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David Pearce
"An End To Suffering - intro"
The Abolitionist Project

This is a 45 second introduction from one of the most enjoyable and challenging lectures I have heard this year.  The topic is the abolishment of suffering (the abolition project), and the speaker is philosopher David Pearce.

The whole talk was about 30 minutes (can be downloaded here), and was so full of new and worthwhile ideas that I don’t think I want to pack them all into one post.  For now, I thought I would provide this introduction, and say some things I liked about the lecture in general:

  • Pearce sounds like what I would call a Singularitarian, though he never calls himself that.  He believes in relatively near futures in which humanity is profoundly changed, either through combining ourselves with technology, or through genetic engineering.  These views are pretty extreme from my perspective, and yet Pearce speaks on these issues in a rational, decidedly non-ironic way.  Good arguments for a side of an issue you don’t usually consider are always valuable.
  • This lecture is information dense!! (two exclamation marks).  He manages to fit ideas worthy of whole essays into subordinate clauses of his sentences.  The volume of deep information in 30 minutes is staggering.  And yet, his delivery could be describes as “gentle”.  Very soft-voiced, never hard to hear, and with a cadence that maximizes receptiveness to his points.  The writing, and delivery of this lecture both impress me.
  • The general topic (relief of suffering) was cast in a new light for me.  This is never spelled out, but there is a theme of suffering existing in the mind, and not in the world.  Think of how you respond to both ups and downs when in a “bad mood”, vs how you respond to the same situations on a “good day”.  Pearce stresses that we don’t need to turn off our reactiveness to outside stresses… rather, we should consider moving our hedonic set point upward, so we’re all closer to having “good days” than “bad moods” on a regular basis.

I remember being told a little story to illustrate the virtue of Wisdom:

In response to sore feet, a human could respond by paving the ground wherever he/she is intending to walk.  On the other hand, it might be wiser simply to cover one’s own feet.

This message and Pearce’s feel similar: we want to change the world to stop human suffering.  Pearce suggests that we might instead change ourselves.