Trapped in Physics 2, or, Why We Have To Win

Content Warning: This one was painful to write, and may cause pain to people who are susceptible to empathic suffering.

I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned in prior posts, but I’m working on a paper for ALLFED, on ensuring adequate nutrition using the cheapest sources we’ve found, so as to ensure that the poorest people can still be adequately fed in disaster scenarios. Currently, I’m classifying the outcomes of various deficiency disorders by severity and recoverability, so that in situations where no optimal balance is available, we can at least aim for least bad, most recoverable malnutrition issues.

This has necessitated a fair amount of research into effects and outcomes of deficiencies, and that brought me to today’s topic. I was reading a paper, a case study on two people who’d gotten thiamine deficient (you can read it here) and subsequently acquired lifelong brain damage. Reading through it, I couldn’t help but notice how little control these people had over their situations. The female patient had been repeatedly sexually abused, had bipolar, and hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy-related condition “characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and possibly dehydration.” This continued to affect her after her pregnancy, with the time leading up to her hospitalization including seven weeks of not being able to eat due to this.

The male patient in the study was schizophrenic, and was believed to have gone off his medication. This led to a belief that the local food and water was “harmful”, leading him to drink nothing but soda for at least three months.

Both of these cases are fairly stark examples of the situation we’re all in, the state I call being trapped in physics. SW, the aforementioned female patient, was instantiated on a brain with emotional disorders, handed a lot of severe abuse, and then her body kept her from eating anything. RW, the male patient, was schizophrenic, a condition that can be treated, but I’m given to understand that the medications can cause cognitive impairment themselves, and the insidious thing about psychological medications is that being on them makes you better. Since you’re better, it seems like you don’t have to keep taking the medications; you’re better, right? I’ve heard of several cases of this happening.

Neither of those people chose their circumstances. Nobody, given a totally free hand (IE perfect knowledge and a lack of constraints in hardware or soft) would choose to live those lives unless compelled. They were shoved into some of the lighter hells our reality contains, and the result was that they ended up malnourished, which resulted in permanent, severe brain damage. They both ended up with sub-80 IQs, and other specific impairments.

So, rounding this all up, reality shoved these people into hell, tortured them, and basically wrecked them; to the best of my knowledge neither of them went without needing constant care for the rest of their lives, and while I’ve never been a person who’s experienced my intelligence being fragmented and large chunks stolen away and then left to put together what’s left, I can say that Flowers for Algernon has left me with a lifelong horror of the possibility; being trapped more than we are right now, knowing that there used to be more of me that is now gone.

As the joke goes, this isn’t even the horror of reality’s final form. There are people out there in the world who undergo all of this, and worse, and don’t have medical treatment or systems that will take care of them in the aftermath. When I was a part of Origin, one of the things that we discussed was making an effort to really look at reality, to see the terrible things and not looking away, and I’ve never stopped doing that. Sometimes I look harder, sometimes I’m not specifically looking for the horrors, but when I notice one I never look away anymore, and I’m always aware on some level that reality is like that.

I said in Why I Want to Work at MIRI that death is horrible, insanely bad stuff. The destruction of a person, everything they ever knew or thought, everything they ever cared about, everything they ever wanted, every love they ever had, gone with the dissipation of their pattern. Death is, indeed, incredibly mind-bogglingly bad, but it’s not the only incredibly terrible thing our world contains.

This can’t be left to go on. There’s no person to find and bind, no ‘evil empire’ to topple. Just the vast bleakness of physics, torturing and destroying people whenever the rules get around to them. No one to fight, which is what the instincts want me to do to make them stop doing that, just the cold equations. As Eliezer says, We can’t modify fundamental physics, but on a higher level of organization we could build some guardrails and put down some padding; organize the particles into a pattern that does some internal checks against catastrophe..

Take care of yourself, dear reader. I’m going to go do some self-care things, myself.