Philosophical dilemmas

I’m in the middle of reading The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten, by Julian Baggini, a lovely little compendium of 100 classic philosophical thought experiments discussed in plain English. (I quite highly recommend this book, by the way; it’s the sort of thing that could kick off many a late-night philosophy binge with good friends and good food. Although that seems to happen even without this book)

Anyway, I just read through an example that referenced The Matrix, on the old subject of “what if we’re living in a simulation? Would it matter?” It reminded me of a few other philosophical questions that movie raised, and so in the interest of sparking some late-night drinkingphilosophy binges, here goes.

  1. In The Matrix, Neo discovers that his life is actually a computer simulation, and in the “real world” people are actually kept locked up in vats to power the computers. The few people who have escaped this simulation are ruthlessly hunted down by their robot captors, and have managed to create a marginal existence for themselves, hiding in fortified caves. He is convinced to aid this rebel cause, and free humanity from their artificial prison. Given that at the moment, humanity is living a relatively normal existence, and if this mission were successful humanity would be living in caves on a ruined world, hunted by robots, exactly what is the moral argument for doing this?
  2. At the end of the second Matrix movie, we discover that Neo’s magical abilities to control the state of the world around him in the simulated world (due to his understanding of its simulated nature) also extends to the real world. Set aside, for a moment, the explanation the movie gave for this;1 imagine instead that they took the more complicated route, and that these extended abilities were actually the first clue to realizing that the “real world” they thought they were in was also a simulation, and the actual “real world” was one step above. In such a case, would this change Neo’s obligations to his original world, and to the world he originally thought was the “real world?” How?
  3. To take this to its logical conclusion, there’s no reason the number 3 ought to be special. If there were an infinite hierarchy of worlds, each simulating the next (or even a branching tree of simulated worlds, some worlds simulating hundreds of others) so that none of them have a sound claim to being the “real” world, what are Neo’s obligations then? Is it right and/or worthwhile to save one world? At the expense of another? (As if he had saved the original “real world” by destroying the simulation where he started out) Or if one world sucks, is it reasonable for him to simply pack up and move to some other world of his choice? And given this infinite spectrum of worlds, in some of which people are systematically and deeply suffering, does he have some moral obligation to try to help people in less fortunate worlds? Given the infinitude of worlds, does this differ in any interesting ways from the ways people in this world are responsible for people in other parts of this world?

1The explanation was that he is actually the Messiah and has magical powers in the real world, as well. This is also right about the point where the movies stopped being even a little bit interesting, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. But that has nothing to do with philosophy.

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Published in: on February 24, 2007 at 23:07  Comments (56)  

56 Comments

  1. Is this the same Yonatan Zunger I knew …
    That was a old classmate of mine (and Cory Mayer’s) back in Mackintosh Academy in Denver?

  2. Is this the same Yonatan Zunger I knew …
    That was a old classmate of mine (and Cory Mayer’s) back in Mackintosh Academy in Denver?

  3. Wow, sounds like a fascinating book. I’ll have to track it down.
    Starting with the last question first: No, our relationship to people in “simulation worlds” doesn’t differ substantially from our relationship to people in other parts of the “real world”. In effect, in all of these scenarios, there is only one, big “real world” with lots of different regions. Some of those regions are more separated from each other than others, but that’s true on any scale.
    The interesting question, then, is whether we have a moral responsibility to free people who are unknowingly being held captive in a simulation world. (This isn’t as theoretical as it may sound; think of modern day North Korea.)
    I take a utilitarian view on this (as I do on most moral questions). There’s a trade-off between the (likely) short term downside of disillusionment, and the (possible) long term benefits of freedom and understanding. If there’s reason to believe that the wardens of the simulation world are both willing and capable of keeping their prisoners relatively happy, then the moral argument to free them loses steam. On the other hand, if you think the quality of life of people in the simulation world is substantially worse than it would be if they were free, then there’s a stronger argument for instigating a revolution, even if there are short term costs.
    There’s also a selfish, non-moral reason for people who have escaped the simulation world to free others: the extra numbers will help them fight their captors in the “real world”, if they’re being hunted or seeking revenge for their former enslavement. I think this is actually the primary motivation for the rebels in the Matrix trilogy.

  4. Wow, sounds like a fascinating book. I’ll have to track it down.
    Starting with the last question first: No, our relationship to people in “simulation worlds” doesn’t differ substantially from our relationship to people in other parts of the “real world”. In effect, in all of these scenarios, there is only one, big “real world” with lots of different regions. Some of those regions are more separated from each other than others, but that’s true on any scale.
    The interesting question, then, is whether we have a moral responsibility to free people who are unknowingly being held captive in a simulation world. (This isn’t as theoretical as it may sound; think of modern day North Korea.)
    I take a utilitarian view on this (as I do on most moral questions). There’s a trade-off between the (likely) short term downside of disillusionment, and the (possible) long term benefits of freedom and understanding. If there’s reason to believe that the wardens of the simulation world are both willing and capable of keeping their prisoners relatively happy, then the moral argument to free them loses steam. On the other hand, if you think the quality of life of people in the simulation world is substantially worse than it would be if they were free, then there’s a stronger argument for instigating a revolution, even if there are short term costs.
    There’s also a selfish, non-moral reason for people who have escaped the simulation world to free others: the extra numbers will help them fight their captors in the “real world”, if they’re being hunted or seeking revenge for their former enslavement. I think this is actually the primary motivation for the rebels in the Matrix trilogy.

  5. Re: Is this the same Yonatan Zunger I knew …
    It was — but who is this?!

  6. Re: Is this the same Yonatan Zunger I knew …
    It was — but who is this?!

  7. It’s turtles all the way down
    Point #3 is very similar to a movie that came out about the same time as The Matrix, called “The Thirteenth Floor”. While not as whizz-bang in the special effects dept., it’s by far the more philosophically interesting movie, containing (as it does), level upon level of simulated worlds.
    My opinion on this matter (flying in the face of all moral relativism, as I often do), is that a humanity that would rather live happily than truthfully is a degenerate sort of a beast, and that saving humanity from even one more level of misdirection is a moral goodness, regardless of whether this is “the one true truth”. All of my attitude towards science and learning comes from this notion, that I would rather know truth, or even a tiny smidgen of the truth, than live in blissful ignorance.
    Besides, it can’t be turtles ALL the way down… 🙂

  8. It’s turtles all the way down
    Point #3 is very similar to a movie that came out about the same time as The Matrix, called “The Thirteenth Floor”. While not as whizz-bang in the special effects dept., it’s by far the more philosophically interesting movie, containing (as it does), level upon level of simulated worlds.
    My opinion on this matter (flying in the face of all moral relativism, as I often do), is that a humanity that would rather live happily than truthfully is a degenerate sort of a beast, and that saving humanity from even one more level of misdirection is a moral goodness, regardless of whether this is “the one true truth”. All of my attitude towards science and learning comes from this notion, that I would rather know truth, or even a tiny smidgen of the truth, than live in blissful ignorance.
    Besides, it can’t be turtles ALL the way down… 🙂

  9. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Sure, you’d prefer the hard truth over blissful ignorance (as, I think, would I), but would everyone? Just because we’d take the red pill, does that mean we should force it on everyone? I bet if we did, we’d end up with a lot of people who’d want to “go back”.
    And, what if it *is* turtles all the way down? Then wouldn’t you rather hang out with the elephant?

  10. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Sure, you’d prefer the hard truth over blissful ignorance (as, I think, would I), but would everyone? Just because we’d take the red pill, does that mean we should force it on everyone? I bet if we did, we’d end up with a lot of people who’d want to “go back”.
    And, what if it *is* turtles all the way down? Then wouldn’t you rather hang out with the elephant?

  11. Oh the scare-quote-ity
    If one considers these and finds them intractable or self-contradictory, fear not! The questions contain a minefield of case expansion:
    All three of these beg one big underlying question: does existince of a person in a simulated world entail existence in a world “above” that one?
    Additionally, as you allude to, it’s very hard to determine if you’re in the “real world” or a “mere simulation.” In fact, barring external input (from the above-world), it seems to be impossible*, unless there are giveaways/contradictions which cannot be explained in your reality. And, once you do ascertain that there is an above-world, you return to the state of “Is there an above-world?”
    That is, in each “reality,” there are two fundamental metaphysical questions to answer: “Is there a world above this one?” and, if so, “Do all people exist there?” This generates three cases to consider:

    There is no reality above this one. Then the only question that has traction is the tie-up at the end of #3, in a very neat and tidy manner.
    There is a world above this one, and not all people exist there. In this case, your questions are only half-meaningful, since they only really apply to those people who can be “transmigrated” to “reality.” The other poor sods are going to have to be helped in their realities; at this point, the ethics devolves out of the sphere i consider interesting (ie, it will involve utilitarianism and euthanasia).
    There is a world above this one, and all people exist there. In this case, we return back to the starting state, with the exact same questions to answer.

    So, infinite recursion, which requires a potentially unknowable decision at each step. The original questions all depend on answering this completely before you can really ascertain the right answer in each cases. Happily, it seems like each of these cases yields a particular result of the form

    Answer in the current reality, and
    Do we ascend to next reality to answer there?, and
    Will the answer above be universal or embedding-specific?

    From there, it’s just a matter of finding the paths through all possible strings of [123]* that result in “Do not ascend,” and enumerating the possible answers at each point. For the trivial case, “Reality is actually real,” the answer is obviously that the questions are meaningless and we shouldn’t ascend. Enumerating and resolving the other cases is left as an exercise to the reader.
    (But this is all probably contains a horrible flaw and, in any case, is probably not quite what you were looking for in an answer. It’s just something that occurred to me the first time i read the questions.)
    * Or gnosis, which is the unifying characteristic of the “real” characters in the Matrix, a suspicion/feeling that reality isn’t real… yay, mysticism.

  12. Oh the scare-quote-ity
    If one considers these and finds them intractable or self-contradictory, fear not! The questions contain a minefield of case expansion:
    All three of these beg one big underlying question: does existince of a person in a simulated world entail existence in a world “above” that one?
    Additionally, as you allude to, it’s very hard to determine if you’re in the “real world” or a “mere simulation.” In fact, barring external input (from the above-world), it seems to be impossible*, unless there are giveaways/contradictions which cannot be explained in your reality. And, once you do ascertain that there is an above-world, you return to the state of “Is there an above-world?”
    That is, in each “reality,” there are two fundamental metaphysical questions to answer: “Is there a world above this one?” and, if so, “Do all people exist there?” This generates three cases to consider:

    There is no reality above this one. Then the only question that has traction is the tie-up at the end of #3, in a very neat and tidy manner.
    There is a world above this one, and not all people exist there. In this case, your questions are only half-meaningful, since they only really apply to those people who can be “transmigrated” to “reality.” The other poor sods are going to have to be helped in their realities; at this point, the ethics devolves out of the sphere i consider interesting (ie, it will involve utilitarianism and euthanasia).
    There is a world above this one, and all people exist there. In this case, we return back to the starting state, with the exact same questions to answer.

    So, infinite recursion, which requires a potentially unknowable decision at each step. The original questions all depend on answering this completely before you can really ascertain the right answer in each cases. Happily, it seems like each of these cases yields a particular result of the form

    Answer in the current reality, and
    Do we ascend to next reality to answer there?, and
    Will the answer above be universal or embedding-specific?

    From there, it’s just a matter of finding the paths through all possible strings of [123]* that result in “Do not ascend,” and enumerating the possible answers at each point. For the trivial case, “Reality is actually real,” the answer is obviously that the questions are meaningless and we shouldn’t ascend. Enumerating and resolving the other cases is left as an exercise to the reader.
    (But this is all probably contains a horrible flaw and, in any case, is probably not quite what you were looking for in an answer. It’s just something that occurred to me the first time i read the questions.)
    * Or gnosis, which is the unifying characteristic of the “real” characters in the Matrix, a suspicion/feeling that reality isn’t real… yay, mysticism.

  13. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    That’s where the lack of moral relativism comes in. The fact that the rest of humanity would probably prefer to live blissfully ignorant is moot… If there is a way to bring reality to their door (short of doing violence to them), then I think it’s a good thing, period, end of story, even if they don’t like it, even if they would rather go back. I’m mean and horrible and unsympathetic like that.
    To put it another way, a human that can’t or won’t face reality is still a child, regardless of age. When they’re really extreme, we call them “schizophrenics”, and while society takes very good care of them, they’re generally not permitted to perpetuate their delusions, happy though they may be. Children (and schizophrenics) are often subjected to all sorts of unpleasantness in the name of making them more capable of coping with the world as it truly is, and to prevent them from harming themselves or others out of ignorance. Where would you draw a hard line at which to stop this practice?
    Returning to the Matrix as our universe of discourse, perpetuating a society which uses you as ignorant slaves and drugs you into happiness, versus offering humanity as a whole a chance to progress and be free, seems like a no-brainer. Even if the “real world” turns out to be another fake, you are in a better position to find a way out of it at one level of remove than two. Ignorance makes people helpless.
    If it is turtles all the way down, then I’ll get to meet lots of new turtles. I like turtles. 🙂 I also like saying “carapace”.

  14. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    That’s where the lack of moral relativism comes in. The fact that the rest of humanity would probably prefer to live blissfully ignorant is moot… If there is a way to bring reality to their door (short of doing violence to them), then I think it’s a good thing, period, end of story, even if they don’t like it, even if they would rather go back. I’m mean and horrible and unsympathetic like that.
    To put it another way, a human that can’t or won’t face reality is still a child, regardless of age. When they’re really extreme, we call them “schizophrenics”, and while society takes very good care of them, they’re generally not permitted to perpetuate their delusions, happy though they may be. Children (and schizophrenics) are often subjected to all sorts of unpleasantness in the name of making them more capable of coping with the world as it truly is, and to prevent them from harming themselves or others out of ignorance. Where would you draw a hard line at which to stop this practice?
    Returning to the Matrix as our universe of discourse, perpetuating a society which uses you as ignorant slaves and drugs you into happiness, versus offering humanity as a whole a chance to progress and be free, seems like a no-brainer. Even if the “real world” turns out to be another fake, you are in a better position to find a way out of it at one level of remove than two. Ignorance makes people helpless.
    If it is turtles all the way down, then I’ll get to meet lots of new turtles. I like turtles. 🙂 I also like saying “carapace”.

  15. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Well, you do have to draw the line (between allowing delusions and exposing them) somewhere, because otherwise freedom of religion goes out the door. There are many competing conceptions of reality (i.e. religions), most of which are incompatible. So most people are deluding themselves. The problem is, every person that I think is deluding themselves things that *I’m* deluding *myself* — so who should be corrected?
    In the Matrix scenario, it’s clearer, because everyone who wakes up accepts that their former reality was a delusion. But, imagine a different scenario, in which I’ve been deluded into thinking that I’ve woken up into the real world and that everyone else is being deluded. Clearly, it’d be bad for me to “wake up” everyone else into my delusion. That’s why I don’t think there’s a clear moral imperative to rid others of their delusions, in the general case.

    I guess I didn’t consider that the turtles would be different. Hmm… it’s like that TV show Sliders, where they spend every episode in a different alternate universe. Only with turtles!

  16. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Well, you do have to draw the line (between allowing delusions and exposing them) somewhere, because otherwise freedom of religion goes out the door. There are many competing conceptions of reality (i.e. religions), most of which are incompatible. So most people are deluding themselves. The problem is, every person that I think is deluding themselves things that *I’m* deluding *myself* — so who should be corrected?
    In the Matrix scenario, it’s clearer, because everyone who wakes up accepts that their former reality was a delusion. But, imagine a different scenario, in which I’ve been deluded into thinking that I’ve woken up into the real world and that everyone else is being deluded. Clearly, it’d be bad for me to “wake up” everyone else into my delusion. That’s why I don’t think there’s a clear moral imperative to rid others of their delusions, in the general case.

    I guess I didn’t consider that the turtles would be different. Hmm… it’s like that TV show Sliders, where they spend every episode in a different alternate universe. Only with turtles!

  17. Re: Oh the scare-quote-ity
    We appear to be thinking on the same lines. I’m midway through drafting an essay on variations on this theme; the question of “do I have an analogue in the next world up, and if so, what is the extent of my continuity of self with that analogue” seems to be one of the key branching points.
    But I think case (2) is very interesting — if you start yoinking the “real” people up one level of the world, what are the consequences of doing so for the people who have no analogue one level up? And do you have any moral responsibilities at all to people who don’t exist in your “real” world?
    (This reminds me a lot of the Calvinist idea that some subset of humanity is the “elect” which is going to go to heaven, but you don’t know who is in that subset. Do those on Earth, and those in Heaven, have different moral responsibilities to the elect and to others?)

  18. Re: Oh the scare-quote-ity
    We appear to be thinking on the same lines. I’m midway through drafting an essay on variations on this theme; the question of “do I have an analogue in the next world up, and if so, what is the extent of my continuity of self with that analogue” seems to be one of the key branching points.
    But I think case (2) is very interesting — if you start yoinking the “real” people up one level of the world, what are the consequences of doing so for the people who have no analogue one level up? And do you have any moral responsibilities at all to people who don’t exist in your “real” world?
    (This reminds me a lot of the Calvinist idea that some subset of humanity is the “elect” which is going to go to heaven, but you don’t know who is in that subset. Do those on Earth, and those in Heaven, have different moral responsibilities to the elect and to others?)

  19. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Does the importance of the people in the Matrix knowing about the world above them depend on the world above them being the “real” one? If so, does that mean that the importance of them learning about the hierarchy of worlds is lessened if that world is itself a simulation?

  20. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Does the importance of the people in the Matrix knowing about the world above them depend on the world above them being the “real” one? If so, does that mean that the importance of them learning about the hierarchy of worlds is lessened if that world is itself a simulation?

  21. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    I’m not sure it does. Certainly there’s lots of room for debate here, but it seems to me that the world above you is “more real” by definition, since it is more likely to contain hints of the NEXT world up, and therefore is a “better” world, for a value of better that does not depend on how many more levels there are to go. The “really real” world is best only because you’ve run out of levels to ascend. 🙂 If, on the other hand, the other world isn’t actually “more real”, and is more like a lateral movement, then it doesn’t seem to have any real benefits (this is perhaps more akin to switching religions without being any more right, and less like a scientific epiphany…)
    If we wanted to drag mysticism into it, one generally doesn’t stop halfway up the ladder of enlightenment, regardless of how glorious of an epiphany you’ve just had.

  22. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    I’m not sure it does. Certainly there’s lots of room for debate here, but it seems to me that the world above you is “more real” by definition, since it is more likely to contain hints of the NEXT world up, and therefore is a “better” world, for a value of better that does not depend on how many more levels there are to go. The “really real” world is best only because you’ve run out of levels to ascend. 🙂 If, on the other hand, the other world isn’t actually “more real”, and is more like a lateral movement, then it doesn’t seem to have any real benefits (this is perhaps more akin to switching religions without being any more right, and less like a scientific epiphany…)
    If we wanted to drag mysticism into it, one generally doesn’t stop halfway up the ladder of enlightenment, regardless of how glorious of an epiphany you’ve just had.

  23. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Hans suggested an interesting definition of “more real” in a separate conversation: in order to simulate X, you need more bits than the representation of X, so these worlds have to have a partial ordering by information content. 🙂
    But question: Why is a “more real” world better? What is the goodness metric that you use?

  24. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Hans suggested an interesting definition of “more real” in a separate conversation: in order to simulate X, you need more bits than the representation of X, so these worlds have to have a partial ordering by information content. 🙂
    But question: Why is a “more real” world better? What is the goodness metric that you use?

  25. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    *laugh* that’s a very interesting definition of “more real”, although it does imply that the most real world possible has maximal entropy, which from a human point of view is sort of a sucky world…
    I cannot, alas, defend my assertion that more real is better, aside from a niggling feeling that anything you do in a simulation is all really quite worthless… On the other hand, most of human endeavor in this reality centers around keeping bored hairless monkeys entertained, fed, and procreating, which doesn’t necessarily have an obvious value either. 🙂 I’ll think more on it.

  26. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    *laugh* that’s a very interesting definition of “more real”, although it does imply that the most real world possible has maximal entropy, which from a human point of view is sort of a sucky world…
    I cannot, alas, defend my assertion that more real is better, aside from a niggling feeling that anything you do in a simulation is all really quite worthless… On the other hand, most of human endeavor in this reality centers around keeping bored hairless monkeys entertained, fed, and procreating, which doesn’t necessarily have an obvious value either. 🙂 I’ll think more on it.

  27. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Only maximum entropy at the moment of heat death. 🙂
    But is it true that what you do in a simulation is worthless? We can’t know, right now, if our life is just a simulation. If that turned out to be the case, would it mean that the things we’ve done, the knowledge we’ve gained, and the lives we’ve impacted were all for naught?

  28. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Only maximum entropy at the moment of heat death. 🙂
    But is it true that what you do in a simulation is worthless? We can’t know, right now, if our life is just a simulation. If that turned out to be the case, would it mean that the things we’ve done, the knowledge we’ve gained, and the lives we’ve impacted were all for naught?

  29. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    would it mean that the things we’ve done, the knowledge we’ve gained, and the lives we’ve impacted were all for naught?
    Well, let’s start with knowledge. Knowledge gained about the workings of a false world seems pretty worthless, especially since a simulated world can change the rules capriciously (cf., glitch in the Matrix).
    The things we’ve done are probably mostly worthless… We’ve accrued money, or power, or fame, but what are those actually worth in any world, let alone a simulation? In a world where the machines are feeding our bodies, does it matter if we eat simulated foie gras or simulated ramen? What if we seek money and power to take better care of our families? Is that OK, knowing as we do that it’s all fake, and our families are in a vat somewhere?
    The lives we’ve impacted is an interesting one, especially in light of the question posed. If the person we’ve impacted is only a part of the simulation with no higher counter part, is that worth anything? Do we gain good karma for assisting NPCs in the MMORPG d’ jour? If the person does have a counterpart above, but is unaware that there is anything else, are we doing them any good by being kind to them? Or is our kindness meaningless unless it benefits them in the closest thing we know to a real world?

  30. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    would it mean that the things we’ve done, the knowledge we’ve gained, and the lives we’ve impacted were all for naught?
    Well, let’s start with knowledge. Knowledge gained about the workings of a false world seems pretty worthless, especially since a simulated world can change the rules capriciously (cf., glitch in the Matrix).
    The things we’ve done are probably mostly worthless… We’ve accrued money, or power, or fame, but what are those actually worth in any world, let alone a simulation? In a world where the machines are feeding our bodies, does it matter if we eat simulated foie gras or simulated ramen? What if we seek money and power to take better care of our families? Is that OK, knowing as we do that it’s all fake, and our families are in a vat somewhere?
    The lives we’ve impacted is an interesting one, especially in light of the question posed. If the person we’ve impacted is only a part of the simulation with no higher counter part, is that worth anything? Do we gain good karma for assisting NPCs in the MMORPG d’ jour? If the person does have a counterpart above, but is unaware that there is anything else, are we doing them any good by being kind to them? Or is our kindness meaningless unless it benefits them in the closest thing we know to a real world?

  31. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Knowledge gained about the workings of a false world seems pretty worthless, especially since a simulated world can change the rules capriciously.
    That seems to open itself to an interesting theological statement — that if God has the power to perform miracles, then all knowledge of the world is useless. (I’m not sure what I think of that statement, it’s just interesting)
    We’ve accrued money, or power, or fame, but what are those actually worth in any world, let alone a simulation?
    What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever. 🙂
    The last point you raise is a great one. Let me add: If you don’t know that the person isn’t “real,” does that make a difference in the value of what you did? What if they themselves don’t know?

  32. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    Knowledge gained about the workings of a false world seems pretty worthless, especially since a simulated world can change the rules capriciously.
    That seems to open itself to an interesting theological statement — that if God has the power to perform miracles, then all knowledge of the world is useless. (I’m not sure what I think of that statement, it’s just interesting)
    We’ve accrued money, or power, or fame, but what are those actually worth in any world, let alone a simulation?
    What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever. 🙂
    The last point you raise is a great one. Let me add: If you don’t know that the person isn’t “real,” does that make a difference in the value of what you did? What if they themselves don’t know?

  33. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    That seems to open itself to an interesting theological statement — that if God has the power to perform miracles, then all knowledge of the world is useless. (I’m not sure what I think of that statement, it’s just interesting)
    I believe there’s a medieval school of thought that held something along those lines. 🙂
    But really, that’s what creationism is all about, in some sense… They’re saying that any knowledge of the workings of the universe, such as carbon-14 dating, is totally moot if it doesn’t jibe with the bible, since God could have just made it that way. And from there, why not throw out anything else that doesn’t correlate completely with biblical scripture? If it’s all written down in the infallible words of god, why would you bother going looking for it?
    What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever. 🙂
    Don’t mind me, I’m having a severely existential week. 🙂 The quest for a grad school is starting to make me question all of existence, especially when it involves given up all my carefully accrued worldly power and wealth.
    The last point you raise is a great one. Let me add: If you don’t know that the person isn’t “real,” does that make a difference in the value of what you did? What if they themselves don’t know?
    That’s fiddly… When in doubt, be nice to people, for they may be angels in disguise. 🙂 If nothing else, perhaps it’s a nice spiritual exercise for you to be good to people, even potentially fake people. However, there’s another utility argument in here for not investing too much in being nice to people who are definitely fake.

  34. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    That seems to open itself to an interesting theological statement — that if God has the power to perform miracles, then all knowledge of the world is useless. (I’m not sure what I think of that statement, it’s just interesting)
    I believe there’s a medieval school of thought that held something along those lines. 🙂
    But really, that’s what creationism is all about, in some sense… They’re saying that any knowledge of the workings of the universe, such as carbon-14 dating, is totally moot if it doesn’t jibe with the bible, since God could have just made it that way. And from there, why not throw out anything else that doesn’t correlate completely with biblical scripture? If it’s all written down in the infallible words of god, why would you bother going looking for it?
    What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever. 🙂
    Don’t mind me, I’m having a severely existential week. 🙂 The quest for a grad school is starting to make me question all of existence, especially when it involves given up all my carefully accrued worldly power and wealth.
    The last point you raise is a great one. Let me add: If you don’t know that the person isn’t “real,” does that make a difference in the value of what you did? What if they themselves don’t know?
    That’s fiddly… When in doubt, be nice to people, for they may be angels in disguise. 🙂 If nothing else, perhaps it’s a nice spiritual exercise for you to be good to people, even potentially fake people. However, there’s another utility argument in here for not investing too much in being nice to people who are definitely fake.

  35. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    If you yourself turn out not to be a real person, is there still any moral value to your actions?
    (This is fun!)

  36. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    If you yourself turn out not to be a real person, is there still any moral value to your actions?
    (This is fun!)

  37. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    If the person does have a counterpart above, but is unaware that there is anything else, are we doing them any good by being kind to them?
    I just re-read this statement. If the answer to this were “no,” wouldn’t that imply that any sort of action whatsoever is justified against such people? Are they less than human?

  38. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    If the person does have a counterpart above, but is unaware that there is anything else, are we doing them any good by being kind to them?
    I just re-read this statement. If the answer to this were “no,” wouldn’t that imply that any sort of action whatsoever is justified against such people? Are they less than human?

  39. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    I just re-read this statement. If the answer to this were “no,” wouldn’t that imply that any sort of action whatsoever is justified against such people? Are they less than human?
    Not at all, it’s simply that if we were trying to be good to them, would it be worthwhile to be good to them in the fake world? Or would we (and they) be better served by us trying to help them in the world above? I bias towards the latter, but I can see the potential benefit of the former. However, since they exist in the world above, and we’re postulating matrix style rules, doing violence to them, killing them, etc, kills them in every world, which is clearly not justifiable.

  40. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    I just re-read this statement. If the answer to this were “no,” wouldn’t that imply that any sort of action whatsoever is justified against such people? Are they less than human?
    Not at all, it’s simply that if we were trying to be good to them, would it be worthwhile to be good to them in the fake world? Or would we (and they) be better served by us trying to help them in the world above? I bias towards the latter, but I can see the potential benefit of the former. However, since they exist in the world above, and we’re postulating matrix style rules, doing violence to them, killing them, etc, kills them in every world, which is clearly not justifiable.

  41. God in the Machine?
    This all reminds me of a paper I wrote in university on God in the Matrix. In it I argued that Neo was in fact not a force of good but had been tricked into serving a much more sinister cause. To summarize my arguments
    1) People live in a world which represents the heights of human achievement. It might not be perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better than..
    2) The ‘real’ world is a cold barren place where humans are systematically hunted by psycho robots.
    3) Morpheus tempts people with promises of knowledge if they join with him. He will show the freedom of the ‘real’ world. (devil?)
    4) Body snatching aside I don’t think the agents actually killed anybody in the first film. The good guys on the other hand mowed down entire crowds.
    5) The Agents offer forgiveness to Cypher. He must do some penance for his sins, but when taken back he will be welcomed with open arms (prodigal son?).
    etc.
    We live in a world with many illusions. Take banking. Money is only useful in so far as people believe that it is valuable. If we were ‘freed’ from the illusionary value of money the international system of trade would break down and we’d be back to the dark ages.
    This dilemma revolves around the question of what reality is. I believe that reality is a construct to bring order out of the chaos of being. As whatever it is we are moves about a universe of matter/energy, chaos/order, and things knowable/unknowable we take the bits that we can and form our consciousness out of them. Perhaps the (capital s) Self even goes so far as choosing the portions of (capital r) Reality to form into our consciousness (lower case r reality). Those who are lost to madness, see God, or go into drug induced trips/ vision quests have their realities altered but who is to say if they are stepping closer or further away from Reality?

  42. God in the Machine?
    This all reminds me of a paper I wrote in university on God in the Matrix. In it I argued that Neo was in fact not a force of good but had been tricked into serving a much more sinister cause. To summarize my arguments
    1) People live in a world which represents the heights of human achievement. It might not be perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better than..
    2) The ‘real’ world is a cold barren place where humans are systematically hunted by psycho robots.
    3) Morpheus tempts people with promises of knowledge if they join with him. He will show the freedom of the ‘real’ world. (devil?)
    4) Body snatching aside I don’t think the agents actually killed anybody in the first film. The good guys on the other hand mowed down entire crowds.
    5) The Agents offer forgiveness to Cypher. He must do some penance for his sins, but when taken back he will be welcomed with open arms (prodigal son?).
    etc.
    We live in a world with many illusions. Take banking. Money is only useful in so far as people believe that it is valuable. If we were ‘freed’ from the illusionary value of money the international system of trade would break down and we’d be back to the dark ages.
    This dilemma revolves around the question of what reality is. I believe that reality is a construct to bring order out of the chaos of being. As whatever it is we are moves about a universe of matter/energy, chaos/order, and things knowable/unknowable we take the bits that we can and form our consciousness out of them. Perhaps the (capital s) Self even goes so far as choosing the portions of (capital r) Reality to form into our consciousness (lower case r reality). Those who are lost to madness, see God, or go into drug induced trips/ vision quests have their realities altered but who is to say if they are stepping closer or further away from Reality?

  43. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    If I am not a real person, then are my moral judgements on the value of my actions worth anything? 😉
    If am am not a real person, and I kill someone who is a real person, am I to be considered the moral equivalent of a house falling on them? Are all my actions predestined (since I’m part of the simulation)? And if my actions are predestined, since a fake world can affect real people, are the fates of real people predestined in some cases? 🙂
    (Very fun!)

  44. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    If I am not a real person, then are my moral judgements on the value of my actions worth anything? 😉
    If am am not a real person, and I kill someone who is a real person, am I to be considered the moral equivalent of a house falling on them? Are all my actions predestined (since I’m part of the simulation)? And if my actions are predestined, since a fake world can affect real people, are the fates of real people predestined in some cases? 🙂
    (Very fun!)

  45. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    If you’re a real person, what are your moral judgements on the value of your actions worth?
    And are the actions of virtual people more predestined than those of real people?
    (I’m finding it interesting to mentally replace “real people” with the Calvinist “elect” and “virtual people” with “everybody else.” It makes this sound a good deal creepier.)

  46. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    If you’re a real person, what are your moral judgements on the value of your actions worth?
    And are the actions of virtual people more predestined than those of real people?
    (I’m finding it interesting to mentally replace “real people” with the Calvinist “elect” and “virtual people” with “everybody else.” It makes this sound a good deal creepier.)

  47. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    I can see arguments on both sides.
    What about the contrapositive case? If a person does not have an analogue in a higher world, does that mean that there is no negative moral weight to harming them?

  48. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    I can see arguments on both sides.
    What about the contrapositive case? If a person does not have an analogue in a higher world, does that mean that there is no negative moral weight to harming them?

  49. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    I keep alternately thinking of MMORPGs and religion throughout this discussion. 🙂
    We generally don’t contemplate the moral implications of killing NPCs… But we justify it because we don’t believe they’re conscious. A sufficiently self-aware NPC though, could be considered to be conscious, and to be able to feel pain.. In which case, I think the moral weight changes.

  50. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    I keep alternately thinking of MMORPGs and religion throughout this discussion. 🙂
    We generally don’t contemplate the moral implications of killing NPCs… But we justify it because we don’t believe they’re conscious. A sufficiently self-aware NPC though, could be considered to be conscious, and to be able to feel pain.. In which case, I think the moral weight changes.

  51. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    I suspect that, like with Gödel proofs, the low-resolution case is less interesting. What if the virtual people in this discussion were all complex enough to pass any AI test you choose, so that no experiment inside the Matrix could distinguish them from real people? (But an obvious one outside the Matrix could) Or to go even further, what if they were complex enough that they themselves did not know the difference?

  52. Re: It’s turtles all the way down
    I suspect that, like with Gödel proofs, the low-resolution case is less interesting. What if the virtual people in this discussion were all complex enough to pass any AI test you choose, so that no experiment inside the Matrix could distinguish them from real people? (But an obvious one outside the Matrix could) Or to go even further, what if they were complex enough that they themselves did not know the difference?

  53. Another interesting twist on this whole philosophical mess: Does the moral choice of whether to “wake” someone depend on the history that put them in the simulation world to begin with?
    Consider the following two cases:
    Person A was forced, against their will, into forgetting the real world and entering the simulation world.
    Person B chose freely (i.e. while sober, etc.), while still in the real world, to forget about the real world and enter the simulation world.
    Perhaps you find the choice of person B repugnant, but, hey, it was their choice. Forcefully waking them up is not unlike keeping someone from practicing their religion.

  54. Another interesting twist on this whole philosophical mess: Does the moral choice of whether to “wake” someone depend on the history that put them in the simulation world to begin with?
    Consider the following two cases:
    Person A was forced, against their will, into forgetting the real world and entering the simulation world.
    Person B chose freely (i.e. while sober, etc.), while still in the real world, to forget about the real world and enter the simulation world.
    Perhaps you find the choice of person B repugnant, but, hey, it was their choice. Forcefully waking them up is not unlike keeping someone from practicing their religion.

  55. It’s a good point. In the case of person A, you may need to balance the good of person A in the simulation against that of person A in the real world; whereas in the case B, you have their own wish to be in the simulation arguing against any intervention.

  56. It’s a good point. In the case of person A, you may need to balance the good of person A in the simulation against that of person A in the real world; whereas in the case B, you have their own wish to be in the simulation arguing against any intervention.


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