Re: another puzzzle

From: Hal Finney <>
Date: Thu, 16 Jun 2005 09:32:18 -0700 (PDT)

Stathis Papaioannou writes:
> You find yourself in a locked room with no windows, and no memory of how you
> got there. The room is sparsely furnished: a chair, a desk, pen and paper,
> and in one corner a light. The light is currently red, but in the time you
> have been in the room you have observed that it alternates between red and
> green every 10 minutes. Other than the coloured light, nothing in the room
> seems to change. Opening one of the desk drawers, you find a piece of paper
> with incredibly neat handwriting. It turns out to be a letter from God,
> revealing that you have been placed in the room as part of a philosophical
> experiment. Every 10 minutes, the system alternates between two states. One
> state consists of you alone in your room. The other state consists of 10^100
> exact copies of you, their minds perfectly synchronised with your mind, each
> copy isolated from all the others in a room just like yours. Whenever the
> light changes colour, it means that God is either instantaneously creating
> (10^100 - 1) copies, or instantaneously destroying all but one randomly
> chosen copy.
> Your task is to guess which colour of the light corresponds with which state
> and write it down. Then God will send you home.

Let me make a few comments about this experiment. I would find it quite
alarming to be experiencing these conditions. When the light changes
and I go from the high to the low measure state, I would expect to die.
When it goes from the low to the high measure state, I would expect that
my next moment is in a brand new consciousness (that shares memories
with the old). Although the near-certainty of death is balanced by the
near-certainty of birth, it is to such an extreme degree that it seems
utterly bizarre. Conscious observers should not be created and destroyed
so cavalierly, not if they know about it.

Suppose you stepped out of a duplicating booth, and a guy walked up with
a gun, aimed it at you, pulled the trigger and killed you. Would you
say, oh, well, I'm only losing two seconds of memories, my counterpart
will go on anyway? I don't think so, I think you would be extremely
alarmed and upset at the prospect of your death. The existence of
your counterpart would be small comfort. I am speaking specifically
of your views, Stathis, because I think you have already expressed your
disinterest in your copies.

God is basically putting you in this situation, but to an enormously,
unimaginably vaster degree. He is literally "playing God" with your
consciousness. I would say it's a very bad thing to do.

And what happens at the end? Suppose I guess right, all 10^100 of me?
How do we all go home? Does God create 10^100 copies of entire
universes for all my copies to go home to as a reward? I doubt it!
Somehow I think the old guy is going to kill me off again, all but one
infinitesimal fraction of me, and let this tiny little piece go home.

Well, so what? What good is that? Why do I care, given that I am
going to die, what happens to the one in 10^100 part of me? That's an
inconceivably small fraction.

In fact, I might actually prefer to have that tiny fraction stay in the
room so I can be reborn. Having 10^100 copies 50% of the time gives me
a lot higher measure than just being one person. I know I just finished
complaining about the ethical problems of putting a conscious entity in
this situation, but maybe there are reasons to think it's good.

So I don't necessarily see that I am motivated to follow God's
instructions and try to guess. I might just want to sit there.
And in any case, the reward from guessing right seems pretty slim
and unmotivating. Congratulations, you get to die. Whoopie.

Hal Finney
Received on Thu Jun 16 2005 - 13:27:04 PDT

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