Hal Finney writes:

Let us consider these flavors of altruism in the case of Stathis' puzzle:

> You are one of 10 copies who are being tortured. The copies are all being > run in lockstep with each other, as would occur if 10 identical computers > were running 10 identical sentient programs. Assume that the torture is so > bad that death is preferable, and so bad that escaping it with your life is > only marginally preferable to escaping it by dying (eg., given the option of > a 50% chance of dying or a 49% chance of escaping the torture and living, > you would take the 50%). The torture will continue for a year, but you are
> allowed one of 3 choices as to how things will proceed:
>
> (a) 9 of the 10 copies will be chosen at random and painlessly killed, while
> the remaining copy will continue to be tortured.
>
> (b) For one minute, the torture will cease and the number of copies will
> increase to 10^100. Once the minute is up, the number of copies will be
> reduced to 10 again and the torture will resume as before.
>
> (c) the torture will be stopped for 8 randomly chosen copies, and continue
> for the other 2.
>
> Which would you choose?

For the averagist, doing (a) will not change average happiness.  Doing
(b) will improve it, but not that much.  The echoes of the torture and
anticipation of future torture will make that one minute of respite
not particularly pleasant.  Doing (c) would seem to be the best choice,
as 8 out of the 10 avoid a year of torture.  (I'm not sure why Stathis
seemed to say that the people would not want to escape their torture,
given that it was so bad.  That doesn't seem right to me; the worse it
is, the more they would want to escape it.)

For the totalist, since death is preferable to the torture, each
person's life has a negative impact on total happiness.  Hence (a)
would be an improvement as it removes these negatives from the universe.
Doing (b) is unclear: during that one minute, would the 10^100 copies
kill themselves if possible?  If so, their existence is negative and
so doing (b) would make the universe much worse due to the addition
of so many negatively happy OMs.  Doing (c) would seem to be better,
assuming that the 8 out of 10 would eventually find that their lives
were positive during that year without torture.

So it appears that each one would choose (c), although they would differ
about whether (a) is an improvement over the status quo.

(b) is deprecated because that one minute will not be pleasant due to
the echoes of the torture.  If the person could have his memory wiped
for that one minute and neither remember nor anticipate future torture,
that would make (b) the best choice for both kinds of altruists.  Adding
10^100 pleasant observer-moments would increase both total and average
happiness and would more than compensate for a year of suffering for 10
people.  10^100 is a really enormous number.

This analysis would be fine were it not for the fact that we are discussing *exact copies* running in lockstep with each other. You have to take into account the special way observers construct their identity as a unique individual persisting through time, which you admitted in a recent post "is a purely contingent, artificial, manufactured set of beliefs and attitudes which have been programmed into us in order to help our genes survive." With choice (a), although it seems like a good idea to end the suffering of 9/10 copies, it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference. In order to end a person's suffering at a particular observer moment, you have to either ensure that there will be no successor OM's ever again (i.e., death), or provide a successor OM which does not involve suffering. As long as at least one copy remains alive, that copy will always provide a successor OM for any of the other copies which are killed. Subjectively, it will be impossible for any of the copies to notice that anything has changed when they are killed. This reasoning applies whether you consider the selfish interests of one of the copies or the altruistic interests of all of them.

You might argue, as you have with your example of increased measure on alternate days of the week, that it is still better to try to reduce the total number of unpleasant experiences in the world, even if we cannot see any change that may result. Perhaps that would be OK, all else being equal. However, I provided choice (c) to show how this sort of reasoning can lead to unfortunate outcomes. In (c), unlike (a), alternative successor OM's to the torture exist. The result is that at the moment the choice is made, each copy is looking at a 20% chance that the torture will continue and an 80% chance that it will stop. At first glance, this doesn't look quite as good as choice (a), if you follow the "try to reduce the number of unpleasant OM's in the world" rule. But as shown above, it would be a terrible mistake to choose (a), as you would be ensuring that the torture will continue.

Now consider choice (b). Let's assume, as you suggest, that the minute of respite choice (b) provides is not spoilt by the knowledge that it is bookended by torture. Certainly, if you were to randomly pull one OM out of the set of all possible OM's the probability that it would involve torture is now, for practical purposes, zero. But what does this mean for the poor wretches populating my thought experiment? I suggest that it means nothing at all. At the first person level there is no possible test, observation or line of reasoning which could give the copies any clue as to whether they are one of 10, 10^100 or unique. If all the copies kept a diary, you would find that each of them tells exactly the same story, with a single narrator and a single narrative, and each considers himself to be one individual from start to finish. If you asked them what the best choice out of (a), (b) and (c) is, they would all pick (c), because from their point of view (a) results in continuous torture, (b) continuous torture with only one minute respite, and (c) gives them an 80% chance of ending the torture for good. Moreover, as each of them want (c) as the selfish choice, it must also be the altruistic choice.

Finally, is the averagist/totalist distinction of relatively recent vintage? Its application to left/right wing politics is something I had never thought of before, and it's a rare thing when you come across a completely new way of looking at something you have been familiar with for years.

--Stathis Papaioannou

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