RE: More is Better (was RE: another puzzle)

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2005 17:06:00 +1000

Lee Corbin writes:

[quoting Stathis]
> > I believe that even though someone can only
> > *experience* being one person at a time, in
> > the event of duplication all the copies have
> > an equal claim to being continuations of the
> > original, and it is in attempting to reconcile
> > these two facts that I arrive at the notion of
> > subjective probabilities for the next observer
> > moment.
>It's with the very notion of a "continuer" that
>I've always had a problem. So let me ask you
>a little about it. Now clearly, if ten minutes
>from now the Earth Stathis is to be killed, but
>a Martian duplicate is made five minutes from
>now, you---the present Stathis---don't really
>have a problem with that (that is, not a problem
>that couldn't be fixed with a big bribe).
>So next, let me ask about a new situation in
>which one hour from now you are to die here,
>but a duplicate of you will the same second
>be established on Mars, only this duplicate
>has a little amnesia, and doesn't remember
>the last half-hour of its life. Would that
>be a continuer of you? Would it be a
>continuer of "you+60_minutes" from now?
>Will it only be a continuer of "you+30_minutes"
>from now? Is it a continuer of the you-now?
>How about this? For ten million dollars, would
>you agree to have the last ten minutes of your
>memory erased, where you are now?

These are all interesting questions that have bothered me for a long time. I
think the most useful suggestion I can make about how to decide whether
other versions of a person are or aren't "continuers" or the "same person"
is to avoid a direct answer at all and ask - as you have done - how much
memory loss a person would tolerate before they felt they would not be the
"same" person. This is something that comes up all the time in clinical
situations. I would say that definitely I would not want total memory
erasure at any price, because that would be like dying. On the other hand,
10 minutes of memory loss for ten million dollars (especially if they were
US dollars, instead of our prettier and more durable, but less valuable,
Australian kind) is an offer I would definitely take up; in fact, people pay
to get drunk on a Friday night and suffer more memory loss than this.

Before you ask, this raises another interesting question: would I agree for
the same amount of money to be painlessly killed 10 minutes after being
duplicated? Given that I believe my duplicate provides seamless continuity
of consciousness from the point of duplication, this should be the same as
losing 10 minutes of memory. However, I would probably balk at being
"killed" if it were happening for the first time, and I might hesitate even
if I knew that it had happened to me many times before.

Yet another variation: for 10 million dollars, would you agree to undergo a
week of excruciating pain, and then have the memory of the week wiped? What
if you remember agreeing to this 100 times in the past; that is, you
remember agreeing to it, then a moment later experiencing a slight
discontinuity, and being given the ten million dollars (which let's say you
gambled all away). You were told every time you would experience pain, but
all you experienced was being given the money. Would it be tempting to agree
to this again ("and this time, I'll put the money in the bank")?

These are not trivial questions. The basic problem is that our minds have
evolved in a world where there is no copying and no memory loss (memory loss
may have occurred naturally, of course, but evolution's answer to it would
have been to wipe out the affected individual and their genes), so there is
a mismatch between reason and intuition.

--Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Thu Jun 30 2005 - 03:30:25 PDT

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