From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Sun, 19 Jun 2005 01:55:17 +1000

Hal Finney writes:

>God creates someone with memories of a past life, lets him live for a
>day, then instantly and painlessly kills him.
>What would you say that he experiences? Would he notice his birth and
>death? I would generally apply the same answers to the 10^100 people
>who undergo your thought experiment.

Some people might argue that death is not intrinsically bad; rather, it is
the pain and anxiety associated with dying and the grief the dying person's
loved ones will go through that is bad. I don't agree, and it appears you
don't either: death *is* intrinsically bad. Knowing that I will never again
have any experiences of any kind is something I find deeply disturbing, and
I think that most people, if they are honest with themselves, would feel the
same way. Therefore, in the example you have given, if God creates someone
and then kills him, painlessly or not, that is bad. In my thought
experiment, if the 10^100 copies are allowed to diverge after they are
created and then all but one killed, that would be very bad indeed.
Similarly, if the 10^100 copies were created, stayed perfectly synchronised,
and then all of them killed, that would be very bad.

Before continuing, it is worth looking at the definition of death. The
standard medical definition will not do for our purposes, because it doesn't
allow for future developments such as reviving the cryogenically preserved,
mind uploads, teleportation etc. A simple, general purpose definition which
has been proposed before on this list is that a person can be said to die at
a particular moment when there is no chance that he will experience a "next
moment", however that experience might come about. Equivalently, death
occurs when there is no successor observer moment, anywhere or ever.

One consequence of this definition is that everyone who appears to be dead
can only be said to be provisionally dead, until it can actually be shown
that there will never be a successor OM anywhere in the multiverse (or
whatever larger mathematical structure contains it). Even people who are
unconscious or in the dreamless phase of sleep, having no guarantee that
they will ever wake up again, can be said to be provisionally dead. Taking
this idea further, a person can be said to be provisionally dead with the
passing of every conscious moment, since (QTI aside) it is never certain
that there will be a successor OM. You could say that death happens to us
all the time and is no big deal; it's not living again which is the problem.

Returning to your example, if God creates a person, call him A, and a day
later kills him, A will be really dead (as opposed to provisionally dead) if
there will never be any successor OM's to his last conscious moment. Now,
suppose God kills A and then creates an exact copy of A along with his
environment, call him B, on the other side of the planet. B has all of A's
memories up to the moment before he was killed. This destruction/creation
procedure is, except for the duplication of the environment, exactly how
teleportation is supposed to work. I think most people on this list would
agree that teleportation (if it could be made to work, which not everyone
does agree is possible) would be a method of transportation, not execution:
even though the original dies, the copy has all his memories and provides
the requisite successor OM in exactly the same way as would have happened if
the original had continued living. So in the example above, if B is an exact
copy of A in an exact copy of A's environment, A would "become" B and not
even notice that there had been any change.

Now, consider the same situation with one difference. Instead of creating B
at the instant he kills A, God creates A and B at the same time, on opposite
sides of the planet but in exactly the same environment which will provide
each of them with exactly the same inputs, and their minds at all time
remain perfectly synchronised. God allows his two creatures to live for a
day, and then instantly and painlessly kills A. In the previous example, we
agreed that the creation of B means that A doesn't really die. Now, we have
*exactly* the same situation when A is killed: B is there to provide the
successor OM, and A need not even know that anything unusual had happened.
How could the fact that B was present a day, a minute or a microsecond
before A's death make any difference to A? All that matters is that B is in
the correct state to provide continuity of consciousness when A is killed.
Conversely, A and A's death cannot possibly have any direct effect on B. It
is not as if A's soul flies around the world and takes over B; rather, it
just so happens (because of how A and B were created) that B's mental states
coincide with A's, or with what A's would have been if he hadn't died.

The above mechanism would still work even if, as in my thought experiment,
there were 10^100 exact copies running in lockstep and all but one died.
Each one of the 10^100-1 copies would experience continuity of consciousness
through the remaining copy, so none would really die.

--Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Sat Jun 18 2005 - 11:57:49 PDT

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