RE: Confessions of a quantum suicidal

From: Higgo James <>
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1999 10:31:52 +0100

I like this a lot. The idea of selecting non-suicidal versions of you is
fun. A worthwhile avenue to get me over the depression of being unable to
understand consciousness.

More comments when I've read it again.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Christopher Maloney []
> Sent: Saturday, June 19, 1999 1:55 AM
> To: everything-list
> Subject: Confessions of a quantum suicidal
> I'd be surprised if an idea similar to quantum suicide hadn't occured
> to most of the members of this list before you read Tegmark's paper.
> I first started thinking about it about ten years ago, I think.
> Being prone to depression most of my life, it seemed like an obvious
> plan: a way to force God's hand, in a way. Who says my arms are too
> short to box with God? Quantum suicide offers a way to choose which
> environments are acceptable to us. We can truly become masters of
> our destiny.
> I'm an electical engineer, so I have (had) the means to carry out the
> experiment. As I mentioned, I was prone to depression. I can't
> remember if a specific incident triggered the desire to carry out the
> plan, or if the desire just built in me over time. It seems like an
> awfully long time ago, now. Things weren't going my way. At least,
> not the way I thought I wanted them to go. So I made the decision to
> go through with it.
> The whole time, I knew that only one thing would be certain: that I
> would survive. But I didn't know by which avenue I would escape. So
> the whole time I was planning and designing and plotting, I tried to
> figure out which would be the most likely. The answer is obvious:
> the most likely scenario for my survival would be that would change
> my mind, and not go through with it.
> But I was unhappy, and a part of me desperately wanted to go through
> with it, so I tried to make a firm resolve, whenever I could, that I
> would complete the plan, and step through the device. This of course
> had an undesired affect: I was selecting out those versions of me
> that had a weak resolve. For, as you've probably guessed by now, the
> avenue that my survival did take was that I changed my mind.
> On the other hand, my life has gotten dramatically better.
> Coincidence? I'm not sure.
> Let me explain "the project". Again, the only thing I knew for sure
> was that I would survive. Well, I wanted to get something in those
> worlds in which I did survive, and I figured out a way that I could.
> I could set it up so that I would be killed if and only if I didn't
> win the lottery on a particular day. It was a sort of Russian
> roulette with one player.
> Doing a rough estimate, I figured that I could find a game that would
> offer a reasonable jackpot and that would have odds of winning at
> about a million to one. I could, of course, buy extra tickets to
> reduce the odds. I wanted to minimize the chances of surviving and
> *not* winning the lottery, so that meant that I had to design an
> extremely reliable killing device. I shot for there to be odds of
> device failure on the order of a billion to one - so that if I
> survived, chances would be roughly one in a thousand that I *didn't*
> win the lottery.
> To recap: from the bird perspective, for every billion copies of me
> that went through the experiment, one thousand would have a winning
> lottery ticket. So the device would "attempt" to kill 999,999,000
> copies. But it would fail about once with this number of kills, So
> that one of those copies, that didn't win the lottery, would survive.
> How to design a device with that kind of reliability? Satellite
> engineers know the answer to that one: redundancy. If you have a
> single device that will fail about once in a thousand operations,
> then three such devices, operating in parallel, will fail only about
> once every billion. That assumes that *everything* in the system is
> in parallel, which is impossible. There will be "weak spots" in the
> design - single points of failure.
> But I also figured that I could make the device more reliable by the
> following technique: if anything went wrong, the default behavior of
> any of the mechanisms should be "kill", instead of switching off.
> Remember, I wanted to minimize the chances that I survive and don't
> win the lottery. If there's a small chance of something in an
> individual mechanism malfunctioning, then that won't affect the
> overall odds much, as long as the default behavior is to kill.
> There are two basic failure modes of the system: A, the device kills
> when I do win the lottery; and B, it doesn't kill when I don't win
> the lottery. I figured that I wanted to reduce the likelihood of B
> as much as possible, and that I didn't care that much about A, as
> long as it was reasonably low (say one in a hundred). Again, from
> the bird perspective of the ensemble of one billion copies of me:
> Out of 1,000,000,000:
> 1,000 win the lottery, of which:
> 10 get killed anyway, 990 survive.
> 999,999,000 don't win the lottery, of which:
> 999,998,999 get killed, 1 survives.
> So a total of 991 "me"s survive, of which 990 have won the lottery.
> Good odds, I think.
> Another failure scenario is that I only get maimed instead of killed
> when the device goes off. This is a grisly outcome, so I wanted to
> design the likelihood of this to be as small as possible. I decided
> to use high-caliber pistols aimed at the base of my brain. I needed
> to ensure that when the time came, my head was restrained so that
> there was no chance of the bullet missing the critical target. I
> didn't finish this portion of the investigation, but I'm pretty sure
> that there's an optimal aim at close range which would ensure a very
> low probability of a bullet doing damage, but not killing me.
> So I designed a system with three independent electronic kill
> devices. Each device consisted of a timer which, when it counted
> down to zero, would discharge a capacitor through a solenoid, which
> would pull the trigger of a .45 caliber pistol, which would shoot
> through my head. The counter would only be stopped by a signal from
> a computer, indicating that I had won the lottery. That signal would
> come from one of three trusty helpers that I had hired (who had no
> idea of what they were really doing, of course), to type in the
> winning lottery number and send it to my computer by modem. My
> computers already knew the numbers of the tickets that I had bought,
> so it could check to see if any of them matched.
> Nearly everything would be redundant - the timers, the guns, the
> computers, and the helpers. I had to shoot for (excuse the
> expression) a one in a thousand failure rate or less for any one of
> those individual systems. Difficult, but possible.
> Leading up to the day of the actual lottery, I would do several trial
> runs to verify the reliability. The weakest link is probably the
> people who are hired to type in the lottery number. So I would hire
> them to do that for several days in a row, and on the days leading up
> to the target date, I would verify that they were performing
> correctly.
> Also, prior to the target date, I would allow a long window of time
> for each of the electronic mechanisms to charge up from the wall
> sockets. After they are charged, they can be disconnected and will
> operate independently, thus eliminating a power outage as a source of
> failure. Then I would set the timers, verify that each is working,
> and secure myself into the chair. The probability would be high that
> something would go wrong at this point. These preparatory steps are,
> in effect, a single point of failure. Nothing can be done to
> eliminate this completely, though.
> The chair would have a simple electronic locking mechanism that would
> secure my head and arms. When the counters got to zero, each gun
> would either go off or not. It's designed in such a way that if any
> one of the three guns goes off, I would almost certainly be killed
> instantly. If none of the three guns goes off, then the electronic
> lock would be released, and, hopefully, I'd be somewhat richer.
> When you're talking about odds like one in a million, it's ridiculous
> to think that the avenue of my survival would be to actually go
> through with this plan. I knew that it was much more likely that I
> would change my mind. Another possibility also occured to me: that
> someone would find out and would stop me. I thought that most people
> would think that this plan of mine was insane, and would probably
> have me commited as a hazard to myself, if they knew how serious I
> was. So I took precautions to prevent anyone from finding out. I
> kept it a secret. This is actually the first time I've told anyone
> about the details of my plan.
> I called it "the project", so that no one would see something written
> by me that would give away what it was really about. Later, I changed
> the name to "the Lathe", after an Ursula K. LeGuin story called "The
> Lathe of Heaven". It seems to me that this device is a little bit
> like that story - where we can choose what worlds we will live in.
> Of course, we can't ever actually change the past, but we can select
> our future.
> I never went through with it, obviously. My life just inexplicably
> got better, and I ceased being depressed. As I mentioned above, I'm
> not sure this was a coincidence. Perhaps I did select my future,
> just by planning and having that firm resolve to go through with it.
> Perhaps I can continue to select my future, by "threatening God" that
> I'll go through with it unless I get my way. But now I doubt it.
> Now I actually care too much about somebody else -- my wife. I
> couldn't kill myself now, knowing how much it would hurt her.
> So now I take my lumps as they come. That sounds like maturity, and
> when I write about the Lathe, it sure does sound pretty immature.
> But lots of people kill themselves. I'm certainly not in a position
> to judge any of them. We're all just shooting arrows in the dark,
> after all. I just thought I could deflect my arrow by purpose.
> --
> Chris Maloney
> "Knowledge is good"
> -- Emil Faber
Received on Mon Jun 21 1999 - 02:33:12 PDT

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