Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Dream Argument Against Utilitarianism and Hedonic Theories of Subjective Well-Being

If hedonic theories of value are true, we have compelling moral and prudential reason to invest large amounts of resources to improving the quality of our dream lives. But we don't have compelling moral or prudential reason to invest large amounts of resources to improving the quality of our dream lives. Therefore, hedonic theories of value are not true. [Revised 11:37 a.m. after helpful discussion on Facebook.]

Last night I had quite a few unpleasant experiences. For example, in my last dream before waking I was rushing around a fancy hotel, feeling flustered and snubbed. In other dreams, I feel like I am being chased through thigh-deep water in the ruins of a warehouse. Or I have to count dozens of scurrying animals, but I can't seem to keep the numbers straight. Or I lose control of my car on a curvy road -- AAAAGH! Sweet relief, then, when I awake and these dreams dissipate.

For me, such dreams are fairly typical. Most of my dreams are neutral to unpleasant. I don't want my "dreams to come true". In any given twenty-four hour period, the odds are pretty good that my most unpleasant experiences were while I was sleeping -- even if I usually don't remember those experiences. (Years ago, I briefly kept a dream diary. I dropped the project when I noticed that my dreams were mostly negative and lingered if I journaled them after waking.) Maybe you also mostly have unpleasant experiences in sleep? Whether the average person's dream experiences are mostly negative or mostly positive is currently disputed by dream researchers.

I was reminded of the importance of dream experience for the hedonic balance of one's life while reading Paul Bloom's new book The Sweet Spot. On page 18, Bloom is discussing how you might calculate the total number of happy versus unhappy moments in your life. As an aside, he writes "We're just counting waking moments; let's save the question of the happiness or sadness of sleeping people for another day." But why save it for another day? If you accept a hedonic theory of value, shouldn't dreams count? Indeed, mightn't we expect that the most intense experiences of joy, fright, frustration, etc., mostly happen in sleep? To omit them from the hedonic calculus is to omit an enormous chunk of our emotional experience.

According to hedonic theories of value, what matters most in the world is the balance of positive to negative experiences. Hedonic theories of subjective well-being hold that what matters most to your well-being or quality of life is how you feel moment to moment -- the proportion or sum of good feelings versus bad ones, weighted by intensity. Hedonic theories of ethics, such as classical utilitarianism, hold that what is morally best is the action that best improves the balance of pleasure versus pain in the world.

If hedonic theories are correct, we really ought to try improving our dream lives. Suppose I spend half the night dreaming, with a 5:1 ratio of unpleasant to pleasant dreams. If I could flip that ratio, my hedonic well-being would be vastly improved! The typical dream might not be frustration in a maze of a hotel but instead frolicking in Hawaiian surf.

If hedonic theories are correct, dream research ought to be an urgent international priority. If safe and effective ways were found to improve people's dream quality around the world, the overall hedonic profile of humanity would change dramatically for the better! People might be miserable in their day jobs, or stuck in refugee camps, or hungry, or diseased. But for eight hours a day, they could have joyful respite. A few hours of nightly bliss might hedonically outweigh any but the most intense daily suffering.

So why does no one take such proposals seriously?

Is it because dreams are mostly forgotten? No. First, it shouldn't matter whether they are forgotten. A forgotten joy is no less a joy (though admittedly, you don't have the additional joy of pleasantly remembering it). Eventually we forget almost everything. Second, we can work to improve our memory of dreams. Simply keeping a dream diary has a big positive effect on dream recall over time.

It is because there's no way to improve the hedonic quality of our dreams? Also no. Many people report dramatic improvements to their dream quality after they teach themselves to have lucid dreams (dreams in which you are aware you are dreaming and exert some control over the content of your dreams). Likely there are other techniques too that we would discover if we bothered to seriously research the matter. Pessimism about the project is just ignorance justifying ignorance.

Is it because the positive or negative experiences in dreams aren't "real emotions"? No, this doesn't work either. Maybe we should reserve emotion words for waking emotions or maybe not; regardless, negative and positive feelings of some sort are really there. The nightmare is a genuinely intensely negative experience, the flying dream a genuinely intensively positive experience. As such, they clearly belong in the hedonic calculus as standardly conceived.

The real reason that we scoff at serious effort to improve the quality of our dream lives is this: We don't really care that much about our hedonic states in sleep. It doesn't seem worth compromising on the goods and projects of waking life so as to avoid the ordinary unpleasantness of dreams. We reject hedonic theories of value.

But still, dream improvement research warrants at least a little scientific funding, don't you think? I'd pay a small sum for a night of sweet dreams instead of salty ones. Maybe a fifth of the cost of a movie ticket?

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Related:

How Much Should You Care about How You Feel in Your Dreams? (Apr 17, 2012)

[Image generated by wombo.art, with the prompt "hotel dream" (cyberpunk style)]

28 comments:

scott said...

I find that my dream experiences are very muted and diluted. The joys I experience don't compare to the joys of real life. The bad things I experience don't end up counting as a huge amount of suffering. For me at least, part of the reason I don't want to invest much in making my dreams wonderful is that they don't nearly match the intensity of real life. Or at least, that is what I find when I introspect.

Scott Hill

Tom Cochrane said...

I think we should definitely invest in making our dream lives happier. Some of the most intense negative emotions I've had were in dreams where I thought someone had died. On the other hand, there's a significant disappointment when something amazing happens in a dream and you wake up to find it isn't real. I'm also concerned about the unanticipated consequences of dream manipulation for sleep health and whatever other cognitive benefits our dreams have.

Nate Bemis said...

While all pleasures and pains may in some sense be psychological, psychological pleasures and pains usually take second place to physical pleasures and pains in our value oriented behavior. Mental illness, for example, is not taken as seriously as bodily illness. Depending on what the best theory of pleasure/pain makes of this--e.g. it distinguishes between real (bodily) and phantom (psychological) pleasure/pain--the hedonist might dismiss dream pain as irrelevant, or merely relevant by loose analogy. I've simplified to make the strategy clear. A serious, dynamic theory would invoke a dynamic continuum of relevance, with your considerations being of so modest importance as to explain/answer why we don't take altering them for an ongoing moral/hedonistic enterprise. (If pushed they might argue that dream therapy exists for individuals having a bad time of it in waking life, owing to to filmy disapprobation that flows with them out of sleep--and such individuals are so few in number that we be giving up on greater goods by spending too many resources on improving everyone's dreams. Who knew efficiency experts could make us so much happier by telling us to ignore your bad dreams!)

Philosopher Eric said...

I’m very much on the “psychological egoism” side of things, or a title I’ve adopted given how simple it is to persecute base “hedonists”. The social tool of morality mandates that even though we’re all self interested products of our circumstances, those who do the best job of advertising themselves to instead be altruists tend to reap far more hedonistic kudos in life than the less nimble. The essential trick in great salesmanship, for one example, is to talk smoothly enough to be perceived as doing one’s customers great services even when you’re actually ripping them off. Conversely bad salesmanship is promoting the interests of your customers while being perceived as a thief.

One technical issue regarding the egoism position that few seem to grasp is that theoretically each moment of subjective experience should be considered to exist as a unique self. Me ten minutes from now should be a fundamentally different agent than me now. Nevertheless that agent should be connected with me now through his memory of ten minutes ago, and I should be connected with him by means of the hope and worry I have about what ten minutes from now might bring. If I realize that that guy’s hand is going to get smashed, associated worry should feel bad to me right now and thus provide incentive for me to try to help prevent such an outcome for him.

So what does this perspective of countless discrete selves roughly connected through memory and hope/worry say about dreams? It says that if you can’t remember experiencing various incredible horrors in your sleep, then it wasn’t “you” that experienced them but rather some other poor sap who just happens to bear your name. Better that person than you! Still we not only tend to remember dreams at least somewhat, but those experiences should also have subliminal effects that carry over into our standard lives. Sorry to hear about your troubles dreaming professor!

Apparently I need a couple of hours less sleep than my wife does, and from time to time she gets anxiety dreams while I’m awake. Furthermore I don’t want any of her selves to have such experiences regardless of what she ends up remembering. Her negative experiences harm me given my care for her, and so it’s in my interests to intervene. She once mentioned feeling like I was looking down on her ready to wake her up if she personally couldn’t straighten out whatever dream situation she happened to be in. I like that.

Howard B said...

What would happen if our dream life is so much happier than our waking life that we sleep much much more
Things like that might occur to concentration camp inmates or prisoners or the terminally ill
Or to the depressed or the dying.
That would be problematic
Real pleasures are more legitimate than dream pleasures

Nate Bemis said...

However divided people are, the debased hedonist was going to cry "non sequitur!" at "If hedonic theories are correct, dream research ought to be an urgent international priority."

"You mean like Covid?" they'd have said, and may nevertheless go on saying.

Of course, then, they would've been overlooking more modest international affairs, such as collaborative work between professors or sleep scientists; there's enough pain to warrant that, or of so you have at least convinced me.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comments, folks!

Scott: Interesting. That doesn't match my experience (as best I can remember it), and there's at least some research that seems to suggest that it's not generally the case for the majority of research participants: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247497184_Dreams_are_more_negative_than_real_life_Implications_for_the_function_of_dreaming
But if it's true for you, that's a reasonable explanation for relative indifference.

Tom: Right, possible unintended consequences would certainly deserve investigation. One question is *how much* we should invest in making our dream lives happier. If hedonic theories of value are true, maybe it should be the majority of our disposable income?

Nate comment 1: I agree that people often take psychological suffering much less seriously than physical suffering and that the dream case might be a natural extension of that. People who accept hedonic theories of value presumably would tend to disagree with this.

Phil E: On your view, why care about the ten-minutes-from-now person at all, though? And secondarily, why care more than about your dreaming self. If you're curious, I have a short story "Momentary Sage" that is intended as a reductio of a (cartoon version of?) the view you describe: https://www.thedarkmagazine.com/momentary-sage/

Howard: Yes, I agree.

Nate comment 2: Right, even the advocate of hedonic theories of value might think that responding to COVID or purchasing mosquito nets or ensuring the long-term survival or humanity are more important than dream improvement. But (if the argument of this post is correct) dream improvement should be much higher than many other things on such a view, and much higher than it is generally regarded as being.

Arnold said...

Human biology includes the study of our production and use of energy...
...are dreams just-like, part-of all the automatic/mechanical systems we have..

That philosophers are including-feeling their way...
...towards the will to be free, seems a productive use of energy...

Caring about what we see may be hedonistic at first...
...but could become a transformative help in life...

Howard B said...

So how would our guiding theory of dreams affect our overall assessment of hedonism in dreams?
Would it matter if following Freud we took dreams o be wish fulfillment or if following neurologists we took dreams as random noise or consolidating memories?
If it were wish fulfillment it might be a low kind of pleasure possibly not up to our standards
If it were random noise, maybe it's ontological status would be transformed
Any thoughts?

SelfAwarePatterns said...

I once had a dream that all my teeth fell out. Pretty sure I'd pay good money if I knew it would reliably ensure never having another dream like that. I've also noticed that I tend to have nightmares if I go to bed shortly after eating a large meal, and knowing that does make me try to avoid that scenario.

So the quality of my dream life does matter to me, at least to some degree. But maybe that's because I have Epicurean (prudent hedonist) tendencies.

Arnold said...

Towards ontological transformation philosophy..."solid and unmistakable"
...if sensation, emotion, mentation are capable of transformation for us...

"Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know that he was Zhuang Zhou."
..."Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou...
...Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things"...
..."Zhuangzi, chapter 2 (Watson translation)" (Zhuagzi(book) Wikipedia)

Is this a Way to live today...between things, understanding transforming things...

Callan said...

I would think it's worth considering if the dreams are reflections of real life concerns. Trying to improve the dreams would be a sort of round about way of improving ones own waking life.

Daniel Polowetzky said...

“A forgotten joy is no less a joy.” I presume this applies to things like the skiing one enjoyed but has forgotten, experiences that were had while awake and were remembered for a time afterwards. Most people see value in increasing the number of such experiences even if they become forgotten.
If, however, you never remembered your dreams upon waking, such that upon waking you have the same experience as you have upon waking from propofol, i.e., the feeling that absolutely nothing happened while unconscious, then it is difficult to see why you would, or should, care about improving one’s dream life. These sleep experiences might as well be somebody else’s.
Whether there is a point in improving the pleasure of THAT person is another question.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the continuing comments, folks!

Arnold: I love that passage from Zhuangzi! If he's right, then we ought to care about our dreams because maybe all of what I regard as my normal waking life is in fact just a dream.

Howard B: One's theory of dreaming ought definitely have predictions for the kinds of dreams we have; but we can hold that fixed and also consider the question of hedonic theories of values given X level of hedonic value in dreams. So I think the issues are partly separable.

SelfAware: Two issues: (1.) Would you still pay if you wouldn't remember the dream for very long? If not, the connection to hedonic theories of value will be complex at best. (2.) Paying *some* money *never* to have a dream like that is consistent with my view. I'd also buy out of bad dreams for cheap -- just not for the price I'd buy out of similarly bad waking experiences.

Callan: Maybe so. But then the value might be mostly derivative on the value for waking life, yes?

Daniel: "Might as well be somebody else's" -- maybe so. Or maybe not even that! We have an altruistic duty, arguably, to prevent bad experiences in other people. Do we similarly have an altruistic duty to prevent bad experiences in forgotten dreams (at the same price)?

SelfAwarePatterns said...

Eric,
On (1), not sure. Obviously if I never remembered anything about them, I wouldn't be motivated to pay. But I can't remember the details of many of those nightmares, just that they were unpleasant, and that's enough to modify my behavior. Although to your point in (2), probably nothing like the intensity I'd have if they had been waking experiences.

Mike

Arnold said...

Caring about my dreams, as my normal waking life...

Waking life is in fact just a dream...

The 'distinction' for 'the transformation of things'...

Dan P said...

The scenario I have in mind is of the person who denies dreaming at all despite the detection of normal REM sleep, etc.
Confronted with evidence that, indeed, they do dream, but simply immediately forget their dreams, they would likely not be motivated to improve the subjective quality of these never remembered dreams that have no impact on their waking lives, at least insofar as the content of such dreams do not cause wakeful regret. Of course, there may be causal relationships between these dreams and waking states.
It’s a bit weird to be concerned about subjective states whose existence only occurs in sleeping people who would deny their occurrence when awake.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

SelfAware/Mike: Both claims seem reasonable to me.

Dan P: I agree. Now I want to go read discussions of this among defenders of hedonic theories of value!

Philosopher Eric said...

Professor,
I’ve provided what I consider to be a reasonable account for why so little money is spent on improving dream welfare even if hedonic theories of value happen to be true in the end. The answer being that each instant of experience exists as a new self, though they can be somewhat connected by means of both memory of the past as well as hope/worry about the future. Thus past dreams, or even waking experiences, happen to people that actually aren’t us if we have no recollection of those experiences. If you can provide an example which seems to contradict my explanation then I’d be interested in assessing it. It does seem to me that my position is consistent with common observation given hope/worry circumstances regarding the future, as well as memory loss or retention regarding the past. Observe that it’s consistent with the observations of Dan P as well.

The ten minutes from now person who I will become matters to me because evolution causes me to hope/worry about what I foresee will happen to that future person. If I knew that ten minutes from now a person were credibly going to try to beat him up, then why might the present me care? Because that understanding should feel horrible to me right now. Observe that if this didn’t concern me then I’d lose my motivation to escape such a fate.

The opposite of worry, or hope, functions the same way in a personally enriching way. Why do people ever choose to invest in future welfare given that the actual investor never reaps those specific gains? Largely because the present hope that such investments provide tends to offset the costs of present sacrifices. Even when false, present hope can feel wonderful.

These are a couple of things that I think psychologists will eventually agree upon, or at least once they’ve come to terms with consciousness being valence motivated somewhat like our computers are electricity motivated. The social tool of morality seems to counter their ability to acknowledge this however.

On your “Momentary Sage” short story, it’s difficult for me to directly relate it to our world given the provided conditions. A baby is born who not only speaks, but does so like a conniving adult rather than a vulnerable child, and also has a tusk by which to kill itself if its parents don’t either keep that tusk out of its heart, or please it with things like opium? This is certainly fine for literature, though I don’t consider it a reasonable anti hedonism thought experiment given that evolution seems not to give us reason to function like that.

On Twitter I recently noticed that you’re looking for people to review your coming “Weirdness of the World” book. If you’d like my thoughts on it some time then you can send what you’ve got to my standard online address, or thephilosophereric@gmail.com. I think I’ve said here before however that I don’t consider there to be anything weird about various respected people today having crackpot ideas. Thus my skepticism might restrain the impact of some of your weirdness examples.

Howard B said...

Hi Eric:

But to Freud there is pleasure in all dreams as all dreams in some way are examples of wish fulfillment. How can a hedonist viewpoint accommodate that? There is pleasure even when there is no apparent pleasure, something to do with manifest and latent content

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Phil E: Thanks for reading Momentary Sage. I think the point there can be extracted away from the fantastical details, but I wouldn't insist on that. You write:

"The ten minutes from now person who I will become matters to me because evolution causes me to hope/worry about what I foresee will happen to that future person. If I knew that ten minutes from now a person were credibly going to try to beat him up, then why might the present me care? Because that understanding should feel horrible to me right now. Observe that if this didn’t concern me then I’d lose my motivation to escape such a fate."

May I ask whether the ten-minutes-from-now person *should* matter to you? Arguably, evolution could make us care about things that we ought not care about.

Howard B: One might of course find Freud's view of this unattractive. On the other hand, there are also some waking phenomena that arguably have a similar structure, such as our pleasure (?) at sad and scary movies.

Howard B said...

Interesting about Freud- however, can't you claim that earned pleasure is better than unearned pleasure and that dream pleasure is not only unearned but illusory?

Philosopher Eric said...

I think I get your point professor. While I was coming at this from the “is”, you are asking about the “ought”. Can’t evolution (a presumed “is”) do horrible things that it ought not do from an agency based perspective? I’m quite sure of that. If a god happens to be responsible for our world, then in many ways I consider that bastard ridiculously evil. Conversely evolution seems to have no agency. Thus I consider it merely “bad” in certain respects.

Though for his day I’d say David Hume did a great job asserting that “ought-ing” shouldn’t be mixed with “is-ing”, today I like to observe that in the end, is is all there is. Though a tautology, naturalism seems to mandate that ultimately value can only be created by means of causal stuff. Thus any valid ought must ultimately derive from what is. I personally suspect that value arises by means of certain brain produced electromagnetic fields in the form of phenomenal experience itself. Furthermore I think Derek Parfit and others have been right to observe that such hedonistic notions can have repugnant implications. But then I don’t know why we should presume that if we grasped reality better, the picture we’d see would not have various amazingly repugnant implications.

Here’s the issue think. Evolution added a value dynamic to more advanced forms of life since those creatures couldn’t otherwise effectively deal with more open circumstances through mere non-conscious programming — the resulting agency was required. Furthermore in at least the human evolution also added care and various theory of mind sensations such as guilt that helped it function more effectively in its more advanced societies. Thus the emergence of our moral notions. The conundrum here I think is that the social tool of morality punishes us for formally acknowledging that phenomenal experience is ultimately motivated by means of hedonistic utility. Thus the central behavior science of psychology has not yet been permitted to grasp our nature in a general capacity (given its conflict with standard moral notions), and even though economics (as a non-central behavior science) has been able to take this step, and so has become reasonably “hard” by means of the foundation which psychology hasn’t yet been permitted to accept.

That was of course a more detailed response than you requested, though a taste of one of my strongest passions.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the continuing comments, folks!

Howard: "Better" and "illusory" are somewhat ambiguous. If "better"/"worse" means more hedonically good/bad, then I find it empirically doubtful that waking life is consistently better/worse than dream life. If it means something non-hedonic, then we're departing from hedonic theories of value. Analogous points apply to "illusory".

Phil E: I agree with the naturalism. As we've discussed before, I disagree that the best theory of human (or other animals') motivation appeals to hedonic utility. Humans aim for all sorts of things that we well know don't increase hedonic utility. Animal behavior in general arises from a complex of evolved mechanisms that cannot be reduced to a single utility-maximizing function. Have you seen Paul Bloom's most recent book? It's largely about this.

Philosopher Eric said...

Even with “a single utility-maximizing function” there are rules which need to be followed given the specifics of what evolved. Without those rules various observations should seem inconsistent. Let me try to explain at least one common misconception here, or the perception that the sympathy we feel for others is not hedonistic in the end.

Initially brains should have functioned non-consciously in full and so should have needed programming to deal with what an organism faced. Here such creatures should have been essentially like our robots — no capacity to experience existence. Apparently that wasn’t sufficient under more open environments so evolution created an experiencer with agency from which to think. These sorts of beings should have retained their algorithmic brains, and yet an associated experiencer would exist that could be hedonistically punished and rewarded in a phenomenal capacity. So the algorithmic brain would essentially base some of its moves off the desires of the experiencer.

Theoretically many forms of parent could have done a better job by going beyond non-conscious parenting to in some sense feel what their offspring did. But how might evolution have caused this for a creature that could only feel its own sensations? First note that it might gain some capacity for theory of mind given that understanding what others might do in general should help it understand what to expect from them. Then through theory of mind of offspring the parent could be engineered to feel good/bad on the basis of its perception of what the offspring felt. Here conscious rather than simply algorithmic parenting should have resulted given that now the two separate interests become somewhat common.

This dynamic is commonly referred to as care or sympathy, though apparently Paul Bloom calls it empathy. I’ve stopped using that term since it’s sometimes also interpreted as theory of mind itself. I guess he’s wary of it since he doesn’t like how people favor the cared for rather than rationalize a greater utilitarian good in general. (Bloom seems quite like Peter Singer, or unlike myself, a true utilitarian.) It would be a tough sell however to get me to care more about someone else’s son, or even ten of them, than my own. So I think his ought-ing here may have come at the expense of his capacity to function as a psychologist. Observe that all hard sciences are explored amorally (not that there’s much potential to distort physics with moral oughts, but still). Without the amoral exploration of psychology this science should never achieve effective founding models from which to build.

My point is that care, compassion, sympathy, or even Bloom’s conception of empathy, functions by causing a subject to feel good/bad on the basis of its perception of what another feels. Thus this is ultimately hedonistic. Similar arguments exist for all theory of mind sensations — in them we feel good/bad in various ways based upon what we perceive others to feel. In any case this is just one of many points that I think the field of psychology will need to agree upon. Surely to effectively improve humanity it would be helpful for our nature to be grasped in ways that are reasonably objective, or “is” rather than “ought”.

chinaphil said...

I think I just disagree with the facts here.
"So why does no one take such proposals seriously?" - I think we do take them seriously. When a child has persistent nightmares, we take all kinds of measures to ease their suffering. And there have been a number of dream therapies and hypnotherapies.
One of the reasons why sleep emotions are not regarded as having the same value as waking emotions is that they are almost always transitory. Real events create pleasure in the moment, but they have a fat tail as well: the gold medal winner enjoys her moment on the podium, but also all of the respect and satisfaction that comes afterwards, for the rest of her life. In fact, the total mass of that fat tail is probably much greater than the moment of pleasure as the medal is given. Similarly, when a loved one dies, the pain of their death is great, but living for years and decades without them is a much greater harm.
Even if you have a nightmare where all your teeth fall out, when you wake up your teeth are intact, so the event has no tail, and its total hedonic impact is ultimately small; even if you have a beautiful flying dream, you cannot excitedly recount it to your friends (without them rolling their eyes), so its pleasure value is vastly diminished.
Dreams are totally cut off from our socially-constructed reality, so its inevitable that they will be treated rather differently.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the thoughtful continuing comments, folks!

Phil E: You write "My point is that care, compassion, sympathy, or even Bloom’s conception of empathy, functions by causing a subject to feel good/bad on the basis of its perception of what another feels." This is of course a causal claim about how the mind works. Here's another possibility: Seeing another's suffering might cause a subject to act to alleviate that suffering, and then successfully doing so might cause good or bad feelings. Where in the causal chain is the feeling? Need it *always* be in the place your theory locates it? One consideration in favor of pluralism rather than hedonic monism: Nonconscious organisms engage in nonconscious behaviors. Those behaviors cannot of course be motivated hedonically. Some of our behaviors might arise by similar mechanisms. In habitual action, too, it seems likely that the response is first and the hedonic aspect, if any, later. In general, organisms probably operate by a wide variety of kludgy mechanisms.

Chinaphil: I agree that the "tail" in memory is a mechanism by which remembered pleasures or pains get extra oomph over time. Since dreams are less remembered than waking states, that is one mechanism by which dream pleasures and pains can be discounted relative to waking states, on average. Yet of course I can remember dreams and forget waking experiences, and the memory of an experience doesn't have to have the same valence as when it was experienced (e.g., it can be pleasurable to remember a comic mishap that didn't seem funny at the time).

Although it's complicated, so maybe your intuitions diverge from mine, I'm still inclined to think that most people (and I) would value forgotten good waking experiences over forgotten good dream experiences. After fifteen minutes, I will forget having eaten this cookie, or maybe I'll actively recall it only once in the future for three seconds. So I have 15:03 minutes of cookie-related pleasure. That seems more valuable than 15:03 minutes of cookie-related pleasure in a comparable but forgotten dream. For example, I'd pay $2 for that cookie but I wouldn't pay $2 to have a dream of a cookie that lasts for fifteen minutes and which I don't remember upon waking.

Philosopher Eric said...

Professor,
This pluralism that you speak of rather than hedonic monism, actually seems quite consistent with the dual computers model of brain function that I propose. Here the entire human brain exists as a ridiculously advanced non-conscious computer, and out of the countless mechanisms that it operates, just one constitutes a subjective dynamic. Whatever number of parallel operations that the brain preforms in a given second, I suspect that the serial subjective computer may be said to do less than 1000th of one percent of that number. The vast supercomputer should merely trick us into thinking that we operate our hands, mouths and so on rather than it taking cues from our desires. Here consciousness may be considered a minuscule element of human function where the associated agency is required to deal with more open circumstances.

Furthermore naturalism suggests that the agent should not exist as brain itself, but rather may be produced by the brain — somewhat like light never exists as lightbulb, though may be produced by it. Surely your appreciation for the weird is somewhat aroused by this notion? So “kludgy”? Maybe today, though once effectively reduced I’d think psychologist would instead refer to this system in full to be as wondrous as any other experimentally validated proposal in science.

So where in the causal chain does my theory locate the feeling? This essentially exists as motivation which drives subjectivity. Just as our computers are motivated by electricity, and brains are motivated by chemical/electrical energy, the tiny conscious computer that certain brains sometimes create, is motivated by what I consider to be the strangest stuff in the universe, or “value” itself. Apparently it’s possible for a machine that is not conscious, like a brain, to produce a punishment / reward dynamic from which to drive the function of a machine that is, like yourself. So saith my single principle of axiology.