Caring about possible people in far Worlds

post by Neotenic · 2013-03-18T14:49:06.729Z · score: -1 (14 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 32 comments

This relates to my recent post on existence in many-worlds

I care about possible people. My child, if I ever have one, is one of them, and it seems monstrous not to care about one's children. There are many distinct ways of being a possible person. 1)You can be causally connected to some actual people in the actual world in some histories of that world. 2)You can be a counterpart of an actual person on a distinct world without causal connections 3)You can be distinct from all actual individuals, and in a causally separate possible world. 4)You can be acausally connectable to actual people, but in distinct possible worlds.

Those 4 ways are not separate partitions without overlap, sometimes they overlap, and I don't believe they exhaust the scope of possible people. The most natural question to ask is "should we care equally about about all kinds of possible people". Some people are seriously studying this, and let us hope they give us accurate ways to navigate our complex universe. While we wait, some worries seem relevant: 

 

1) The Multiverse is Sadistic Argument:

P1.1: If all possible people do their morally relevant thing (call it exist, if you will) and

P1.2: We cannot affect (causally or acausally) what is or not possible

C1.0: Then we cannot affect the morally relevant thing. 

 

2) The Multiverse is Paralyzing  (related)

P2.1: We have reason to care about X-Risk

P2.2: Worlds where X-Risk obtains are possible

P2.3: We have nearly as much reason to worry about possible non-actual1 worlds where X-risk obtains, as we have to actual worlds where it obtains. 

P2.4: There are infinitely more worlds where X-risk obtains that are possible than there are actual1

C2.0: Infinitarian Paralysis 

1Actual here means belonging to the same quantum branching history as you. If you think you have many quantum successors, all of them are actual, same for predecessors, and people who inhabit your Hubble volume. 

 

3) Reality-Fluid Can't Be All That Is Left Argument

P3.1) If all possible people do their morally relevant thing

P3.2) The way in which we can affect what is possible is by giving some subsets of it more units of reality-fluid, or quantum measure

P3.3) In fact reality-fluid is a ratio, such as a percentage of successor worlds of kind A or kind B for a particular world W

P3.4) A possible World3 with 5% reality-fluid in relation to World1 is causally indistinguishable from itself with 5 times more reality-fluid 25% in relation to World2. 

P3.5) The morally relevant thing, though by constitution qualitative, seems to be quantifiable, and what matters is it's absolute quantity, not any kind of ratio. 

C3.1: From 3.2 and 3.3 -> We can actually affect only a quantity that is relative to our world, not an absolute quantity. 

C3.2: From C3.1 and P 3.5 ->  We can't affect the relevant thing. 

C3.3: We ended up having to talk about reality fluid because decisions matter, and reality fluid is the thing that decision changes (from P3.4 we know it isn't causal structure). But if all that decision changes is some ratio between worlds, and what matters by P3.5 is not a ratio between worlds, we have absolutely no clue of what we are talking about when we talk about "the thing that matters" "what we should care about" and "reality fluid".

 

These arguments are here not as a perfectly logical and acceptable argument structure, but to at least induce nausea about talking about Reality-Fluid, Measure, Morally relevant things in many-worlds, Morally relevant people causally disconnected to us. Those are not things you can Taboo the word away and keep the substance around. The problem does not lie in the word 'Existence', or in the sentence 'X is morally relevant'. It seems to me that the service that that existence or reality used to play doesn't make sense anymore (if all possible worlds exist or if Mathematical Universe Hypothesis is correct). We attempted to keep it around as a criterial determinant for What Matters. Yet now all that is left is this weird ratio that just can't be what matters. Without a criterial determinant for mattering, we are left in a position that makes me think we should head back towards a causal approach to morality. But this is an opinion, not a conclusion. 

 

Edit: This post is an argument against the conjunctive truth of two things, Many Worlds, and the way in which we think of What Matters.  It seems that the most natural interpretation of it is that Many Worlds is true, and thus my argument is against our notion of What Matters. In fact my position lies more in the opposite side - our notion of What Matters is (strongly related to) What Matters, so Many Worlds are less likely.  

 

 

 

 

 

32 comments

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comment by shminux · 2013-03-18T16:44:17.539Z · score: 5 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In your existential multiversal angst, have you noticed your confusion?

You keep worrying about untestables and treating progressively more horrible mental constructs as if they were in any sense real. Basically, you behave like a medieval peasant believing every Brothers Grimm-type story anyone tells them. You Pascal-mug yourself by privileging a few scary tales out of an uncountable amount of possible ones.

This line of thinking is the real LW Basilisk, not the tame Roko's type. Posts like that is the worst of the worst of Less Wrong, and I blame Eliezer for pushing his pet untestable, the MWI, which is what started the whole nonsense.

EDIT: apparently I misunderstood the post, the author was not suffering from the many-worlds angst, but rather trying to elucidate that it does not make sense to do so.

comment by jimrandomh · 2013-03-19T15:39:45.504Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh? This comment feels like a response to something else; is there some context I'm missing? There's nothing scary, and no Pascal's mugging, that I can find here.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-03-19T16:23:30.628Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This comment feels like a response to something else; is there some context I'm missing?

No, you are not missing anything (apart from perhaps the last two years of this user's comment history).

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-03-18T21:17:41.946Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another scary campfire story for amateur philosophers? It may be time to make a list.

comment by Neotenic · 2013-03-18T17:57:50.224Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you. That is the exact kind of nausea I was expecting to cause. The post works.

Still, it seems that you remain secure about the concepts that I'm doubting play a role under some considerations do play a role.

If you are secure about the role that "existence" plays in moral discussion, please clarify it. One way of doing that is by describing a function where on one axis you have different theories about many-worlds as the ones I described in my previous post, and in the other axis you have what exists given our epistemic evidence if that theory turns out to be correct.

comment by shminux · 2013-03-18T18:06:14.105Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Still, it seems that you remain secure about the concepts that I'm doubting play a role under some considerations do play a role.

Not sure what you mean here.

If you are secure about the role that "existence" plays in moral discussion, please clarify it.

I prefer not to use the term "existence" at all, people have an intuitive idea of what it means, but they tend to disagree a lot when trying to formalize it.

One way of doing that is by describing a function where on one axis you have different theories about many-worlds as the ones I described in my previous post, and in the other axis you have what exists given our epistemic evidence if that theory turns out to be correct.

I don't find the notion of many worlds useful at all, so your suggested description does not work for me. The closest I come to many worlds is the decision-theoretic "possible worlds", i.e potential outcomes resulting from one's potential actions, over which one either computes some sort of utility function or to which one applies deontological shortcuts. This explicitly excludes all the imaginable worlds you have no influence over, such as the "far worlds" you seem to be preoccupied with.

comment by Neotenic · 2013-03-18T18:26:23.459Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough. So basically if my post was trying to immunize readers, you'd be immune already.

I agree that people should refrain from using the word 'existence'. If they are many worlds supporters, I think they still need some work done, that the concept of existence was attempting to do, but I claimed here fails to.

If, like you, they are not many-world supporters, then 'existence' only means causally connected to me. And the word can be avoided without paying any price by saying its equivalent.

comment by shminux · 2013-03-18T18:36:07.149Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused. From your posts I get an impression that you take "existence of many worlds" seriously, yet from your comments it seems like you don't give this untestable much credence. Which is it?

comment by Neotenic · 2013-03-18T18:46:17.501Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The latter, which I was clarifying in an edit to the original post as you asked.

I still think it is productive to instrumentally talk of Many Worlds, to see which concepts break.

comment by shminux · 2013-03-18T20:01:05.897Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see. I'm not sure whether one can tell which concepts break once you subscribe that "anything is possible", which is basically what multiverse many worlds is about.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-03-18T23:59:18.754Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"anything is possible", which is basically what multiverse many worlds is about.

Can you expand on that? I'm no sort of expert, and I've never been entirely clear why I should care, but that said I've always understood MWI to be about "everything possible is actual," and not "anything is possible."

comment by shminux · 2013-03-19T17:18:44.283Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are right, MWI is about "everything possible is actual [somewhere]". "Anything is possible" is one of the conclusions of the pseudo-scientific Tegmarkery. (It qualifies as pseudo-science because of its unfalsifiability.)

But let's take the MWI proper and see where it leads us. Take a simple example of radioactive decay. A nucleus has a constant decay rate, and so there is an equal chance of detecting the decay between time t and t+dt for any t. They are all equally possible outcomes. From the MWI postulate it follows that they are all actual outcomes somewhere. (Here I am simplifying the situation somewhat, every possible combination, as well as magnitude and direction of the decay products' momenta corresponds to a separate outcome and hence a separate world.)

This means that there are infinitely many worlds where the Sun (or the Earth) spontaneously exploded due to all its decayable nuclei decaying at the same time. Admittedly, these words, though uncountably infinitely many of them there may be, are probably a set of measure zero among all the possibilities, though, not being a mathematician, I am not at all sure how some uncountable infinities can be smaller than others.

Now, if you allow outcomes like that, it is only a small step to constructing a world with nearly arbitrary properties. You want unlimited power? Find a possible world where atmospheric hydrogen spontaneously fuses in just the right way in just the right place to give you all the energy you need. No laws of physics are violated. You want to shoot laser beams from your eyes? There is a tiny chance of level inversion and stimulated emission at any non-zero temperature. And so on. Almost any techno-babble can be actualized in infinitely many of the Many Worlds, if you construct them carefully enough.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-03-19T18:03:43.041Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are right, MWI is about "everything possible is actual [somewhere]".

Cool, that's what I thought.

Almost any techno-babble can be actualized in infinitely many of the Many Worlds, if you construct them carefully enough.

Sure. If anything possible is actual, then highly implausible possible states are actual, including highly implausible possible states I would really really like to be in, but am not. But, again: why should I care? What difference does it make?

"Anything is possible" is one of the conclusions of the pseudo-scientific Tegmarkery.

Again... really? I'm even less of a Tegmark expert than I am an MWI expert, which is saying something, but my understanding of Tegmark is more "even impossible things are actual."

comment by shminux · 2013-03-19T18:15:33.505Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

why should I care? What difference does it make?

Beats me, I don't care. But people here seriously discuss various incarnations of the many-worlds ideas as if their actuality made any difference in this world.

"Anything is possible" is one of the conclusions of the pseudo-scientific Tegmarkery.

Again... really? I'm even less of a Tegmark expert than I am an MWI expert, which is saying something, but my understanding of Tegmark is more "even impossible things are actual."

What's the difference between "anything is possible (and therefore actual)" and "even impossible things are actual."?

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-03-19T18:50:25.166Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

From wiki: Tegmark elaborates the mathematical universe hypothesis (MUH, a.k.a. "Ultimate Ensemble") into the Computable Universe Hypothesis (CUH), which posits that all computable mathematical structures exist.

We can conclude that "anything that isn't disallowed, using our current model of physics" is only a subset of "anything that can be described using any arbitrary computable mathematical structure".

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-03-19T18:48:06.848Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

people here seriously discuss various incarnations of the many-worlds ideas as if their actuality made any difference in this world.

Yeah, I've noticed that.

It seems harmless enough, and I share a narrative preference for "observers behave just like everything else" over "observers somehow collapse wavefunctions" just because I prefer explanations where the observer isn't special, but I've never understood what difference it's supposed to make.

I mean, if it were theoretically possible under MWI to mine other Worlds for energy, as you seem to suggest above, then I could understand caring... but as I understand it, MWI doesn't allow for that, any more than non-MWI allows for mining hypothetical worlds for energy.

That said, if someone argues X and I think X doesn't matter, it's silly to argue NOT X rather than ask "OK, what follows? Why should I care?"

What's the difference between "anything is possible (and therefore actual)" and "even impossible things are actual."?

Well, the former asserts a dependency between actuality and possibility, the latter denies any such dependency. Why should I care, you ask? No reason I can think of. I understand why I'm supposed to care about Tegmark even less than I understand why I'm supposed to care about MWI.

comment by shminux · 2013-03-19T19:04:50.229Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mean, if it were theoretically possible under MWI to mine other Worlds for energy, as you seem to suggest above

Uh, I most emphatically don't suggest anything like that, I was simply mentioning that among possible worlds there are some convenient ones where what you need is always available for you.

That said, if someone argues X and I think X doesn't matter, it's silly to argue NOT X rather than ask "OK, what follows? Why should I care?"

I agree, but it's not silly to point out that it's silly to argue X if it makes no instrumental difference whether X is true.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-03-19T19:14:17.822Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

among possible worlds there are some convenient ones where what you need is always available for you.

If "you" means me, or anyone else able to read your post, (which is what I thought you meant, hence the "mining" reference) then this simply isn't true under MWI.
If not, can you clarify what "you" means here?

comment by shminux · 2013-03-19T19:50:42.480Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

what "you" means here?

Someone in this most convenient world.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-03-19T20:05:24.810Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh. Well, I certainly agree that under MWI someone in the most convenient world has access to the resources of the world they live in. (And, again, I don't really care.)

I see no reason to call that person "me," though, except in the broad sense in which I can identify with people similar to me. Though I doubt there's anyone in that most-convenient-world who resembles me as much as, for example, you (by which I mean, y'know, you) do.

comment by shminux · 2013-03-19T20:19:01.787Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Though I doubt there's anyone in that most-convenient-world who resembles me as much as, for example, you (by which I mean, y'know, you) do

Eh, it looks like we largely agree, so there is no point in further discussing this particular untestable. And given the downvotes I get in this thread, apparently others don't want it to continue, either. Tapping out.

comment by Elithrion · 2013-03-19T00:50:51.018Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I care about possible people. My child, if I ever have one, is one of them, and it seems monstrous not to care about one's children.

I think you may have found one of the quickest ways to tempt me into downvoting a post without reading further (it wasn't quite successful - I read all the way through before downvoting). Poor reasoning and stereotypical appeal to emotion are probably not the ideal opener.

Beyond that, you never made clear what the purpose of the following arguments is and gave them really confusing titles.

  • I'm not sure in what way argument 1 shows the multiverse to be "Sadistic", or what position I am supposed to have held for it to be relevant to me. I guess if I cared about all hypothetical people, you may have showed that there is some subset of them I can't affect?
  • I'm going to assume by "obtains" you mean "occurs". With that in mind, I still have trouble understanding how this is relevant to anything. I guess you take "X-Risk" as an example of "generally accepted bad thing", and that any bad thing would work? As far as I can tell, this line of reasoning doesn't actually lead to paralysis, as if you can't affect the non-actual worlds, obviously you can safely make all your decisions while disregarding them. On the other hand, if you think there is some way you think you can "break out" and affect all the other worlds, you may be motivated to attempt it at nearly any cost, but I don't see this as problematic (assuming you have "solved" Pascal's Mugging). Also, while I haven't read Bostrom's paper, I'm pretty sure infinity-related paralyses hardly ever occur if you just use surreal numbers (for example).
  • I basically don't understand the third argument. You mention worlds 1, 2, 3 without explaining what the relationship is between them. I'm also not sure what you mean by "the morally relevant thing" being "qualitative" (and possible not sure what you mean by "quantifiable"). I am also not sure in what way the conclusion is different from argument 1 (there are things we can't affect that ideally we'd want to affect).

Short version: it's confusing and unclear/not relevant to my beliefs (which is fine, if it's relevant to the beliefs of someone on here at least)/really confusing/terrible opener.

comment by drethelin · 2013-03-19T20:45:08.302Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very strongly seconding the first part of this.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-18T19:56:50.173Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

what matters

To whom?

BTW, following Gary Drescher in Good and Real, I think of “real” as an indexical, i.e. something is real if it's causally connected with the speaker, or with something that's causally connected with the speaker, or with something that's causally connected with something that's causally connected with the speaker, etc. And as far as I can introspect, I only care about things that are real in this sense.

comment by Neotenic · 2013-03-18T20:54:24.217Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You should say you are following David Lewis I suppose.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-19T17:32:30.650Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't remember reading anything by him, but... [googles] Yeah, I guess so, even though IMO Drescher's way of putting it makes it clearer (than the English Wikipedia's description of Lewis's view) that Egan's Law isn't violated. (Conversely, I think that Drescher's discussion of space-time is much worse from that point of view -- “static” means a constant function of time, not just a single-valued one! I thought that after Zeno we had cleared that up; a much better way to describe B-theory AKA eternalism AKA block time is this.)

comment by jimrandomh · 2013-03-18T16:23:29.902Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reality fluid, or existiness, is a ratio rather than an absolute value in roughly the same sense that weight is a ratio, defined relative to kilograms or pounds or daltons. If weight was a morally relevant thing, and we didn't know the conversion factor between kilograms and daltons, this would cause practical problems, but not philosophical ones.

So I think the "reality-fluid can't be all that's left" argument fails at P3.4 - we would be able to distinguish the two cases if we knew the ratio of reality fluid between World1 and World2.

comment by Neotenic · 2013-03-18T18:17:24.829Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Indeed we could get more information if we knew that ratio. The assumption here though is that World three is a future stage of worlds 1 and 2, but these two bear no relationship in that way. The three are intervals/stages of a different histories.

So actually that ratio is not defined.

The trouble I'm trying to point out is that if the FSM created the Tegmark4 multiverse, he'd still have to do more work to relate all these world stages that are disconnected by ascribing each pair a reality-fluid ratio. He would not need to do further work to get kilograms or daltons.

The function that connects two words W1 and W2 to a percentage has to be added. The same problem arises for personal identity as naively conceived. There are functions that will tell you, about any two agent intervals their: 1)Level of psychological/functional similarity 2)Will respond 1 if they are causally connected, and 0 otherwise and 3)If you are a phenomenalist - level of phenomenal consciousness interrelatedness.
There is no further fact about personal identity, that is all we mean by Personal Identity. If another function was required determining 1 or 0 for each pair of agents and with the name "Personal Identity" it would be very suspicious.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-03-20T05:47:54.031Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Edit: This post is an argument against the conjunctive truth of two things, Many Worlds, and the way in which we think of What Matters. It seems that the most natural interpretation of it is that Many Worlds is true, and thus my argument is against our notion of What Matters. In fact my position lies more in the opposite side - our notion of What Matters is (strongly related to) What Matters, so Many Worlds are less likely.

Downvoted based on your edit. Your preferences have no bearing on how the multiverse is, one way or another. Setting up a dichotomy like this is a mistake. To the extent that you care about physics and metaphysical theories you should instead work out how to describe your preferences in such models in a way that adds up to normal.

comment by Neotenic · 2013-03-20T14:25:15.904Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is the first time I see you saying something that doesn't strike me as reasonable, and I've been a lurker for a long time.

Which indicates that I didn't understand you.

Could you please clarify what do you mean by "is" when you say "how the multiverse is"?

For me it seems that we (humans) can talk about this multiverse thing. We can say stuff about other universes, like "they are epiphenomenal" or "they matter". It is hard for me to just say "they are" or "they exist" and truly think that I know what I mean by that. It feels like I'm saying "they emerge" or "they magic".

comment by wedrifid · 2013-03-20T16:28:25.793Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you please clarify what do you mean by "is" when you say "how the multiverse is"?

I mean in the sense in which one might say "so Many Worlds are less likely". If you are adopting some meaning for 'are less likely' that is drastically different from a way in which I would use it then I acknowledge that nothing I said would (necessarily) apply to what you said.

I had best tap out. The thread strikes me as bizarre and I have the impression that attempting to participate will be an uphill battle.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-18T15:06:17.274Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Concern about the inevitable suffering and death of potential people is the foundation of antinatalism., not included (or perhaps not included under its name) in your survey. I am not here arguing for or against antinatalism, but antinatalism belongs front and center in any survey of the inevitable suffering and death of potential people. Antinatalism is the claim it is morally wrong to bring new life into being because that new life will inevitably suffer and die.