RE: another puzzle

From: Lee Corbin <>
Date: Sun, 26 Jun 2005 11:53:44 -0700

Here is yet another delightful Stathis experiment that I fished up from
about ten days ago:

Hal wrote
> 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.

I'm liking this already. So while the light is, say, green, then my
experiences are being multiplied---from the objective, scientific point
of view, i.e., the truthful view---by an astounding factor of 10^100!

> > 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.

Of course, no instance will be able to say which is which. Thus I, taken as a
sort of collection of all my instances, cannot know and cannot say.

Hal says:

> Let me make a few comments about this experiment. I would find it quite
> alarming to be experiencing these conditions.

What?? Alarming?

> 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). [Brand new consciousness? What is that?
> How is it different from the old one?]

First, Stathis has cleverly inserted that you don't know which is
which, so even the highly-anxious are spared. As for me, suppose
even that I knew. Then when the light went green, my joy would be
great (and in one hell of a lot of places!). When it turned red,
I would be very philosophical about it and say, "Aw, the best part
is off now, darn it. But I'm in certainly no worse shape than when
I came into this wonderful room."

> 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.

Why not, exactly? I'm sure that you have considered (perhaps later
in the thread) the possibility that this is already happening to you
millions of times per second. So what? Nothing to get excited enough
to write home about.

> 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.

Nah, not if I had been fully informed of the situation beforehand.
After all, I can even throw myself out of an airplane at high altitude
(with a parachute) even though it makes me extremely agitated. But
since I *know* that I will be okay, it's not really a problem.

> 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.

Okay, I agree it's unethical for Him to do it to some people. But He's
*not* really hurting them now, is he? At no point are they any worse off.

> 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.

Yes! Now that's right!

> 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.

Well, would you be willing to pay much for it *to* happen, or
*not to* happen?

If I, on the other hand, knew that this wonderful room was going to
be available to me on a specific date, I would collect all my favorite
movies, my best books, some certain chemicals that it is best not to
describe in detail, and would look forward to the most wonderful
afternoon of my life. I would enthusiastically pay a good fraction
of my net worth for this opportunity.

Why? Why would I do it? Because logic grabs me by the throat and
*forces* me to :-)

Received on Sun Jun 26 2005 - 14:55:12 PDT

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