more torture

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2005 21:00:52 +1000

I have been arguing in recent posts that the absolute measure of an observer
moment (or observer, if you prefer) makes no possible difference at the
first person level. A counterargument has been that, even if an observer
cannot know how many instantiations of him are being run, it is still
important in principle to take the absolute measure into account, for
example when considering the total amount of suffering in the world. The
following thought experiment shows how, counterintuitively, sticking to this
principle may actually be doing the victims a disservice:

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? To me, it seems clear that there is an 80% chance of
escaping the torture if you pick (c), while with (a) it is certain that the
torture will continue, and with (b) it is certain that the torture will
continue with only one minute of respite.

Are there other ways to look at the choices? It might be argued that in (a)
there is a 90% chance that you will be one of the copies who is killed, and
thus a 90% chance that you will escape the torture, better than your chances
in (c). However, even if you are one of the ones killed, this does not help
you at all. If there is a successor observer moment at the moment of death,
subjectively, your consciousness will continue. The successor OM in this
case comes from the one remaining copy who is being tortured, hence
guaranteeing that you will continue to suffer.

What about looking at it from an altruistic rather than selfish viewpoint:
isn't it is better to decrease the total suffering in the world by 90% as in
(a) rather than by 80% as in (c)? Before making plans to decrease suffering,
ask the victims. All 10 copies will plead with you to choose (c).

What about (b)? ASSA enthusiasts might argue that with this choice, an OM
sampled randomly from the set of all possible OM's will almost certainly be
from the one minute torture-free interval. What would this mean for the
victims? If you interview each of the 10 copies before the minute starts,
they will tell you that they are currently being tortured and they expect
that they will get one minute respite, then start suffering again, so they
wish the choice had been (c). Next, if you interview each of the 10^100
copies they will tell you that the torture has stopped for exactly one
minute by the torture chambre's clock, but they know that it is going to
start again and they wish you had chosen (c). Finally, if you interview each
of the 10 copies for whom the torture has recommenced, they will report that
they remember the minute of respite, but that's no good to them now, and
they wish you had chosen (c).

--Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Mon Jun 13 2005 - 07:06:42 PDT

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