RE: Torture yet again

From: Hal Finney <>
Date: Wed, 22 Jun 2005 08:14:52 -0700 (PDT)

Jesse Mazer wrote:

>Suppose there had already been a copy made, and the two of you
>were sitting side-by-side, with the torturer giving you the
>following options:

>A. He will flip a coin, and one of you two will get tortured
>B. He points to you and says "I'm definitely going to torture
>the guy sitting there, but while I'm sharpening my knives he
>can press a button that makes additional copies of him as many
>times as he can."

>Would this change your decision in any way? What if you are
>the copy in this scenario, with a clear memory of having been
>the "original" earlier but then pressing a button and finding
>yourself suddenly standing in the copying chamber--would that
>make you more likely to choose B?

I think this variation points to the major flaw in this thought
experiment, which is the implicit assumption that copying is possible yet
is not used. In fact, if copying is possible as the thought experiment
stipulates, it would tend to be widely used. The world would be full of
people who are copies. You would be likely to be an nth-generation copy.
There would be no novelty as Jesse's variation suggests in allowing you
to experience (presumably for the first time!) being copied.

I keep harping on this because copying increases measure. It is different
from flipping a coin, which does not increase measure. Your expectations
going into a copy are different. To the extent that this language makes
sense, I would say that you have a 100% chance of becoming the copy and
a 100% chance of remaining the original. This is different from flipping
a coin.

You may think that it would feel the same way, but you've never tried it.
Fundamentally, our perception of the world, our phenomenology, our sense
of identity and our concept of future and past selves are not intrinsic,
but are useful tools which have *evolved* to allow our minds to achieve
the goals of survival and reproduction. In a world where copying
is possible, we would evolve different ways of perceiving the world.
I believe that in such a world, we would perceive the aftermath of copying
very differently than the aftermath of flipping a coin. The effects
are different, the evolutionary and survival implications are different.

In the world of this thought experiment, if the additional copies are
(via special dispensation) going to be treated well and given a good
chance to survive and thrive, then yes, most people would press the
button like crazy. It's just like today, if a bachelor were given
the opportunity to have sex with a dozen beautiful women, he'd jump
at the chance. It's not because of any intrinsic value in the act,
it's because evolution has programmed him to take this opportunity to
increase the measure of his genes. In the same way, pressing the button
would increase the measure of your mind, and it would be equally as

In the spirit of this list, let me offer my own variation. It is like
the original, except instead of torture you are offered a 50-50 chance
to experience a delicious meal prepared by an expert chef. Or you can
press the button to make some copies, in which case you get a 100% chance
of having the meal. For me, pressing the button is a win-win situation,
assuming the copies will be OK. I certainly don't think that pressing
the button reduces the measure of my enjoyment of the food.

Hal Finney
Received on Wed Jun 22 2005 - 12:07:06 PDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Feb 16 2018 - 13:20:10 PST