the need to create happiness and fulfillment in isolation from unfulfillment, dissatisfaction, and suffering other than by preventing and minimizing harm. Likewise, I do not see the need to minimize or give up desires as long as it does not further minimize suffering. If something is not contributing to minimizing suffering, I see absolutely no need to pursue such a goal. Apart from the assumption of moral pluralism, I know of no good reason why either option should be preferred. I think that with the assumptions adopted in this way, a completely rational approach would be absolute indifference to which button to choose.
In reality, the potential for suffering cannot be eliminated. In none of the three scenarios, if it were to be painstakingly implemented by advanced technologies, superintelligence, and the sophisticated endeavors of future civilizations, there is neither a guarantee nor the possibility of eliminating the existence of suffering from the potential of it altogether. The ideal plan for the sterilization of space, in which swarms of super-intelligent, self-replicating machines painlessly euthanize biospheres and civilizations, as well as prevent any form of life in the universe, cannot eliminate all suffering. Even moving at relativistic velocities, in the near future, due to the expansion of space, it will not be physically possible in any way to leave our local supercluster of galaxies. The absolute majority of the present observable cosmos, not to mention the potential infinity of space beyond our Hubble volume, will remain forever unattainable to us. Superintelligence that eliminates life in our scrap of available space is also not logically reliable, apart from the obvious and chilling dangers of superintelligence, which may turn out to be the most terrible invention in the history of the universe, billions of times worse than all the suffering of the entire visible cosmos that would have to be experienced without it, even benevolent superintelligence can fail and lead to cosmic suffering, perhaps in ways we cannot understand or imagine. One such concern would be the emergence of a virus infecting the minds of altruistic superintelligence through a bug in the code. However, the probability of such an event, when an effective altruistic superintelligence will already exist, especially having the best possible—designed by superintelligence—mechanisms of defense against such dangers, is negligible in practice. Whether we like it or not, superintelligence is likely to arise in any scenario for the future development of civilization. The singularity is close and possibly unstoppable. Destroying the world before the rise of superintelligence may not be such a crazy idea anyway, the profit and loss account of its creation probably ranges from minus infinity to infinity.
Even if the cosmos is effectively kept lifeless, the heat death of the universe will sooner or later eliminate all matter. However, as a result of almost infinitely small probabilities, quantum fluctuations will spontaneously create matter, including all possible finite configurations of atoms and information, along with minds feeling suffering. This exotic scenario seems inevitable because it is impossible to destroy the cosmos itself, the energy seems eternal. Assuming that the suffering of two identical minds results in twice the amount of suffering, we can do nothing about the suffering of the Boltzmann brains. I emphasize this to show that the potential for suffering can never be brought to zero.
Both the practical realizations of paradise, in the form of nirvana or as represented by David Pearce’s gradient of bliss, there is as much space for superintelligence viruses. In fact, there is an enormously greater danger of implying suffering because there are trillions of entities available at any moment in the virtual worlds or the material cosmos. Even if the probability of causing enormous suffering is minimal, it is never zero and can never be zero. Is the finite, orgasmic fulfillment of trillions of beings worth the hellish suffering of just one being? Is the possibility of turning even a fraction of paradise into hell, even unimaginably small, worthy of creating paradise? Not for me. I don’t see a logical way to eliminate the suffering potential. If I had to choose a scenario, I would choose one that limits this potential to the absolute minimum that is achievable. I don’t know which scenario it would be. Personally, it seems to me that the existence of fewer entities and less diverse kinds of them minimizes the danger of astronomical suffering more than the creation of the most beautiful utopian paradises full of happy sentient creatures. If we can, by not creating the heavens, minimize the likelihood of the worst suffering of even one being, other things equal, I would like paradise never to come into existence, and I would let the universe become an empty and silent place.
All that I have presented in this material are my reflections, supported by a limited view of cosmology and knowledge of transhumanistic expectations. Assumptions about giving value are, as always, crucial. We can implement any of the options, humanity seems to have the potential to create technology that allows it. Personally, I am convinced that functional superintelligence will most likely be humanity’s last invention, then reality becomes unpredictable. We can think with our mediocre intelligence whether to press a diamond, opal, or red button, but in reality, the future of the earth, if not destroyed sooner, will be decided by a superintelligence, in the form of artificial or neuromorphic intelligence, transhumans or posthumans. I hope they will have the same goals as those of sentient, suffering life. I believe it is up to them to make the final decision as to whether to prevent the future life, make it hell, or an ultimately pointless paradise.
Lifeism as the opposite of efilism
The term lifeism appeared as part of the critique of efilism. Lifeism is the opposite of efilism and seems to stem from a rejection of philosophical pessimism. Efilism regards life as a negative phenomenon and deems its extinction desirable. Lifeism views existence as something worth continuing and is opposed to actions intended to accomplish the erasure of life.
Outlining a clear dichotomy between these two currents of worldviews by presenting them as mutually exclusive terms may provoke the undecided to take their position and consider their vision of the world, perhaps redefining some of its elements. When accepting any of the views, one has to take into account the logical consequences of adopting them. Both lifeism and efilism have controversial and often very uncomfortable elements for the human psyche, and the choice between approving of extinction, accepting the lack of future suffering and satisfaction, and approval of continuing or spreading life, accepting a huge amount of suffering and satisfaction, is not obvious if we try to consider both options from the position of suspension of judgment.
Lifeism is, in contrast to efilism, the claim that conscious and sentient life is worth spreading or continuing. Life has a value in itself, or some values make the creation of a conscious life legitimate or morally good. The declared goal of lifeism is not that ultimately life to be erased, but its duration and continuation as long as possible. Lifeism, then, is not the notion that we should not be dying out now if we want to prevent as much harm as possible, by keeping civilization alive for the ultimate sterilization of space. Passive lifeism seems to be a default view that exists in the background of others. Perhaps for this reason it was not widely recognized as a certain philosophical position, being an automatic axiom. Active lifeism should involve focusing on the propagation of life itself (biological, sentient, or conscious) and spreading it across the planet and, potentially, throughout the available (material or virtual) cosmos.
Lifeism, therefore, argues that life must be maintained or proliferated. The extinction of life is seen as a negative phenomenon. In theory, even if it was not at the cost of any suffering.
Lifeism in practice should imply the recognition of nature as valuable, as well as taking steps to preserve it, protect it from destruction, and reconstruct environments, although a hypothetical futuristic lifeist could object to the protection of our nature if using its resources could result in the creation of more life, like the colonization of other planets or virtual worlds. The idea of filling the future cosmos or virtual worlds with life is inherently extremely lifeistic.
Certainly, in abstract scenarios, we can imagine actions that do not fit the definitions of lifeism nor efilism. For example, post-biological intelligence (posthumanism, extreme transhumanism) whose representatives are immortal but do not create new life, or (in some exotic case) a collective mind engulfing other minds to make them a part of some cosmic unity.
Sometimes it can be useful to distinguish between weak lifeism, considering life something that we should not or must not destroy, but it is not advisable or necessary to spread it and propagate it in space or virtual worlds. A strong lifeism would argue that we should fill the universe with life, and the idea of doing so is beautiful and valuable. The desire to fill the cosmos with intelligent life, presented by some transhumanists, probably qualifies as a strong lifeism.
Though probably relatively widespread for its level of extremes, an extreme view would be extreme lifeism, that we have a moral obligation to spread life. Bringing the cosmos or virtual worlds to life and filling them with myriads of living beings, or the moral obligation to create more transhumans or other ascended beings should be one of the moral priorities of advanced civilizations. Thus, not only would it be a moral goal to preserve existing life, such as preventing climate catastrophes on, say, planets with alien life, but also to create new such planets would be a moral goal.
In terms of approaching biological life, lifeism can take two basic forms. Earthly nature can be seen as something positive in itself. Despite its cruelty and the amount of suffering, despite the existence of overwhelmingly more pain, lack, and torture than there is satisfaction, gratification, pleasure and bliss in nature, it is worth continuing and spreading through its beauty, utility, potential, or intrinsic value. Although 10 kittens for one adult ocelot have to be butchered, and many thousands of other animals must suffer agony before their death to keep one alive, the existence of the biosphere is worth continuing. Despite the original pointlessness and great pain, there is a good reason why we must not lead to the extinction of the biosphere. Therefore, nature is seen here as a value, despite or even because of the suffering that occurs in it.
The second approach would, I believe, be the look of some transhumanists. Life has some value in itself or enables the existence of other values. Creating happiness and beauty, mystical experiences, or consciously experiencing the universe or love might be some of them. Hedonism, philosophical as well as practical, and positive utilitarianism seem to operate from the perspective of this assumption, and both negative utilitarianism, tranquilism, and suffering-focused ethics are technically compatible with this claim. This does not mean accepting suffering in nature as good, useful, or necessary, but it does not mean accepting the metaphysical pessimism of life as real. The suffering of humans and animals today is a price, dreadful but necessary to pay for the happy lives of transhumans and posthumans, as well as perhaps billions of other fulfilled lives in the cosmos to come. Accepting the tragedy now justifies the well-being of future lives. To deprive the future of such enormous potential to exist and experience the beauty, love, delight, and admiration of the universe’s greatness would be to impoverish the cosmos. And having in their power to enrich the universe beyond imagination, certain sufferings are worth the achievement.
Even recognizing metaphysical pessimism as true does not have to lead to efilistic views, if the value system we choose does not recognize suffering as the only value (negative value, “positive” value would be preventing it). On the other hand, it is difficult for me to imagine an internally coherent system based on metaphysical pessimism, but at the same time recognizing life as ultimately, metaphysically worth living. As I perceive both terms, they seem to be mutually exclusive if the system is to be consistent, but the variations in defining the terms used probably allow for greater flexibility in practice. However, I believe that both existential nihilism and absurdism allow one to be a lifeist and reject efilism, but that no coherent, objective system of values can be involved in it. Perhaps the will to live alone would be a motive (but not an argument) to justify such a view, even admitting the irrationality or potential irrationality of such a decision. The mere irrationality of the human psyche, or more complex psychological phenomena and philosophical concepts that I have not considered because of lack of knowledge or sufficiently deep analysis of the subject, may lead to more sophisticated explanations.
This material is not meant to provoke. I believe that to emphasize the dichotomy and to highlight the fact that in terms of a philosophical approach to existence there is no “normal” position and a handful of efilists. The subject of a philosophical approach to existence is in practice complicated and the fact that the implicit view, with more and more often controversial obviousness, remains unnamed may hinder a constructive approach. Lifeism and Efilism are therefore opposite philosophical and ethical views, resulting from a different approach to the subject of the metaphysical value of life and its possible ethical implications. Efilism claims that sentient life is something that we should hold back and eventually erase. The ultimate euthanasia of all life and the prevention of its future arising is posed as the moral goal of efilism. Lifeism says we must not do that: for several possible reasons, and usually because of the implicit or deliberate assumption that life itself is worth living. The ethical goal of lifeism is to enable life to continue on earth, and potentially to create new life, including spreading it throughout the universe.
EFILism, its assumptions and implications
Efilism is a philosophical and ethical view that emphasizes and focuses on the metaphysical negativity of life as the ultimate cause of suffering. Manifestations of efilism or utterly efilistic approaches have previously been presented by many philosophers of existential pessimism, such as Peter Wessel Zapffe, Philip Mainlander, Emil Cioran, and partly in works of Arthur Schopenhauer. Nowadays popularised among others by internet philosopher of the Inmendham channel on YouTube. Philosophical pessimism states, that existence has no absolute value or purpose. Life is a state of constant dissatisfaction, and the goals in it are to satisfy the constantly emerging needs. The most vivid and ethically significant effect of this state of affairs is the existence of suffering experienced by living beings in billions of different ways. Indeed, all the goodness of life can be reduced to the absence of suffering and the pressure of unfulfilled desires, concluding that there is nothing metaphysically good in life itself. All pleasure and fulfillment come down to a momentary lack of harm or a reduction in suffering already felt.
In recent times, efilism is often derived from promortalism and anti-natalism with which it has much in common. In practice, efilism appears to be an extension of anti-natalist views, with an emphasis on the ultimate erasure of all life as the sole goal. Probably the most recognizable propagator of anti-natalism, David Benatar, in one of the interviews, when asked about efilism, replied that he did not even see the need to distinguish such a term because his view of anti-natalism is identical with efilism—life extinctionist view. Indeed, the approach of a large number of anti-natalists is efilistic.
In addition to the philosophical dimension that life is a metaphysically negative state that does not allow for the ultimate and complete satisfaction of needs and implies the existence of desires and suffering, the ethical dimension of efilism focuses on the theoretical and practical possibilities of eliminating the existence of suffering and needs by eliminating all life along with the potential of it. The ethical goal of efilists should be the extinction of life by the cessation of reproduction (voluntary or by making it impossible), or the physical termination of life on earth globally, the same is true for humans, animals, biological life in space, as well as all potentially nonbiological sentient beings.
It is not even a new idea, as it was postulated by, for example, Saint Augustine (who saw it as a way to end human torment by reaching God’s kingdom) or a Berlin philosopher Eduard von Hartmann, who was writing about cosmic euthanasia and the destruction of the universe to prevent the misery of life. In practice, the stated purpose of efilism is not only to bring about the extinction of all sentient life, but also to take steps to prevent its re-emergence on earth or other parts of the universe. The continuous or permanent sterilization of the cosmos is seen as a victory over useless suffering and the life that makes it possible.
Indeed, efilism underlines the objective observation that all living beings, including sentient beings, are the byproduct of pointless reactions. chemical and biological evolution. A few billion years ago, life appeared on earth, 500 million years ago, the development of the nervous system made it possible to feel pain. a powerful tool fueling naturally aimless survival. An increasingly diverse biosphere had developed from the beginning of the Phanerozoic, and without civilization, it would have naturally existed for about half a billion years before the planet’s surface became too hot and dry with the sun reaching its red giant phase. During this period, sentient beings acquire new needs and desires, the result and purpose of which is to escape from the sufferings associated with not being satisfied, continuing the vicious cycle of survival and reproduction, paid for by misery and torment. All that to eventually die, usually a painful death by predators or sickness.On billions of earth-like planets in our galaxy alone, life can continue to arise and develop. Contrary to the first impression, it is not a beautiful orangery of the exotic possibilities of the universe, designed to arouse admiration and delight. Nature, either of earth or of all its countless versions realized in the depths of space, mechanically and brutally creates a display of the most elaborate hells that only the abyss of the sadistic imagination of an intelligent mind can surpass in cruelty. The only thing that can stop this abominable absurdity from developing is, somewhat tragically, an intelligent mind as well.
The minds of animals with advanced nervous systems are programmed to experience suffering and scarcity more intensely and more often than pleasure and gratification. And the gratifications attainable are always by nature short-lasting and impermanent. Natural selection mechanisms ensure that the needs are met at the minimum level. sufficient to deliver the next generation of the species into the world. This is usually possible for a small percentage of individuals, the rest of which die, most often in a brutal and painful way, before being able to reproduce. The part of the species that can pass on the genes has the dubious privilege of experiencing further stress and suffering during the aging and death process, usually caused by being eaten alive, torn apart, or diseased. Hunger, thirst, constant exposure to threats, parasites, and unfavorable climatic conditions only add to the practical range of possible torments.
Human life is inherently no different from that of other animals, we are driven by similar, just more sophisticated, motives and needs. The metaphysical negativity and redundancy of life cannot be eliminated even by transhumanistic visions of paradises and technological miracles in the prosperity of future civilizations. On the contrary, the creation of successive lives creates an immeasurable potential for the existence of further tortures and atrocities which, even if existing among those who are satisfied with their lives, should and have to be eliminated. The ultimate futility of the endless pursuit of needs is a pillar of efilism, as are the more general currents of existential pessimism. The ethical consequences of this state of affairs imply that extinction is the only process by which sentient beings can ultimately avoid the possibility of suffering in their eventually tragically useless existence.
Efilism seems to encompass a spectrum of ideas for the practical realization of extinction on a global scale, which include such concepts as the systematic, multi-generational emptying of the world by stopping reproduction or the destruction of life by means of violence. It should be noted that the goal is never mindless destruction or causing harm. Efilism seems to be a view rooted in negative utilitarianism, thus an ethical trend that puts the minimization of suffering as the only or the main priority. In fact, efilism is, in a sense, its final conclusion. The goal of any action leading to the extinction of societies, species, and biospheres, as well as the possible sterilization of the cosmos, is always to minimize suffering, to stop the senseless and nightmarish emergence and spread of suffering, imposed by the existence of sentient minds. In practice, as always in negative utilitarianism, the reduction of suffering is, therefore, the highest priority.
The practical execution of such an operation arouses great controversy, as humanity at the present level of development seems incapable of ending all life bent under the burden of suffering. One can speculate, although at the current level of development these are very well or potentially very well established speculations, that technologies such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, biotechnology and finally superintelligence—in the form of artificial intelligence or neuromorphic, as a result of transhumanism- will participate in the sterilization of life on earth. From a utilitarian point of view, all (all not necessary to further reduction of suffering) life on earth should be somehow exterminated, and an attainable goal may also be to destroy the potential for life as well as to prevent the emergence and development of sentient life on other planets. For the latter purpose, swarms of super-intelligent machines euthanizing life and making the cosmos uninhabitable should suffice.
The tragedy of life manifests itself not only in everyday pains, diseases, old age, or injustice. Despite life’s obvious suboptimality, societies have not yet recorded such a high level of prosperity. Yet still, exploitation, persecution, and torture, even despite being widely recognized as evil, are common in most parts of the world. For tens of thousands of years, people have suffered, and even one of the documented examples, such as the suffering of Hisashi Ouchi, Junko Furuta or Sylvia Likens bring to mind the city of Omelas. Human suffering is only a fraction of the suffering of farm animals subjected to barbaric treatment and imprisoned in—literally, torture and extermination camps.
Even this amount of suffering probably disappears compared to the suffering inflicted and experienced by nature itself. Nature’s anthropomorphization should be none other than a degenerate evil demiurge forcing chemical machines to copy themselves under evolutionary pressure until they die. Survival of one is paid for by the death of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of other sentient creatures, rarely not in torment. All that hellish race of living beings serve only one purpose: their minds, devoid of evolutionarily useless full rationality, are to desire to duplicate the genetic code of the organism, and the whole cycle should be repeated indefinitely.
In fact, even without human intervention, the advanced global biosphere, covered with metaphorical forests of mold and swarms of multicellular vermin, is already halfway through its existence. In less than a billion years. eyeblink in a cosmic timescale. the earth would be a barren wasteland scorched by the sun swelling in its deathly contractions. By this time, the amount of suffering would have multiplied, leaving behind most of the pain of life that exists to this day, of which approximately 100% is already dead. While the amount of suffering and failure will multiply, the amount of complete fulfillment will remain the same. it will NOT exist. Indeed, it is doubtful that any escape from desires is even logically possible without giving up existence, although minimizing desires in the form of pointless technological nirvana may theoretically be feasible.
It should be noted here that I do not see a logical reason for preventing an efilist from rejecting pure metaphysical pessimism, from recognizing that certain elements of life have a positive value and that happiness, for example, understood differently from the state of non-suffering and non-fulfillment, has a value in itself. I do not consider such a view to be logical, but in my opinion, it is compatible with the desire to end all life.
Not only the obvious metaphysical negativity of existence driven by a gradient of dissatisfaction may be the determining factor in accepting efilism. The very awareness of how tragic and almost infinitely sadistic the future of life can turn out to be, in which there is a logical and, seemingly, the physical possibility of the emergence of superintelligence and simulations. in which sentient beings will experience unimaginable and impossible to end tortures. simulations of the worst hells and the cruelest torment of a quadrillion times carried out on the quintillions of beings is not an unreal abstraction. On the contrary, they can be so real that even a speck of their reality would disturb the psychological health of anyone who could imagine them with sufficient vividness for even a fraction of a second.
Imagine a closed room in which your body has an artificially heightened sense of pain, and in which a sadistic being slowly, allowing you to stay aware in overwhelming terror, burns you and tears you apart, tears off scraps of burned skin piece by piece, pierces your eyes and slides acid-covered blades into Your flesh through all of your body openings. In speaking of unimaginable suffering, I do not mean distant screams of condemned, but bodies plunged in bursting despair, which cannot die and cannot escape for eternity. Even the very existence of the risk that something like this will happen to just one being, and even at the cost of eternal fulfillment and paradise for the rest of the cosmos, if the alternative is non-existence, is unthinkable for me to take.
No matter how far we delve into apparent abstractions in our predictions, and how we evaluate superintelligence, future sociology, or transhumanism, efilism will no doubt only become more common if, I believe, it is a rational view firmly grounded in reality and to prevent harm is a universal value. Efilism, whose etymology is the word “life” read backward, is another link in the chain of reason, which painstakingly recognizes life as something unequivocally tragic and negative. Life is not even making it metaphysically possible to experience some complete and stable, eternal fulfillment, all satisfaction has its source in reduced or prevented suffering and dissatisfaction. Thomas Ligotti in his “Conspiracy Against the Human Race” describes life as “malignantly useless”, which I think conveys the nature of that horror of existence in a devastatingly meaningful way.
Efilism, therefore, claims that lack of suffering, along with phenomena that leads to suffering has a value. Any sentient life, biological, virtual or technological, with all its baggage of dissatisfaction, realized and potential pain, despair and suffering is not worth enduring and continuing, and that ultimately the most cost-effective solution is to eliminate it for eternity, or as long as possible, from the Universe.
It seems to me this is the case.
Thanks, interesting view, and work. I was hoping for that kind of material posting this.
Thanks. I think it is a sober objection. I think there could be situations when it is true, nevertheless as long as that god would seem logically impossible (although human logic could be false and God’s one true). I think it is in the realm of possibility that some form of computer-simulated entities are conscious with enough of computing power and it is one of widely accepted assumptions, so I think it can for now be used as an argument in some discussions. I see the second option as simpler (when we think in terms of axioms, assume our logic is right and we understand it, and if God has incoherent properties)
I agree. What I think is that under the computational theory of mind, or some similar approaches, like integrated information theory, possibly under the broader spectrum of views, assuming consciousness emerges from information being processed in certain ways, the interpretation I’ve described can be more solid. For now, it is rather assumed some form of computationalism has great chances to turn out to be true, that’s why I think it can be important to determine its possible implications.
It can be the case. I personally think there could be a way, but it is rather beyond the scope of my post.
I understand. Yet it is still unclear to me what would be going on with consciousness if we cut the brain in two and create a situation described above.
It is good. Thank You and sorry for the trouble
It is exactly what I think, neurons are just a useful example. It is a more pictorial and heuristic (also probably it seems more “real” than abstract) way of imagining.
This is built on that assumption, of course. An assumption I do not hold at all. But that does not matter, what do are logical implications and correlations, and I am curious about that only.
Of course, It is no doubt one can think in an entirely different way and care about many more than suffering, most people do so. This post wasn’t intended to show suffering is the only thing we should care about (it may be true, it may not, also depend on how do we define suffering—I claim here we can treat life as a negative state, as suffering sensu lato,), It just gives a sense of possible reasoning IF assume only suffering is important. Of course, the measure is crucial and situations of small measure, in general, should be considered less serious. I would make an exception when it comes to the possible astronomical amount of suffering though. Also much depend on how do You define things (it can be argued we care only about the subjective experience if every motive can be reduced to “egoism”)
Thank You, I’ll change that.