Friday, 18 May 2012

Antinatalism: The "Risk Equation" Argument

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

My subscriptions have made a few videos about antinatalism over the past year. Among these videos, 1 argument was raised by the antinatalist camp which I have not seen sufficiently addressed. I will refer to it in this post as the "risk equation" argument and it goes like this:

"The act of creating life comes with a 100% certainty that the new life form will suffer at some point in their life, but a lesser probability that the life form will ever experience pleasure. To minimise suffering, we must abstain from producing life."

First, I want to assess the logic of the argument. It doesn't hold for a human being that has no mental or physical disorders. It will, at some point, experience pleasure, unless it dies very soon after birth. Is suffering guaranteed? This depends on what is defined as suffering. If my understanding of the argument and the antinatalist position is correct, any form of discomfort including mild hunger counts as suffering. To eliminate bias, the definition of pleasure, as the opposite of suffering, must be equally flexible. For example, satisfying hunger decreases suffering and so, by definition, increases pleasure. A fetus is constantly fed through its umbilical cord and so the organism's utility varies (pleasure and suffering will cycle up and down). This holds true, even if the organism has a debilitating disease or disorder. The only case in which it is not true is when an organism may not be mentally capable of pleasure, suffering or both. As such, I have problems accepting the argument at all.

However, let's assume that the definitions of pleasure and suffering could be adjusted in such a way where the argument's logic becomes sound. The argument concludes by making a moral assertion, that to minimise suffering in the world, we must stop procreating. This is a utilitarian viewpoint, but one which I find to be unsatisfactory. It essentially makes the case that suffering should always be avoided, even when it could be argued to be justifiable because it produces net pleasure (more pleasure than suffering). I don't necessarily agree with this position.

Let's take a very simple example: disciplining a child. This discipline could be anything from a mild telling off to a beating. Here's the scenario:

A child does something which the parent views as wrong. As this is the first instance of the child performing this action, and because the parent is relatively understanding, the parent explains to the child that it is wrong and that they shouldn't do it again. The child seems to take this in but, some time later, repeats the action. At this point, the parent decides that discipline involving some amount of suffering for the child is necessary. Once again, this action need not be a beating, just as simple as a telling off. Is the parent wrong to discipline the child in a manner which involves some amount of suffering? Anyone using the morality required to argue against natalism by means of a "risk equation" must, if they are consistent, answer "no". However, this morality clearly isn't practical in the example of disciplining a child. Nothing short of some amount of discipline will prevent the child from repeating the undesirable action, an action which causes some other form of suffering. A small amount of suffering is induced in the child to prevent them from causing a larger amount of suffering to others as a result of their actions. If the child doesn't understand the immorality of the action they are being punished for, they will likely forgive the parent later on when they do, as they will then understand why it was necessary.

The previous paragraph introduces a concept, which I think must be present in any utilitarian view of morality for it to function in practice, and that is the concept of "acceptable suffering". It needn't be the example of disciplining a child, it could be something as simple as delayed gratification, and encouraging that practice in others. It teaches individuals to persist at an activity to reap enormous benefits when they eventually succeed. Where it applies to the risk equation argument is when we look at how people view their own life. It's very easy to assume that someone living in the most resource deprived parts of Africa might wish they were never born, but is this true? Humans are very adaptable, especially when faced with a hardship they have no control over. Dan Gilbert talked on TED about how lottery winners and paraplegics were equally happy 1 year after their respective events. I know personal experience is a bad way to argue anything, but I, for one, would rather be alive now than to not have been born at all. It's unlikely you'd find many people, especially in developed countries, who disagree. I argue, then, that the inevitable suffering, which it is argued any child will necessarily experience as a result of growing up, is acceptable, as the child is unlikely to care about it in the long run, unless their life is consistently deeply horrific.

Antinatalists make some very valid points about how we live our lives, but, in my opinion, ruin it by providing a hatchet job as a solution. In the 21st century, when humans inarguably have a huge impact on the environment and the planet's available resources, we should think before we add 1 more to the 7 billion we already have. We should, at the very least, consider the upbringing that the child we create will experience. I'm not telling anyone what to do, but if it's controversial to even suggest that people should be responsible when considering how many kids they have, or even whether they should have kids given their immediate environment, we are fucked as a species. We need to reduce our impact on the planet, we need to watch our numbers so we don't exhaust our resources, but the situation does not call for our extinction as a species.


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Age of Consent Laws

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

A YouTuber, Ujames1978Forever, has recently posted a lot of videos about age of consent laws. I'm not subscribed to him, but a lot of people I am subscribed to have been responding to him. This is a sensitive issue, so the potential for uninformed emotional opinions is high, even amongst a community which prides itself on its skepticism, and this is why I'm making this post.

I'll state right off the bat that I think age of consent laws are terrible. However, I can't see a better way of addressing the problem. The laws are terrible because people mature at different rates, so they don't really reflect reality. It's also ageism by definition. Ujames eschews them completely, arguing that the kind of situations that these laws deal with should be taken on a case-by-case basis. The YouTubers I'm subscribed to unanimously disagree with him, although I'm not convinced a few of them understand his position. Today, Richard Coughlan, someone I've been subscribed to now for 3 years, mirrored a video by pamew. pamew asked Ujames to provide a lower age bound at which he considers people to be able to consent to sex. This misses the point of Ujames' argument as I understand it. He's not giving an answer because he doesn't see it as an issue of age but of maturity. For example, he might say in 1 case that a 13 year old is mature enough to consent, but in another case, another 13 year old might not. I don't know exactly what criteria he'd be using: most likely their knowledge of what can happen, and how confidently they assert their consent. I don't agree with Ujames, as dealing with each case on a case-by-case basis would be costly and time consuming, as there are likely to be many cases, but if you're asserting that Ujames needs to provide any sort of lower age bound, you've fundamentally misunderstood his position.

I said that there are no better ways of doing it. I'll explain this further using alternatives. Let's say we scrapped age of consent laws. By "consent", I'm simply referring to the ability to give legal consent, not consent for any particular issue. I've already explained why I don't think Ujames' idea would work. One idea would be to license that consent. The idea is that a person of any age can sit an "exam" of sorts to demonstrate some minimum understanding of the responsibilities they will be faced with: the risks associated with sex, STDs, alcohol use, etc. This is already done for driving, it just seems logical to apply it to anything else, right? I don't think this can work. If the exam is well thought out there shouldn't be cases of people that clearly are too young to understand getting through, but the law would mean that everyone, regardless of age, will need to take this exam to consent to anything. In practice, not only would this law be deeply unpopular, but completely unenforceable as well. On these 2 points alone, it can't be considered further.

Off the top of my head, that's it. What other way could there be to do it? Now, are there problems with existing consent laws? I would argue that there is, and the most significant problem is consistency. In the UK, the age of consent is 16, but you need to be 17 to begin learning to drive and 18 to buy alcohol or vote. Why have a discrepancy at all? Some might argue that granting responsibilities step-by-step is a good idea as you become accustomed to the responsibility of 1 task before you move on to another greater responsibility, but, in practice, I don't see the effect of such an idea. Before I became 18, there was an element of fun to drinking which died when I became 18. The atmosphere completely changed when me and my friends became 18. I have a number of theories why. First, the underground element cuts underage drinkers off from 18+ drinkers for the most part, and part of the thrill for underage drinkers is getting alcohol at all. This make the 2 scenes very different. There is some overlap at nightclubs, as under 18s are still perfectly able to obtain fake ID or pass for 18. Also, as with anything else, the novelty of being able to legally buy alcohol wears off fast after becoming 18. There's also the change in surroundings as many people go off to uni where there are no detentions or headteacher visits, you just show up to lectures or don't, and you alone are responsible for your own education. People need to adapt fast and this necessarily makes them more mature. Finally, if you treat people as irresponsible, it's expected for them to act that way. In practice, I think consistent age limits is better. There's no ambiguity: 1 day, you're too young, the next, you're a full adult with no strings attached. No-one will be thinking "why can I do this and not that?" The subtleties to consenting to sex such as "if one's 16 and the other's 15 it's OK" can remain.

The final point I'd like to make would be to consider what the best age of consent would be if it was applied consistently to all activities? I think the ultimate acid test for this is what teenagers themselves think. I want to be clear here, I'm not talking about someone saying "I want to do this", I'm talking about someone saying "I feel like I'm old enough to be trusted to do this". Based on that mindset, I think at the very least that the alcohol age is too high. Pretty much no-one aged 16-17 respects this law. A lot of things a teenager does is dismissed as "rebellion" but think about what "rebellion" means. It means "I'm not going to stand for this". While laws are there for a reason, if it's so unpopular with the group it affects that they disobey it in gigantic numbers, in most cases, people would consider that law to be really bad, yet the drinking age stands, and people have even tried to make it higher. I say make the age of consent 16 across all activities. The novelty will wear off in the same way that it wears off at 18, but earlier. Schools retain their tough stance on people who turn up to class drunk, but the responsibility is there where it wasn't before. As the law is more consistent, I predict there will be a lot more respect for it, and the number of 14-15 year olds drinking won't skyrocket. It might rise a bit, but it will surely be offset by the fall in consumption by 16-17 year olds. In the year leading up to their 16th birthdays, education about the risks and responsibilities are emphasised at school in an honest factual presentation to maximise awareness and appreciation for the responsibilities they'll be granted.

As usual, thoughts and comments welcome.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Why I Despise Syco

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I recently posted about the new BBC talent show, "The Voice". I'd like to follow up on that.

I wrote that post very soon after the first episode. The show's audience surpassed 10 million. Based on what I wrote in my first post I should be happy but I'm not. It's lost 4 million since then but that's not what's pissing me off. It's the reasons why. Apparently the first results show was pre-recorded. Apparently the judges are "too nice". One of my local radio DJs said it was because there were no "novelty acts". OK, 1 at a time.

Pre-recorded show

I admit this was a mistake. It shouldn't have been allowed. This is why the first million left and it's a fair point. I'm annoyed that they did it, but shows inevitably make mistakes, especially on the first series. Let's move on.

Too nice

The argument goes that bad acts are given little or sugar-coated criticism. Instead of using the word "pitchy", some viewers would prefer terms like "awful" or "terrible". I've seen the shows, and it's not necessary. I'm not saying it's not right to do so, I'm saying they're not "awful" or "terrible", they are, at worst, "pitchy". The 1 exception was a girl called Ruth-Ann. She was eliminated by Jessie J last week. Let me use her to explain why "too nice" is such a hollow and pathetic criticism.

When Ruth-Ann auditioned, I thought she was pretty bad, but it wasn't like one of the truly awful acts that would audition for X Factor and get laughed at. She was just off-key a lot. Jessie was the only judge who turned round, and the others thought she'd lost her mind. Jessie defended her by saying that she saw potential. Now, out of the 4 judges, Jessie has consistently been the most critical towards the singers. "Too nice" is not a criticism that could meaningfully be attributed to her. She is tactful about her criticisms, but she makes them consistently. My assessment of the Ruth-Ann situation then is this: she disagreed with us. Everyone has their own personal preferences, and occasionally everyone champions someone who the rest of us can't stand. This happens, and has happened, everywhere. In the end, it doesn't really matter, because Jessie eventually voted her out.

Let's compare this to X Factor and Britain's Got Talent. On both of these shows, at the audition stage, a number of truly horrible acts are put in front of the judges so that they can embarrass themselves on TV in front of millions of people. Yes, the judges tear these people apart. They have no qualms throwing around words like "terrible", "awful" and "worst we've ever seen". On the other hand, there are acts that are equally awful, but because they have some degree of likeability with the audience, the judges put them through. If they didn't make it to the live shows, I might go from utterly despising to merely hating these shows, but many of these poor people do indeed get put through to embarrass themselves further. Now for the most important part. Whenever the audience gets behind one of these car crashes, the judges don't dare to criticise them, or be as tactful as they possibly can to avoid being booed. Simon tends to get a lot of his respect from being the exception to this rule, but even he applauds such acts a lot of the time.

So let's review. The public is complaining that the judges on The Voice aren't relentlessly criticising singers, the standard of whom is a lot higher than you'd typically get on X Factor or Britain's Got Talent, on a show which, on principle, doesn't allow for novelty acts, but they're perfectly fine with Cowell and his ilk putting through and praising novelty acts on their shows. The judges on The Voice aren't being too nice. The acts are just better.

Now fans of the Cowell shows might say "what about their good acts"? I see no difference in how The Voice's judges are treating their acts to how Cowell treats the best of his acts. Both camps are critical when needs be but tactful.

Novelty Acts

Let's get to the DJs criticism. He criticised the show's lack of novelty acts, saying this made the show boring. At least he admitted how sad such a criticism is. The concept that the British public prefer shows which give us Jedward to shows which filter through only talent scares me. What scares me more though is the possibility that the DJ is right. I actually think he is. It's disturbing to me that drama, novelty and image are more important than talent to millions of people. It's disturbing that they'd choose the integrity of a show like The Voice over the pantomime that is X Factor or BGT.

But none of this really explains why I despise Syco. To do this I need to tell you a story. It's about a young man from Scotland called Jai. Last year, Jai auditioned on BGT. He was terrified, but he unleashed a voice which I can only describe as "Josh Groban but better" (I say this having just recently compared both men's versions of "To Where You Are" live and recorded). He breezed through the auditions and the semi-final and eventually won the entire competition. He won £100,000 and a one-album contract with Syco, as well as the Royal Variety Performance. In December last year, he released an album called "Believe". He was great, but the album was terrible. It's the same Syco clone styles they apply in each relevant genre, never veering from their ridiculously strict formula, and it's all covers. Jai said he was given more creative control than he thought they might but, as a novice, he was happy to hand a lot of it over to the producers. He won a contest watched by over 10 million, and released an album bought by less than 30,000. In March this year, Syco dropped him.

This is why I despise Syco. Jai had enormous potential, but they released an album of crappily-made covers, emphasising the background over his voice, making it sound just like everything else they've done, and it flopped hard. They ruined him. The winner of The Voice gets £100,000 and a contract with Universal and it remains to be seen whether they will treat their winner more seriously than Syco treated Jai. I hope The Voice hangs on so it can strike the death blow to Syco's disgusting invasion of our mainstream music.


Science of Morality

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

A while ago, on my YouTube channel, I reviewed Sam Harris' book, "The Moral Landscape". To summarise the review, I thought it was a great introduction to the idea of a science of morality, and it lead me to look at morality differently. Another YouTuber I'm subscribed to was disappointed that the book didn't go far enough into the actual science. I would respond by saying that the book was never written for that purpose, but that is the point of this post. I have a degree in Maths, and a science of morality is likely to deal in Maths very heavily. I would like to share my thoughts on how a science of morality might work in practice.

It's important, first of all, to make 2 points. First, a science gets stronger with criticism. If you have criticisms, it is not necessary to throw out the idea entirely, unless those criticisms are made against the foundations of the science. People might bring up the Is-Ought problem, but this problem affects all ethical systems, and therefore is irrelevant to the science. The second point is that the ideas I will outline are not yet linked to brain states as Sam Harris outlines in his book, although there will be nothing to exclude the possibility of adapting the ideas to facts about the operation of the human brain in the future.

First off, we give people a utility value. Choosing the bounds of this value is important as it will affect the morality of any given action. After a lot of reflection, I've settled on 0 to 1, 0 representing minimum well-being, 1 representing maximum well-being. For example, someone with a utility value of 1 is in a situation where nothing could improve their subjective enjoyment of life or their objective health or general well-being. There are currently practicality problems when it comes to discovering any individual's utility value, but this is where Sam Harris' talk about brain states comes in. In the future, it will get progressively easier to assign that value to someone, given improvements in our understanding of neuroscience. The most important thing about choosing the bounds as 0 to 1 is that a dead or non-existent person has a utility value of 0. This means that killing any individual will always be a negative utility action (which I'll explain in detail later on) except when that individual's value is 0 for other reasons. In practice, a living human being's utility value will only be at 0 when they are in the womb, prior to the development of their brain and their mental capacity to feel pleasure or pain, or very near to 0 when in a coma.

Next, we need to look at moral actions. A moral action can affect many different people, and so is not subject to the same bounds as a person's own utility value. The upper and lower bounds on the utility increase or decrease caused by any action can be expressed mathematically as follows.

A = [-p, p]

AH! MATHS! Don't worry, I'll take you through it. A is any action which affects anyone's utility value. For example punching someone in the face will likely cause that person emotional and physical harm which will decrease their utility. This is therefore a negative utility action. The square brackets indicate a closed set which, in this case, means that the minimum possible effect on utility values is -p, and the maximum is p. p is used here to refer to the number of people affected by the moral action. The largest possible decrease in any one person's utility value is -1 (in practice, this would basically mean killing a perfectly content human being, which is unlikely as killing is not done by most people, and achieving a perfect utility is very unlikely as well). This largest possible decrease (-1) is then multiplied by the number of people affected (p) to give the maximum combined utility lost:

-1 x p = -p

Likewise, the largest possible increase in any one person's utility is 1 (this is pretty much impossible in practice, we're essentially talking about resurrection immediately followed by elevating the person to a state of perfect well-being). An action which increases utility is a positive utility action. The same maths is applied to this example as was to the previous and so the maximum combined utility gained is therefore:

1 x p = p

See, not so hard. But I like to be sure. Example time.


A serial killer has murdered 6 people. The utility values of this 6 people are 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.55, 0.6 and 0.65. The murders give the serial killer a 0.01 increase in his own utility for each murder committed but don't freak out, moral actions are actions which affect others, and so this isn't included in the equation. What is the utility effect of the serial killer's actions?

This is kids' stuff when you know how. All you need to know is that murder makes a human being incapable of any kind of subjective experience and so it permanently decreases their utility values to 0. Let's take the 1st victim:

M = v2 - v1

where v1 is the victim's utility prior to the murder and v2 is the victim's utility after the murder. M is, of course, the murder itself. We know that v1 is 0.3 from the question and v2 is 0 because they die. Substituting those values into the equation we get:

M = 0 - 0.3 = -0.3

But it goes further. Since v2 will be 0 in all cases, we can simplify the equation to this:

M = -v1

All you need to do is put a "-" before the victim's utility prior to the murder. Now for the complete problem. This time we just work out M for each victim and add them together:

-0.3 - 0.4 - 0.5 - 0.55 - 0.6 - 0.65 = -3

So the serial killer's action result in a combined utility change of -3. As low a value as that might sound, this actually makes the action very wrong. You have to remember that a more minor negative utility action, for example punching someone in the face, will result in physical harm and anger which will probably result in a utility change of something like -0.05 if it's a relatively bad but non-fatal punch.The values chosen for the 6 people were completely arbitrary, so it's important not to take away from this that some lives are more valuable than others. Murder is ALWAYS a negative utility action, and so is always wrong. The fact that 1 individual has a lower utility value than another never means it is more OK to kill the person with the lower utility, it just means that that person loses less from their death. A negative utility action should always be treated as something you never do except when there are no positive or zero utility actions possible.


If people are unhappy enough with their lives, they may commit suicide. In the vast majority of cases, suicide will be a negative utility action. Why? As I've already said, the morality of the action depends on how much it affects other people. Killing yourself reduces your own utility to 0 but this isn't factored into the equation because you are not other people. However, suicide affects everyone that knows you, especially your family and friends. It will decrease their utility. Mathematically, this can be represented as:
S =  xi
       i = 1

S is the suicide, x is anyone whose utility is affected by the suicide with i being used to specify a certain individual (for example x1 could be the mother, x2 could be the father etc.) and n is the number of people affected. The ∑ means that all values of xi are added together from the number underneath (1) to the value above (n). Example:

A mother and father both lose utility 0.1 as a result of the suicide of their son. What is the total utility change caused by the son's suicide?

Well 2 people are affected, the mother (x1) and the father (x2). Both x1 and x2 are -0.1. We simply add them together.

-0.1 + (-0.1) = -0.1 - 0.1 = -0.2

The son's suicide has decreased utility by 0.2. This tells us that the son's suicide is wrong, although the son almost certainly knew the effect his death would have on his family and chose to kill himself anyway. This is simply maths telling you that people will miss you!

Before I go any further, some might look back at the murder scenario and look at it as overly simplistic in light of the fact that we are now including the effects the action has on relatives and friends in the equation. You'd be right. If this ever gets used in practice, these less direct effects must be included in the equations, I'm just introducing you to the science here.


Enough messing around. If the science can't advise us on the big issues, what's the point of it? By the simple fact that abortion remains a contentious issue, whatever I write here will be controversial. Let's get to it.

Conception is the creation of a moral agent, a life form with a utility value. How do we address the problem of the developing human being? Well, if morality is to be based on an organism's capacity for emotion, self-awareness and caring about its existence, none of this applies to a foetus until the neural architecture making this possible has developed. Until this point, the organism's utility value is 0 and so abortion at this stage is a zero utility action. It's neither wrong nor right. At this point, the pro-life side will make the following criticisms:

"What about the fetus' potential for life?"
"Isn't their any utility in the health of an organism?"

I'll deal with the second one first. The simple answer is no. At face value, an organism incapable of caring about its health has a utility of 0 as the organism is unable to care what you do to it. Does this necessarily mean that killing such an organism is never wrong? Not really, not if its actions still affect the utility values of others. For example, if a certain insect plays a crucial role in the conservation of the environment, killing enough of them will later on affect human beings.

The issue of a non-moral agent being able to perform moral actions is central to addressing the pro-lifers 1st criticism as well. An unborn human being has the potential to raise the utility of others on average, to lower it, or for the good and bad to cancel themselves out. Since the outcome is completely unpredictable, the 3 outcomes are treated as having equal probability. A fair criticism would be that the probability of an exact net zero change in the utility of others should be much lower, but what really matters is that the positive and negative utility outcomes have equal probability. This makes the expected utility change caused by that potential human's actions 0. In summary, because we never know whether that human being will be good overall or bad overall, the 2 equal probabilities cancel each other out and so both the developing human's own utility value and the change they are expected to cause in other people's utility values is 0. This makes the pro-lifers' first criticism irrelevant to the utility equations.

The pro-choice side will have a criticism of their own.

"Doesn't this mean that abortion after the fetus' brain is working is immoral?"

To some extent, yes. The fetus is capable of suffering and has a rudimentary awareness of its existence. Its utility value is therefore non-zero. The issue of abortion at this stage now reverts to the murder scenario outlined earlier: it will always be a negative utility action. At this stage, if you don't want the child, the more moral options are to remove it from the womb and have it grow further outside or to carry it to term and give it up for adoption. Ideally, the best thing to have done would have been to get the abortion early. I appreciate that the legality of abortion in any given country could make this impossible for some, but this is where the science comes in handy, as it shows that illegal early abortion is unjustified.

In cases where the mother's health is at risk, you just compare the outcomes of the following 2 scenarios.

1. The fetus is not aborted and the mother and fetus die.
2. The fetus is aborted so the fetus dies.

Mathematically, we can use the earlier murder equation to represent this:

m = mother's utility value
f = fetus' utility value

Case 1 = -m - f
Case 2 = -f

It's very straight forward. In either case, the fetus will die so no matter what stage of development the fetus is at, the higher utility option is always case 2. This is an example where both cases are negative utility actions. Neither are ideal, but since these are the only possibilities, you go with the option which decreases utility the least.

Remember, a science gets stronger with criticism. I WANT you to criticise this or ask questions about scenarios I may not have included here.


If we're all on the same page, you'll probably think it's not looking good for those who support euthanasia. Don't be too hasty though. When dealing with the issue of euthanasia, what we're asking in terms of the science is this: can it ever be positive utility to kill someone? If we're talking about killing someone against their will, no. It doesn't matter what the utility value of the murder victim is, it's always wrong. However, euthanasia deals with situations where the victim will die anyway. This makes it more analogous to the 2 scenarios in the abortion issue. Let's take the example of a patient on life support. This time the scenarios are as follows.

1. The patient will remain comatose/in agony until their death.
2. The patient is removed from life support and they die shortly after.

Case 1 depends very heavily on the condition of the patient. If they are in a coma and die while comatose, their utility is unlikely to vary much. Since the effects of the patient's death on the relatives and friends is unlikely to vary either, there is likely to be little difference in the utility change caused by the particular scenario chosen. What about when the patient is in agony?

First, let's assume they can communicate with us. We first need to establish a new principle for our science. I might rename it later, but for now I'll call it the Moral Responsibility Transfer principle:

MRT principle

"If an individual A freely wishes, without any manipulative influence upon them, to perform an action which lowers their own utility, but is unable to carry out the action his/herself, another individual B can carry out the action on behalf of A if A freely allows, without any manipulative influence upon them, to grant B this responsibility. B's actions are then treated in the utility equation as A's."

I've taken great care in the wording to exclude cases where someone is being manipulated into providing MRT, or is unable to consent, or cases where the MRT recipient decreases utility further than is requested. The application of the MRT principle in euthanasia is that, because the patient is unable to kill him/herself, another must do it for them, and since the patient wants to die, even though their utility is decreased to 0, because it is in accordance with the patient's wishes, it is not wrong. It can also be used by human beings long before an accident that puts them in that scenario occurs.

A simple way to sum up the action is to go back to what I was saying about a person decreasing their own utility not being immoral. This is exempt from the utility equation. The MRT principle simply treats the actions of the person assisting in the patient's suicide as the actions of the patient. I make this point to discourage possible criticisms that this is an arbitrary principle invented to justify my own views. Science is about modelling reality, and in reality, we don't punish people for carrying out the freely chosen wishes of another informed human being, even if those wishes are detrimental to that person. It's only when we doubt how free those wishes are or how informed they are that we take issue.

What does this mean for the 2 scenarios? Well, it depends on whether the patient wants to die. If they don't, case 2 would be treated in the same way as murder and the MRT principle doesn't apply. This would be a negative utility action for the person who makes the decision about life support. As for case 1, the decision to endure is the patient's and so morality isn't involved. If, however, the patient does want to die, the MRT principle applies to the person assisting in the death as it is the patient's informed choice. If the patient is not taken off of life support, despite the patient's wishes to the contrary, those who are able to do so are morally responsible for all of the patient's suffering prior to their death as they could've prevented it. How are all of these scenarios expressed mathematically?

Patient chooses not to die:

P = patient's utility value immediately prior to death
E = euthanasia action utility change on patient
\E = non-action utility change on patient
si = suffering event number i
di = decay constant of suffering event number i
t = time
                     n        -dit
Case 1: \E = sie          - P

Hieroglyphics? Don't worry, I'll explain it. What we're modelling here is not just the patient's death but their suffering up to the point of their death. The actual death is the -P part (the murder equation from earlier). The rest involves slightly more complicated mathematics. You may recognise ∑ from earlier, the function which adds together related variables. s refers to the change in utility caused when the patient experiences pain and i is simply used to describe how many times it's happened. For example, s3 means that the patient is experiencing a burst of pain for the third time. n refers to the number of times this burst of pain will occur prior to their death. However, the pain will decrease with time and their utility value will gradually rise again, most likely due, in this scenario, to the involvement of painkillers. This is where e, di and t come in. e is an irrational number like pi. Very roughly, it's value is close to 2.7. I'm not going to explain it in detail here, but it's standard practice to use this number for what I'm about to describe. As you can see, -dit is above e. We are raising e "to the power of -dit" which means we are multiplying e by 1 -dit times, or dividing e from 1 dit times, whichever way helps you understand it better. Because the logarithm (-dit in this case) is negative, e to the power of this logarithm will be between 0 and 1 and decreasing towards 0 as t increases. di was described in the equation key as the decay constant. This is just a number chosen to make the model accurate. You could describe it in this case as the effectiveness of the pain killers. The higher d is, the less time is required for e to the power of -dit to converge to 0. \E will always be less than 0 as the patient's utility decreases from a positive value to 0 as they die.

This equation is just a utility equation. Morality isn't relevant to it as the responsibility for the suffering and death involved was taken by the patient. In a morality relevant utility equation, e to the power of dit is not relevant as it describes the recovery of the suffering. People are not absolved of their actions simply because the suffering they cause will eventually subside.

Case 2: E = -P

This is a straight forward murder equation. The patient did not ask to be euthanised, so doing so is murder. This is a negative utility action for which the person doing the euthanising is culpable and that's all there is to it.

Patient chooses to die:

The utility equations for case 1 and case 2 are the same. However, since morality is relevant to case 1, and the decay rates aren't, we should describe this in a separate equation:

\Em = morally relevant utility change of no euthanasia

Case 1: \Em∑ si 

As you can see, e to the power of -dit has been taken out. As I described earlier, we don't absolve people of the suffering they cause simply because the suffering caused by the action diminishes over time. To get a value relevant to the morality of the action we have to remove this from the equation. -P, the death, is also absent from the equation as this is inevitable. The person who failed to respect the patient's wishes for euthanasia is not responsible for the patient's death simply because they are responsible for all of the patient's suffering prior to it. All we need to do then is add up the utility change of each sudden burst of pain, which will all be negative, and we get the morally relevant utility value of neglecting the patient's wishes. This will obviously always be negative as well.

Case 2 is as above, but the MRT principle applies, so the equation describes the wishes of the patient, and so is not morally relevant.

For now, I just want to look at 1 more scenario:


This issue describes the morality of having children. Natalists argue that there is positive utility in having children and antinatalists argue that there is negative utility in having children. What might this science of morality say?

We can model the scenario but we can't really say 1 side is right and the other is wrong as things currently stand. Let me explain.

We'll model what we know to start with. Conception doesn't immediately produce a non-zero utility human, but 1 develops in the womb. Conception with intention to carry the child could be seen as a positive utility action as, after the 9 month incubation period, a child is born with non-zero utility b (for birth). This could very simply be modelled as:

C = b

However, we also know for a fact that the child will eventually die. The parents bring a child into existence knowing it will die. If they are responsible for the positive utility of their birth, they are also responsible for the negative utility of their death, as we can't be selective about which events they are responsible for. However, it's unlikely that the utility after birth will be the same as the utility before death. We need a variable d for death, but we also need one to represent their lifetime utility change (l). Modifying the equation we get:

C = b + l + d = 0

The three variables will always add up to 0 as, because the human being created always dies, their final utility will always be 0. b is always positive, l could be positive, zero or negative, and d is always negative. The act of creating a new human being, then, is a zero utility action and so is neither right nor wrong.

One thing we've not considered is the utility change that the new human will bring about in others. However, as I said in the abortion scenario, this is completely unpredictable. Positive and negative utility change, therefore are treated as equal probability and so the expected change still adds up to 0. We will never be able to predict this change, so this is the fairest way of modelling the scenario.

Well, that's all for now. There are many more scenarios to consider, but this is just a taster of how we could use utility to quantify morality. Any questions or criticisms are encouraged and welcome.


Saturday, 5 May 2012

Rant About Doctor Who

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Not as topical as many of my other posts, but I need to get this off my chest.

I have watched Doctor Who since its 2005 revival. I've gone back and watched many of the older episodes with the puppet monsters and men in cringe-worthy costumes. Generally speaking, I like the series. Since the beginning of 2010, Matt Smith has played the Doctor. He followed on from David Tennant, who was voted the best Doctor ever, so Matt's in a difficult position. I haven't been able to gauge how well Matt's been received by the public in general, but no-one in my family likes him. They still watch the show, but their views fall in line with the general Tennant praise. As another example of my alien taste, mine don't. I have numerous problems with the show during the period of David Tennant being the Doctor, and since I don't hear them anywhere else, I'd like to share them here.

First off, I have no problem's with David Tennant's acting. It's the character, the writing and some of the stories I take issue with, and I'll use my least favourite episode, "Journey's End" (Series 4 Episode 13), to explain why, as all of the issues are present in this episode.

I'll start with the character. What I don't like about the 10th Doctor is that he lords over everyone. He has to hold the moral high-ground at all times, and everyone inexplicably never fails to just let him order them around. He is extremely arrogant, and everything I've just described, as we know from the character's past, also makes him a hypocrite. In "Journey's End", these characteristics are portrayed to a painful extent. Martha, for example, cites the Doctor as a higher authority "way above UNIT". The Doctor banishes his human counterpart to an alternate dimension for blowing up the Dalek Crucible. Nowhere is it more annoying, though, than when "the Doctor's soul is revealed". The sadness which the Doctor portrays is because of the effect that he has on his companions. They start out as ordinary people and, as Davros describes, he "fashions them into weapons". It doesn't sit well with me that there is a character who has killed many different forms of life and committed genocide numerous times, yet when his companions threaten to kill the Daleks, who are on the verge of wiping out all matter in the universe and who are absolutely incapable of empathy, he is brought to despair by his hypocritical moralising.

The hypocritical moralising in this episode is so bad, that a Dalek is guilty of it! Let me just say that again: a Dalek, who as I've said is "absolutely incapable of empathy", decided to betray the Daleks after seeing the destruction and suffering they had caused throughout the universe. This Dalek is shown to be insane throughout this episode and the previous one, but as they are, once again, "absolutely incapable of empathy", this doesn't explain away this enormous betrayal of the essence of what a Dalek is, for the purpose of butchering the plot basis of the entire series. And yes, that is what happens, as this Dalek is said to have guided the Doctor and Donna onto the Crucible so that Donna could stop the Daleks. The entire series, and even certain events in a previous series, depends on the actions of that Dalek.

There's more, although this next example wasn't limited to this particular episode. Jack's teleport device. The Doctor can't just leave it alone, can he? He has to decide for other people whether they can travel in time and space as well.

Enough about the Doctor's character, let's look at the stories. Doctor Who is promoted as a kids' show, but prior to David Tennant becoming the Doctor, it has never felt like 1 to me. I can't quite put my finger on what it is in general that makes it feel like a kids' show during Tennant's reign, but in "Journey's End" there is a clear example. The insane Dalek Caan repeatedly predicts that 1 of the Doctor's companions will die. This never happens. No, it doesn't matter how you try to reconcile this, no companion dies. The "death" is a mere partial loss of memory and identity for Donna. I don't care what type of show it is, if you set up the scene for a death to occur, ANYTHING short of that is a disappointment. There's no excuse: many characters die, and are shown to die without controversy, on the show. There is no reason why an exception should be made for a companion.

Now that I've talked about David Tennant, let's talk about Matt Smith. Personally, I've really liked the last 2 series. 1 of the things my family has criticised about Matt Smith is that he is not believable as a 900+ year old, war-ravaged alien, and Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant were. I find this to be an odd criticism as there are obviously no examples of a 900+ year old, war-ravaged alien to point to for comparison. Matt Smith is the youngest actor to play the Doctor so far, and the youthfulness does come through in his role, but the entire point of the Doctor is that his personality changes with each regeneration. Each incarnation will have a different reaction to their own memories, and Matt Smith's Doctor is under no obligation to treat his memories with the gravitas that previous incarnations might have. Personally, the less serious nature is something I like about the 11th Doctor. While some of the Tennant arrogance remains, the looking down on people generally doesn't, or when it does, it's portrayed as a lot more tongue-in-cheek. My only substantial criticism of the current incarnation of the Doctor is that Steven Moffat hasn't given Matt Smith much opportunity to really act. The youthfulness is more or less all we tend to see. I hope that this will change, as it will affect the perception of Matt Smith's acting abilities.

That's enough of my thoughts, time to open up the flood gates to what you guys think.