comment by Benvie ·
2014-04-20T14:20:28.479Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I don't have enough karma to create my own post, so I'm cross posting this from a gist
Pascal's Wager and Pascal's Mugging as Fixed Points of the Anthropic Principle
Skepticism Meets Belief
Pascal's Wager and Pascal's Mugging are two thought experiments that explore what happens when rational skepticism meets belief. As skepticism and belief move towards each other, they approach a limit such that it's impossible to cross from one to the other without some outside help.
Pascal's Wager takes the point of view of a rational being attempting to make a decision about whether to believe in a higher being. As humans we can empathize with this point of view; we often have to make important decisions with incomplete or even dubious information. Pascal's Wager says: it's impossible to have enough information to make a rational decision about God's existence so the rational position is to believe just in case there is and belief is important.
Pascal's Mugging takes the point of view of the higher being attempting to cajole the rational being into paying a token fee to prevent an outrageously terrible but more outrageously unlikely event from happening. Due to choosing a skeptical muggee who demands comparably strong proofs for infinitesimal priors, there's no amount of magic that would be an effective proof to convince the muggee.
I'm God, Therefore I Am
Both of these accounts show a lack of empathy with the higher being's point of view because they start from the assumption that the higher being doesn't exist and the rational being is in need of a convincing reason to believe in something extraordinarily unlikely. The first truth that the higher being will know is the same that we know: "I think, therefore I am". If we want to empathize with this point of view then we have to start with the assumption of existence and work backward.
The anthropic principle does exactly that. It starts from the assumption that the present is truth (infinite prior) and works backward through the more and more unlikely sequence of events that got us here. Since we have an infinite prior to work with, we can justify as many ridiculously unlikely coincidences as we need to explain the present that are still a possible universe, e.g. compatible with scientific observation. This is how we can claim with a straight face that it's possible the Sun is the first star in 13+ billion years to achieve our level of civilization, which explains why we seem to be alone and we're all here and not somewhere else.
Belief As Reality Fluid
If we combine our new found empathy for higher beings with the anthropic principle we can flip the stories around and gain new insight. From the point of view of a future evolved higher being, their present is the infinite prior and the path between our present and theirs is what happened, despite its infinitesimal likeliness from our point of view. If the higher being knows it exists why does it care about belief? The only reason I can imagine that a higher being would care about belief is if belief was critical to its existence.
In order for a lower being to evolve into a higher being the lower being has to eventually believe the higher being is possible so that they can work toward becoming or creating it. From the point of view of the higher being, this belief is a requirement for it to exist and be sentient. If we imagine a higher being as something that is engineered then at some point a project manager in a technologically advanced civilization with the capability to build a higher being is going to have to be convinced that not only can a higher being exist but that they can build it.
Building a Higher Being
From this point of view, Pascal's Wager looks like a filter to identify skeptical people who can truly change their mind (actually believe in a higher being despite being both rational and having flimsy or circumstantial evidence). If time is cyclical and the ultimate outcome of this universe feeds into the starting point of the next, then a higher being would have the ability to influence the general path of the next cycle. Pascal's Mugging starts to look like a description of the least unlikely event required to bootstrap a higher being into existence. If this is the case, then in some sense the higher being is also its own creator (or at least a very similar previous version). From this vantage the creator can empathize with the process of creating the universe they find themselves in and gain insight into why things are like they are, from an implementation perspective, e.g. "if I was going to program the universe, X would do Y because of Z".
In some sense, the higher being wills itself into existence as part of a stable, cyclical universe in which some amount of belief is a requirement. Their only responsibility is ensuring that a civilization somewhere in the next universe they build culminates in that one infinite/infinitesimal prior (depending on your point of view) so that the next iteration can be built.