Re: The role of consciousness

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Wed Apr 09 2008 - 00:05:44 MDT

On Mon, Apr 7, 2008 at 10:45 PM, Lee Corbin <> wrote:

> Jeff writes
> But we *do* have an idea of what selfish behavior is, especially in this
> particular instance. By expressing (and really, we assuming *acting* as
> though you have)
> concerns for whether or not someone you don't know
> in Africa gets tortured, you clearly are not selfish in
> that regard. And if you refused to call someone who
> was completely indifferent to the African's suffering
> "selfish", then your use of terms would be at variance
> with other speakers of English.

I have concerns for those I don't know in the general sense of wishing all
humans to be treated with at least what I consider minimum standards. But
while I generally have this wish for all it is not my personal high
concern. Personally I don't believe it has anything to do with being
"selfish" or not and I think that is sloppy use of loaded terminology. I
personally could care less whether you label me "selfish" or not as I
consider many things labeled "selfish" by some as being quite sane and
reasonable. Labeling "selfish" is used to coerce weak minds afraid of mere
labels. It is a name calling game for children.

> It all depends on which future copies of you
> > you regard as your "future self", which
> > is purely a language convention.
> >
> But surely you don't really believe that it's only a
> matter of "language convention". Suppose the
> Gestapo arrived at your doorstep and proceeded
> to set up the apparatus to torture you, but the
> Colonel in charge had a philosophic turn of mind,
> he might say, "You really should not appear so
> apprehensive Mr. Jones---it's purely a language
> convention as to whether you or someone else
> is going to shortly undergo suffering." Do you
> really expect us to believe that it's identically the
> same to you whether they do it to you or do it
> some random African? You really don't believe
> that there is a fact of the matter?

I hear that. It would certainly make a difference to me.

> To add on, suppose that you love X, and right
> before an extremely painful operation, you express
> sympathy for X and tell her so. Would you be lying
> if you then added "of course, whether it's you who
> undergoes the pain or some random African is
> actually indifferent to me"? Or would that be the
> truth (however hurtful the statement itself might be)?
> To add to Matt's original thought experiment, here is
> > a chain of related thought experiments I find interesting:
> >
> > 1. Is it ethical to use a "date rape" drug on someone who isn't going
> > to remember much in the morning, but will be unable to resist your
> > advances during the night?
> >
> I say that it is not, because whether or not an individual
> remembers something is immaterial to the physical reality of whether or
> not it happened to him or her.

Of course it is not ethical. It is direct physical force merely to get your
rocks off and befuddling of another's mind and ability to choose to boot.
That is as unethical as it gets. It is also obviously a sign of utter
self-contempt and contempt for the "object of your intentions". I am much
too "selfish" for that. I want the person I want to want me to and remember
everything about the event fondly. I can't imagine thinking I could gain
anything I want by such behavior.

Even if I want to degrade someone I would want them to remember that also.
Otherwise, whatever is the point?

> 2. Is it ethical to rape someone and then erase their memories
> > completely (or fix them afterwards so that they believe it never
> > happened, or they have a blackout)?
> >
> Likewise, it is not ethical (by which, as I have said, I mean little more
> than "I disapprove" or "we customarily disapprove
> or we should disapprove").

I mean a great deal more than that. To force the will of another
intelligent being in such a brutish fashion makes one obviously unfit for

> 3. Is it ethical to torture someone and then erase their memories of it?
> >
> Likewise. While it's bad to *add* memories of having been
> tortured, it is much worse to actually torture someone (leaving
> their memories as usual).

They are both so despicable I refuse to enter a pointless argument as to
whether one is worse than the other.

5. Would you be upset if someone started torturing you and then said
> > "don't worry, I've made a backup of your brain and I will use it to
> > make an exact copy of you on my home planet, as soon as I figure out
> > how to do so... which should only take a few years. I'm not going to
> > torture your copy when it wakes up, so it's fine if I torture you now.
> > In fact, I'm going to kill you soon so it won't matter at all. Your
> > copy won't remember any of this."?
> >
> Naturally, that would be terrible. The proper way to look at it
> is to integrate (or, trying to be less fancy, *sum*) over all
> instances of your runtime, and try to evaluate preferences
> accordingly.

WHAT?? I don't need to sum over any instances to condemn such behavior
toward or by any and all of my instances.

> 6. Would you be upset if someone started torturing you and then said
> > "don't worry I've *already* made a copy of you, so you are redundant".
> >
> > 7. Would you be upset if someone started torturing you and then said
> > "don't worry, I've already made a copy of you *and* I'm going to erase
> > your memories soon, so you won't be you at all but the copy will be."
> >
> > 8. Would you be fine with such torture happening to you, as long as a
> > copy was made somewhere else, and as long as you consented to it
> > beforehand?
> >
> > I think number 8 is essentially the question that Matt is asking...
> >
> I think that I agree entirely with you and the point you're making here.
> but I don't really see how 8 is different from 7, 7 is different from
> > 6, etc. I would answer "no" to all of these for the same reason.
> > Being tortured would upset me... I wouldn't want anyone to do it to
> > me, and I wouldn't want to do it to anyone else (including my
> > "original" future self) regardless of how many copies of me were made
> > and when.
> >
> I agree completely. But our point of view implies, at least to me,
> that we regard all our copies equally, on the same ontological
> footing as it were. "Bad runtime" + "good runtime" is either bad
> or good depending on which of the two is greater quantitatively.

Is this really about ethics or some mad guess about some hypothetical
future where nothing really matters because we are all redundantly backed
up and no one really dies real death or suffers real suffering? Is it all
just "experience"? Do we fall into techno- solipsism?

Selfish? Just pop us back into the VR for a few thousand lifetimes worth of
"experience" until we grow out it. Instant Karma is going to get you!

- samantha

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