Tag Archives: philosophy

Hell is unhappiness

Religious beliefs have been associated with happiness, but psychologists Shariff and Aknin (PLOS ONE) take a more disaggregated look:

They construct life satisfaction and daily affect measures from the Gallup World Poll and put it together with country-level beliefs in Heaven and Hell from the World Values Survey and the European Values Survey. Believing in Heaven is associated with greater well-being, believing in Hell with lower. This cross-national comparison shows the relationship between aggregate measures of daily well-being and “the percentage of population that believes in Heaven minus percentage that believes in Hell”:

There are also some regression results controlling for some things.

What is the causality? Shariff and Aknin also conduct an experiment on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: People primed to think of Hell by writing a short paragraph about it reported lower happiness and positive emotions and higher sadness, fear and negative emotions afterwards compared to people writing about Heaven or an unrelated topic. The Heaven group or the control group did not differ from each other.

H/t: Kevin Lewis

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What motivates intelligent machines?

Noah Smith has a nice take on the Singularity, or the Slackurality, which is his prediction of what will happen as intelligent machines, like intelligent humans, will come to have other motivations than just “inventing thinking beings more intelligent than themselves.” Someone meeting this AI-slacker might have to exclaim: “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33)

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Do thought experiments in ethics have external validity?

A runaway train car is on its way to kill five people on the tracks. You have the power to direct it to a sidetrack on which there is only one person. Do you do it?

A well known thought experiments in ethics. However, will people’s judgments when thinking about such cases transfer to the real world? A group of researchers constructed virtual realities to improve the realisticness of the scenarios. Their finding: People acted in a more utilitarian way (sacrifice the one to save the five) in the virtual reality than in the text case. The virtual reality scenarios were deemed to be more emotionally arousing as measured by skin conductance.

H/t: Gary King

(Note: Very small sample size – 38.)