Oisín Considine

189 karmaJoined Pursuing an undergraduate degree


Hi! I'm a final year undergraduate student at Trinity College Dublin studying Theoretical Physics. I'm primarily interested in animal advocacy as of now, though I'm open to other cause areas too.

How others can help me

I'm still trying to find out concretely what work I'm good at and what I like doing, thus I am looking for opportunities to accumulate some form of career capital (particularly work at some place where I can discover my strengths and aptitudes and improve upon them).


Hi, sorry if I'm a bit late here, and I don't want to be repeating myself too much, but since I feel it was not properly understood, one of the main points I originally made in this thread and I want to really hit home is that happiness as measured while in a state of happiness cannot be compared in any way to non-existence as "measured" in a state of non-existence, since we obviously cannot perceive sensations (or literally anything) when dead/not in existence. So the common intuition that happiness is preferable to non-existence is based upon our shallow understanding of what it is to "be" dead/non-existant, but from a rational point of view this idea simply does not hold. If I was being tortured with no way out, I would certainly want to die as quickly as I could, however when I imagine death in that moment, I am imagining (while in the state of suffering, and not in the "state" of death) a cessation of that suffering. However, to experience such a cessation I must be able to experience something to which I can compare against said experience of suffering. So technically speaking it doesn't make any sense at all to say that happiness/suffering is better than non-existence as measured in the respective states of happiness/suffering and death/non-existence. It's

And it's not like death/non-existence is neutral in this case. If you picture a scale, with positive experiences (e.g. happiness/satisfaction) in the positive direction and negative experiences (e.g. pain/suffering) in the negative direction, death does NOT appear at 0 since what we are measuring is the perceived value of the experiences. Put another way in terms of utility functions, if someone has a utility function at some value, and then they die, rather than immediately going to zero, their utility function immediately ceases to exist, as a utility function must belong to someone.

Also this idea of mine is somewhat new to me (a few months old maybe), so I haven't thought through many implications and edge-cases too thoroughly (yet). However this idea, however difficult for me to wrestle with, is something which I find myself simply unable to reason out of.

FWIW, I think one should put ~0 weight on a view which is indifferent between doing nothing and eliminating all sentient beings forever, as I consider the latter way way worse.

In which way is it worse? Again, you cannot compare a state of existence where one can experience an perceive things against a "state" of nonexistence in a way which leads to a preference of one over the other. As in, you cannot compare positive/negative experiences to no experience whatsoever, because then what is the common factor which you are comparing in order to prefer one over the other? And anyways, you would need to compare being dead from the perspective of the dead "person" against being alive from the perspective of the alive person. "They" cannot experience anything (as "they" don't exist) and thus they cannot have a preference for life. So this is, as I stated in my reply to your first comment, an example of mistakenly looking at death by imposing our c, the former of which is an actual experience and the latter of which doesn't exist.

I encourage you to imagine there is an actual person in the real world who for some (impossible) reason had the power to kill all life. I would worry about what that person would do. Would you not, just because there is a sense in which killing all life would not be good/bad for anyone?

I would too, but only due to the vast amount of suffering they could potentially bring upon the world.

survival is instrumentally valuable to have positive conscious experiences

But what is it that makes positive experiences preferable to no experience at all? Sure, they are preferable to less positive experiences, because you can experience (or can understand the experience of) that worse event as well as the better one, and thus you can make a preference between them. This is not the case for death, since death must be understood as fundamentally different from anything else in life (we can only understand death as a (fuzzy) abstract concept, and never intrinsically).

For example, if someone kills me, I can no longer spend time with my family and friends.

Yes, but again you are imposing your experience of perceiving someone else's death and how that affects you (or how you believe it would affect you if you did experience losing someone close) onto you experiencing ("experiencing") your own death, which are fundamentally different since one is an actual experience, and the other is simply nothing. And as a consequence, "you" also don't have anything like a memory when "you" are dead.

Hi Dermot, I'm Oisín. Are you aware of Ireland's EA chapter, EA Éire? I'm part of it myself, so if you'd like and if you are not already part of it, I can get you added to the EA Éire WhatsApp groupchat. Also we have some meetups in Dublin (some in Cork too I think for those down south) so you'd be welcome to join us. One of the organisers has actually written a syllabus for and run a proto-biosecurity fellowship in the past, so you could probably talk to him about that a bit more about pandemic prevention stuff I'd say. Anyways, welcome to the EA community!

I feel like the act of consciously pushing the button to cause said consequences to occur vs the consequences of pushing button A or B occurring spontaneously and without anyone actually pushing either button are slightly different cases. I'm not 100% sure if Epicurus would push button B or be indifferent as in his words:

But the wise man neither seeks to escape life nor fears the cessation of life, for neither does life offend him nor does the absence of life seem to be any evil.[1]

However, I still believe that one should be indifferent to which outcome occurs, in order to remain consistent with this view. I do feel as though this view would probably lean towards being indifferent to which button one choses to push.

Having said this, I too would push button B, but this is due to my deep-rooted biases about my life and death, however irrational they may be, but maybe I would be better off changing this stance, since according to Epicurus:

And therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not because it adds to it an infinite span of time, but because it takes away the craving for immortality. For there is nothing terrible in life for the man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living. So that the man speaks but idly who says that he fears death not because it will be painful when it comes, but because it is
painful in anticipation.[2]

Also I just want to add that, on your point that annihilation would be bad because it prevents future flourishing, for whom would this be bad? It can't be bad for counterfactual non-existent beings, since they don't exist to perceive the badness of missing out on (the good bits of) life. Or am I misunderstanding your claim? And what exactly do you mean by instrumental reasons in this case? Could you give some examples?

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Hi Vasco, thank you for your question!

Yes, this view would probably imply that if pressing this button would wipe out all life instantaneously and without anyone anticipating it, it would not be bad, nor good, nor neutral. I mean, who would it be good/bad/neutral for exactly, when there is nobody to judge or perceive it. It makes no sense to say that death is something which "happens" to you, because there is no "you" when "you" "are" dead, just a memory of you held by others. How can you prefer something over death (or death over something) when death is not something one can experience in any way? In order to prefer one thing over another, both of these things need to have some common property which you favour more/less of in one than the other. I would guess that for most people this common property would be some form of pleasure (be it short- or long-term). But you are comparing the magnitude of your perception of this pleasure when you are in some given state (of being) against when you are dead. But you ("you") cannot perceive anything when dead, and to even see death as a state (in which you are) is mistaken (at least according to Epicurus, i.e. no afterlife etc.).

No sentient being can experience death, so in order to understand death we look at what it is not (which is everything), and it seems that we are quite selective about what it is not, and so (I'm speculating here) when we say that we prefer to continue living instead of dying, we usually mean that we prefer having or being able to have (perceive) some amount of pleasure over not being able to have it. However, we do not perceive the loss of missing out on these experiences since "we" cannot experience anything. We can only know about death from looking at others who die, and since we miss being with them, we think of death as not preferable to life (unless it is e.g. a life of lots of suffering, in which case we usually see death as better, but this too suffers from the same error). But to the person themselves, death cannot be perceived, and thus judged or valued over/below anything.

So sure, this way of looking at death can possibly have some unintuitive-seeming implications. However, the common idea of death is quite shallow and short-sighted as we are (at least implicitly) trying to look at our death by imposing the experiences of another (alive) person who perceives our death (and the associated good/bad/indifferent sensations) onto how we would experience our own death, which is fundamentally mistaken.

So, if all life got instantaneously wiped out, then this can be neither good nor bad (nor neutral, given that a neutral experience is understood as one which one does not see as good nor bad, but is an experience nonetheless, if a neutral experience understood as such is even possible for one to obtain).

One immediate consequence of taking this view which comes to my mind would be maybe something like in-ovo sexing (and I am saying this as a vegan of 3 years, and a committed one at that) since baby chicks may not have much self-awareness and if their deaths are near-instantaneous, then this may not have that much direct positive impact (if any at all) in welfare, aside from maybe some secondary (social) impacts like greater awareness of their intrinsic value, which alone may make this type of intervention net-positive, but probably not nearly as cost-effective as other interventions. And the case of in-ovo sexing is just one example of how looking at death realistically (in my opinion) can have drastic changes to how EA looks at impact. This (along with its neglectedness) is why I believe it could be of huge importance for someone more intellectually equipped than myself to do a more detailed dive into how this view (or similar variants of it) would affect EA.

I'd love to hear if you or anyone else have any thoughts/criticisms about what I've said here :)

I'd like to see research on methods we could use to effectively and efficiently collect data at large scales with minimal costs.

I'm not sure how much of a bottleneck (high-quality) data collection is in different cause-areas, but since it is super important to so many cause-areas, I think it would be well worth looking into. I imagine that surely there has to be at least some low-hanging fruit in terms of ways we can obtain lots of data for various cause-areas, buy I'd love some proper investigation into these ways.

I would really love to see someone, ideally someone with a background in philosophy, explore what effective altruism (either EA as a whole or various sub-causes of EA) would look like if the Epicurean view of death, namely that death is neither bad nor good (nor "neutral") for the individual who dies since they themselves cannot experience the sensation, and by extension the badness (or goodness), of death[1], were to actually be taken seriously.

I am not a philosopher, nor am I studying philosophy, and thus I believe I would not be able to tackle this project with the rigour and depth I feel it needs. Despite my limited knowledge on the subject, and as unintuitive as this idea of how to treat death may appear, I am as yet unable to rationalise my way out of the overall idea, which seems trivial when I really think about it. Given this, however, I am quite disappointed that it doesn't appear to be taken seriously, or even mentioned, within EA (a few brief mentions of it, most prominently here by the Happier Lives Institute, but unfortunately not much elsewhere).

I have been reading[2] "Epicurus and the Singularity of Death" by David B. Suits[3], through which the author attempts to defend the Epicurean view of death, first in its abstract form and then by testing its implications against real-life cases such as premature death, deprivation, killing and suicide, among others. I believe this book may be of use to some who wish to go down this particular rabbit hole.

Death happens to all living beings, and it is central to almost all ethical theories and beliefs throughout history, and Epicurus' idea of death is, I assume at least, commonly studied in courses on the philosophy of death. An issue as important as death, therefore, ought to be explored and discussed fully and thoroughly, which I do not at all see in the EA community regarding the Epicurean view.

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    Epicurus' Letter to Menoeceus; translated by Cyril Bailey (1926)

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    I had to take a break from it about a third of the way through in order to focus on my studies, but I will return to it once I am able to.

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    Get the PDF for free off LibGen if you want

I used the Brussels Effect in the context of the Plant-Based Universities campaign to demonstrate how a university or universities in a particular region transitioning to a fully plant-based catering system would encourage other universities to follow suit at least partly due to wanting to maintain a forward-looking and innovative image and reputation which makes them appear more attractive. However, I admit that I didn’t fully understand the true nature of the Brussels Effect when I first wrote the post, and now after reading back over my post, particularly the part mentioning the Brussels Effect which you highlighted, and after understanding more about how this effect has less of a reputational factor and more of an economical factor which plays the role in encouraging change, I believe that mentioning it has no real use here. I was a little bit naive in the way in which I used (or perhaps misused) the term, so thank you for pointing this out to me. I take your point into due consideration and I have now edited that sentence out. Nevertheless my point about a university/universities going plant-based indirectly encouraging others to follow them due to factors including wanting to maintain a certain image/attractiveness, as well as the inertia of the movement itself, stands as is.

I'm not sure about whether or not some university canteens have asked to remove red meat, but I know that some of the universities which were successful, voted to implement something like 60/70% plant-based catering for the next year, with an increase of 10% each year until they get to 100% to make it more gradual.

Also, even if a university agreed to remove red meat, I still believe this is a more positive move in the long run, even taking this substitution effect into account (though of course I could be wrong as I have no concrete evidence). Just shifting away from red meat (even if not fully/partially replaced with plant-based food) could provide a bit of a momentum boost in bringing about institutional climate action regarding food systems change, and could encourage other universities to go even further and try for fully plant-based. Also it could give campaigners at the now red-meatless university a foot-in-the-door to go further and push for the removal of all animal products. Removing red meat could also get people thinking about the food/drink they consume when thinking about climate change. Of course, all this can provide a bridge for other issues which animal agriculture exacerbates to become gradually more mainstream too. However, yes there could definitely be (short-term) downsides to a university removing just red meat (and further downsides if the removal of red meat was what was initially campaigned for, though even this still has many positives).

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