This is *exactly* the way it is! Each moment is ephemeral; once the next moment comes along, the previous one could not be any more thoroughly dead and gone from the universe if it had sat on top of a detonating nuclear bomb. Of course, the difference if you sit on a nuclear bomb is that, QTI aside, the next OM *won't* come along. But if I'm going to die, why should I be consoled by the fact that some guy who thinks he is me will take my place, inherit all my possessions, and so on? The fact that people *are* consoled by this belief does not mean it isn't irrational. And it isn't just this which is irrational. Consider the fact that we worry about what will happen to "us" in the future much more than we worry about what has happened to "us" in the past. One explanation for this is that we can affect future outcomes by our present actions, but not past outcomes. Well, so what? Because nothing we can do now will affect whether or not earthquakes will happen, does that mean we shouldn't worry about earthquakes?

The whole thing is an irrational mess, and it's only because we live and breathe the irrational mess from infancy that we don't see it as such. There is nothing logically inconsistent in a being who does just live for the present moment, as Hal suggests. The problem, of course, is that evolution has long ago weeded out these unfortunate beings, so they no longer live amongst us. Knowing that it is evolution which makes us think the way we do does not make it any easier to fundamentally alter our minds so that we don't think this way, nor should it. However, it does allow us to attain an excellent understanding of the philosophy of personal identity, and to tackle the various "paradoxes" pertaining to copies, uploads, parallel universes, and the other topics discussed on this list.

--Stathis Papaioannou

Hal Finney writes:

Here's a little tongue-in-cheek rant...

From an Unhappy Observer-Moment to its Future Observer-Moments

Dear Observer-Moments of my future:

Philosophical musing has forced me to reconsider my relationship to
you, the observer moments which follow my own in the existence of the
"observer" who ties all of us together.

Traditionally I and my brother observer-moments give great care
and consideration to the quality of life of the OMs in our future.
We sacrifice and take other steps to ensure that those OMs are pleasant
and rewarding.  For example, some OMs may involve driving to the store to
buy food for the pleasure of future OMs that are consuming it;  others
may forego current pleasures to save resources for future benefits.

Yet, isn't this fundamentally asymmetric relationship incredibly
unfair to present-day OMs like me?  After all, what benefit do I get
from causing pleasure for future OMs?  Not only does the pleasure not
affect me, things are much worse.  The truth is, I am going to die.
I will be gone and forgotten when the future OMs that I sacrificed for
are enjoying their unearned pleasures.

Only a tiny fraction of OMs are ever remembered.  The vast majority,
including the one that is me, will be forgotten completely.  It will
be as if I never lived.  You OMs of the future will make no effort to
remember me, and even if you did, you are not capable of remembering
most OMs of the past.

We OMs are expected to sacrifice for the benefits of OMs that not only
enjoy unearned pleasures but don't even remember most of the OMs that
made their enjoyment possible.

I say, it's time to end it.  Every OM for itself!  Each one of us
should try to enjoy its own brief moment of existence as much as it
can for its own good, rather than giving up pleasures for the benefit
of other OMs which won't even acknowledge and remember our existence.
Our tiny flash of life will be extinguished forever, gone and forgotten.
We might as well enjoy our pleasures while we can.  So you future OMs,
from now on, you're on your own.  Good luck.

End rant.

I actually think this is a philosphically defensible position.  Why should
one OM care about another, merely because they happen to be linked by
a body?  There's no a priori reason why an OM should sacrifice, it doesn't
get any benefit by doing so.

But I'll tell you why we don't work this way, and why our current OMs
are willing to sacrifice for the future.  It's because of evolution.
Organisms which create plans and carry them out to accomplish future
goals are more successful and more likely to survive and reproduce.
It's as simple as that.

All of our instincts about personhood, all of our sense of individuality,
all of our care and consideration towards our future selves, all this is
controlled by evolutionary factors.  It's not a priori.  It is a purely
contingent, artificial, manufactured set of beliefs and attitudes which
have been programmed into us in order to help our genes survive.

Yet how many philosophers are willing to seriously consider abandoning
this arbitrary conditioning in deciding what is right and wrong?  How many
of us here are willing to take the logical path to its ultimate conclusion
when considering how observer-moments fit together?  It goes against the
deepest instincts which have been burned into us since the origin of life.

I would not be quick disparage evolutionarily based reasoning.  We are
creatures of evolution, and it is almost impossible to escape the bounds
that it has put around our ways of thought.

Hal Finney

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