Timeless Identity

Fol­lowup to: No In­di­vi­d­ual Par­ti­cles, Iden­tity Isn’t In Spe­cific Atoms, Time­less Physics, Time­less Causality

Peo­ple have asked me, “What prac­ti­cal good does it do to dis­cuss quan­tum physics or con­scious­ness or zom­bies or per­sonal iden­tity? I mean, what’s the ap­pli­ca­tion for me in real life?”

Be­fore the end of to­day’s post, we shall see a real-world ap­pli­ca­tion with prac­ti­cal con­se­quences, for you, yes, you in to­day’s world. It is built upon many pre­req­ui­sites and deep foun­da­tions; you will not be able to tell oth­ers what you have seen, though you may (or may not) want des­per­ately to tell them. (Short of hav­ing them read the last sev­eral months of OB.)

In No In­di­vi­d­ual Par­ti­cles we saw that the in­tu­itive con­cep­tion of re­al­ity as lit­tle billiard balls bop­ping around, is en­tirely and ab­solutely wrong; the ba­sic on­tolog­i­cal re­al­ity, to the best of any­one’s pre­sent knowl­edge, is a joint con­figu­ra­tion space. Th­ese con­figu­ra­tions have math­e­mat­i­cal iden­tities like “A par­ti­cle here, a par­ti­cle there”, rather than “par­ti­cle 1 here, par­ti­cle 2 there” and the differ­ence is ex­per­i­men­tally testable. What might ap­pear to be a lit­tle billiard ball, like an elec­tron caught in a trap, is ac­tu­ally a mul­ti­plica­tive fac­tor in a wave­func­tion that hap­pens to ap­prox­i­mately fac­tor. The fac­tor­iza­tion of 18 in­cludes two fac­tors of 3, not one fac­tor of 3, but this doesn’t mean the two 3s have sep­a­rate in­di­vi­d­ual iden­tities—quan­tum me­chan­ics is sort of like that. (If that didn’t make any sense to you, sorry; you need to have fol­lowed the se­ries on quan­tum physics.)

In Iden­tity Isn’t In Spe­cific Atoms, we took this coun­ter­in­tu­itive truth of phys­i­cal on­tol­ogy, and pro­ceeded to kick hell out of an in­tu­itive con­cept of per­sonal iden­tity that de­pends on be­ing made of the “same atoms”—the in­tu­ition that you are the same per­son, if you are made out of the same pieces. But be­cause the brain doesn’t re­peat its ex­act state (let alone the whole uni­verse), the joint con­figu­ra­tion space which un­der­lies you, is nonover­lap­ping from one frac­tion of a sec­ond to the next. Or even from one Planck in­ter­val to the next. I.e., “you” of now and “you” of one sec­ond later do not have in com­mon any on­tolog­i­cally ba­sic el­e­ments with a shared per­sis­tent iden­tity.

Just from stan­dard quan­tum me­chan­ics, we can see im­me­di­ately that some of the stan­dard thought-ex­per­i­ments used to pump in­tu­itions in philo­soph­i­cal dis­cus­sions of iden­tity, are phys­i­cal non­sense. For ex­am­ple, there is a thought ex­per­i­ment that runs like this:

“The Scan­ner here on Earth will de­stroy my brain and body, while record­ing the ex­act states of all my cells. It will then trans­mit this in­for­ma­tion by ra­dio. Trav­el­ling at the speed of light, the mes­sage will take three min­utes to reach the Repli­ca­tor on Mars. This will then cre­ate, out of new mat­ter, a brain and body ex­actly like mine. It will be in this body that I shall wake up.”

This is Derek Parfit in the ex­cel­lent Rea­sons and Per­sons, p. 199—note that Parfit is de­scribing thought ex­per­i­ments, not nec­es­sar­ily en­dors­ing them.

There is an ar­gu­ment which Parfit de­scribes (but does not him­self en­dorse), and which I have seen many peo­ple spon­ta­neously in­vent, which says (not a quote):

Ah, but sup­pose an im­proved Scan­ner were in­vented, which scanned you non-de­struc­tively, but still trans­mit­ted the same in­for­ma­tion to Mars . Now, clearly, in this case, you, the origi­nal have sim­ply stayed on Earth, and the per­son on Mars is only a copy. There­fore this tele­porter is ac­tu­ally mur­der and birth, not travel at all—it de­stroys the origi­nal, and con­structs a copy!

Well, but who says that if we build an ex­act copy of you, one ver­sion is the priv­ileged origi­nal and the other is just a copy? Are you un­der the im­pres­sion that one of these bod­ies is con­structed out of the origi­nal atoms—that it has some kind of phys­i­cal con­ti­nu­ity the other does not pos­sess? But there is no such thing as a par­tic­u­lar atom, so the origi­nal-ness or new-ness of the per­son can’t de­pend on the origi­nal-ness or new-ness of the atoms.

(If you are now say­ing, “No, you can’t dis­t­in­guish two elec­trons yet, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same en­tity—” then you have not been fol­low­ing the se­ries on quan­tum me­chan­ics, or you need to reread it. Physics does not work the way you think it does. There are no lit­tle billiard balls bounc­ing around down there.)

If you fur­ther re­al­ize that, as a mat­ter of fact, you are split­ting all the time due to or­di­nary de­co­her­ence, then you are much more likely to look at this thought ex­per­i­ment and say: “There is no copy; there are two origi­nals.”

In­tu­itively, in your imag­i­na­tion, it might seem that one billiard ball stays in the same place on Earth, and an­other billiard ball has popped into place on Mars; so one is the “origi­nal”, and the other is the “copy”. But at a fun­da­men­tal level, things are not made out of billiard balls.

A sen­tient brain con­structed to atomic pre­ci­sion, and copied with atomic pre­ci­sion, could un­dergo a quan­tum evolu­tion along with its “copy”, such that, af­ter­ward, there would ex­ist no fact of the mat­ter as to which of the two brains was the “origi­nal”. In some Feyn­man di­a­grams they would ex­change places, in some Feyn­man di­a­grams not. The two en­tire brains would be, in ag­gre­gate, iden­ti­cal par­ti­cles with no in­di­vi­d­ual iden­tities.

Parfit, hav­ing dis­cussed the tele­por­ta­tion thought ex­per­i­ment, coun­ters the in­tu­itions of phys­i­cal con­ti­nu­ity with a differ­ent set of thought ex­per­i­ments:

“Con­sider an­other range of pos­si­ble cases: the Phys­i­cal Spec­trum. Th­ese cases in­volve all of the differ­ent pos­si­ble de­grees of phys­i­cal con­ti­nu­ity...

“In a case close to the near end, sci­en­tists would re­place 1% of the cells in my brain and body with ex­act du­pli­cates. In the case in the mid­dle of the spec­trum, they would re­place 50%. In a case near the far end, they would re­place 99%, leav­ing only 1% of my origi­nal brain and body. At the far end, the ‘re­place­ment’ would in­volve the com­plete de­struc­tion of my brain and body, and the cre­ation out of new or­ganic mat­ter of a Replica of me.”

(Rea­sons and Per­sons, p. 234.)

Parfit uses this to ar­gue against the in­tu­ition of phys­i­cal con­ti­nu­ity pumped by the first ex­per­i­ment: if your iden­tity de­pends on phys­i­cal con­ti­nu­ity, where is the ex­act thresh­old at which you cease to be “you”?

By the way, al­though I’m crit­i­ciz­ing Parfit’s rea­son­ing here, I re­ally liked Parfit’s dis­cus­sion of per­sonal iden­tity. It re­ally sur­prised me. I was ex­pect­ing a re­hash of the same ar­gu­ments I’ve seen on tran­shu­man­ist mailing lists over the last decade or more. Parfit gets much fur­ther than I’ve seen the mailing lists get. This is a sad ver­dict for the mailing lists. And as for Rea­sons and Per­sons, it well de­serves its fame.

But al­though Parfit ex­e­cuted his ar­gu­ments com­pe­tently and with great philo­soph­i­cal skill, those two par­tic­u­lar ar­gu­ments (Parfit has lots more!) are doomed by physics.

There just is no such thing as “new or­ganic mat­ter” that has a per­sis­tent iden­tity apart from “old or­ganic mat­ter”. No fact of the mat­ter ex­ists, as to which elec­tron is which, in your body on Earth or your body on Mars. No fact of the mat­ter ex­ists, as to how many elec­trons in your body have been “re­placed” or “left in the same place”. So both thought ex­per­i­ments are phys­i­cal non­sense.

Parfit seems to be enun­ci­at­ing his own opinion here (not Devil’s ad­vo­cat­ing) when he says:

“There are two kinds of same­ness, or iden­tity. I and my Replica are qual­i­ta­tively iden­ti­cal, or ex­actly al­ike. But we may not be nu­mer­i­cally iden­ti­cal, one and the same per­son. Similarly, two white billiard balls are not nu­mer­i­cally but may be qual­i­ta­tively iden­ti­cal. If I paint one of these balls red, it will cease to be qual­i­ta­tively iden­ti­cal with it­self as it was. But the red ball that I later see and the white ball that I painted red are nu­mer­i­cally iden­ti­cal. They are one and the same ball.” (p. 201.)

In the hu­man imag­i­na­tion, the way we have evolved to imag­ine things, we can imag­ine two qual­i­ta­tively iden­ti­cal billiard balls that have a fur­ther fact about them—their per­sis­tent iden­tity—that makes them dis­tinct.

But it seems to be a ba­sic les­son of physics that “nu­mer­i­cal iden­tity” just does not ex­ist. Where “qual­i­ta­tive iden­tity” ex­ists, you can set up quan­tum evolu­tions that re­fute the illu­sion of in­di­vi­d­u­al­ity—Feyn­man di­a­grams that sum over differ­ent per­mu­ta­tions of the iden­ti­cals.

We should always have been sus­pi­cious of “nu­mer­i­cal iden­tity”, since it was not ex­per­i­men­tally de­tectable; but physics swoops in and drop-kicks the whole ar­gu­ment out the win­dow.

Parfit p. 241:

“Re­duc­tion­ists ad­mit that there is a differ­ence be­tween nu­mer­i­cal iden­tity and ex­act similar­ity. In some cases, there would be a real differ­ence be­tween some per­son’s be­ing me, and his be­ing some­one else who is merely ex­actly like me.”

This re­duc­tion­ist ad­mits no such thing.

Parfit even de­scribes a wise-seem­ing re­duc­tion­ist re­fusal to an­swer ques­tions as to when one per­son be­comes an­other, when you are “re­plac­ing” the atoms in­side them. P. 235:

(The re­duc­tion­ist says:) “The re­sult­ing per­son will be psy­cholog­i­cally con­tin­u­ous with me as I am now. This is all there is to know. I do not know whether the re­sult­ing per­son will be me, or will be some­one else who is merely ex­actly like me. But this is not, here, a real ques­tion, which must have an an­swer. It does not de­scribe two differ­ent pos­si­bil­ities, one of which must be true. It is here an empty ques­tion. There is not a real differ­ence here be­tween the re­sult­ing per­son’s be­ing me, and his be­ing some­one else. This is why, even though I do not know whether I am about to die, I know ev­ery­thing.”

Al­most but not quite re­duc­tion­ist enough! When you mas­ter quan­tum me­chan­ics, you see that, in the thought ex­per­i­ment where your atoms are be­ing “re­placed” in var­i­ous quan­tities by “differ­ent” atoms, noth­ing what­so­ever is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing—the thought ex­per­i­ment it­self is phys­i­cally empty.

So this re­duc­tion­ist, at least, triumphantly says—not, “It is an empty ques­tion; I know ev­ery­thing that there is to know, even though I don’t know if I will live or die”—but sim­ply, “I will live; noth­ing hap­pened.”

This whole epi­sode is one of the main rea­sons why I hope that when I re­ally un­der­stand mat­ters such as these, and they have ceased to be mys­ter­ies unto me, that I will be able to give definite an­swers to ques­tions that seem like they ought to have definite an­swers.

And it is a rea­son why I am sus­pi­cious, of philoso­phies that too early—be­fore the dis­pel­ling of mys­tery—say, “There is no an­swer to the ques­tion.” Some­times there is no an­swer, but then the ab­sence of the an­swer comes with a shock of un­der­stand­ing, a click like thun­der, that makes the ques­tion van­ish in a puff of smoke. As op­posed to a dull empty sort of feel­ing, as of be­ing told to shut up and stop ask­ing ques­tions.

And an­other les­son: Though the thought ex­per­i­ment of hav­ing atoms “re­placed” seems easy to imag­ine in the ab­stract, any­one know­ing a fully de­tailed phys­i­cal vi­su­al­iza­tion would have im­me­di­ately seen that the thought ex­per­i­ment was phys­i­cal non­sense. Let zom­bie the­o­rists take note!

Ad­di­tional physics can shift our view of iden­tity even fur­ther:

In Time­less Physics, we looked at a spec­u­la­tive, but even more beau­tiful view of quan­tum me­chan­ics: We don’t need to sup­pose the am­pli­tude dis­tri­bu­tion over the con­figu­ra­tion space is chang­ing, since the uni­verse never re­peats it­self. We never see any par­tic­u­lar joint con­figu­ra­tion (of the whole uni­verse) change am­pli­tude from one time to an­other; from one time to an­other, the uni­verse will have ex­panded. There is just a time­less am­pli­tude dis­tri­bu­tion (aka wave­func­tion) over a con­figu­ra­tion space that in­cludes com­pressed con­figu­ra­tions of the uni­verse (early times) and ex­panded con­figu­ra­tions of the uni­verse (later times).

Then we will need to dis­cover peo­ple and their iden­tities em­bod­ied within a time­less set of re­la­tions be­tween con­figu­ra­tions that never re­peat them­selves, and never change from one time to an­other.

As we saw in Time­less Beauty, time­less physics is beau­tiful be­cause it would make ev­ery­thing that ex­ists ei­ther perfectly global—like the uniform, ex­cep­tion­less laws of physics that ap­ply ev­ery­where and ev­ery­when—or perfectly lo­cal—like points in the con­figu­ra­tion space that only af­fect or are af­fected by their im­me­di­ate lo­cal neigh­bor­hood. Every­thing that ex­ists fun­da­men­tally, would be qual­i­ta­tively unique: there would never be two fun­da­men­tal en­tities that have the same prop­er­ties but are not the same en­tity.

(Note: The you on Earth, and the you on Mars, are not on­tolog­i­cally ba­sic. You are fac­tors of a joint am­pli­tude dis­tri­bu­tion that is on­tolog­i­cally ba­sic. Sup­pose the in­te­ger 18 ex­ists: the fac­tor­iza­tion of 18 will in­clude two fac­tors of 3, not one fac­tor of 3. This does not mean that in­side the Pla­tonic in­te­ger 18 there are two lit­tle 3s hang­ing around with per­sis­tent iden­tities, liv­ing in differ­ent houses.)

We also saw in Time­less Causal­ity that the end of time is not nec­es­sar­ily the end of cause and effect; causal­ity can be defined (and de­tected statis­ti­cally!) with­out men­tion­ing “time”. This is im­por­tant be­cause it pre­serves ar­gu­ments about per­sonal iden­tity that rely on causal con­ti­nu­ity rather than “phys­i­cal con­ti­nu­ity”.

Pre­vi­ously I drew this di­a­gram of you in a time­less, branch­ing uni­verse:


To un­der­stand many-wor­lds: The gold head only re­mem­bers the green heads, cre­at­ing the illu­sion of a unique line through time, and the in­tu­itive ques­tion, “Where does the line go next?” But it goes to both pos­si­ble fu­tures, and both pos­si­ble fu­tures will look back and see a sin­gle line through time. In many-wor­lds, there is no fact of the mat­ter as to which fu­ture you per­son­ally will end up in. There is no copy; there are two origi­nals.

To un­der­stand time­less physics: The heads are not pop­ping in and out of ex­is­tence as some Global Now sweeps for­ward. They are all just there, each think­ing that now is a differ­ent time.

In Time­less Causal­ity I drew this di­a­gram:


This was part of an illus­tra­tion of how we could statis­ti­cally dis­t­in­guish left-flow­ing causal­ity from right-flow­ing causal­ity—an ar­gu­ment that cause and effect could be defined re­la­tion­ally, even the ab­sence of a chang­ing global time. And I said that, be­cause we could keep cause and effect as the glue that binds con­figu­ra­tions to­gether, we could go on try­ing to iden­tify ex­pe­riences with com­pu­ta­tions em­bod­ied in flows of am­pli­tude, rather than hav­ing to iden­tify ex­pe­riences with in­di­vi­d­ual con­figu­ra­tions.

But both di­a­grams have a com­mon flaw: they show dis­crete nodes, con­nected by dis­crete ar­rows. In re­al­ity, physics is con­tin­u­ous.

So if you want to know “Where is the com­pu­ta­tion? Where is the ex­pe­rience?” my best guess would be to point to some­thing like a di­rec­tional braid:


This is not a braid of mov­ing par­ti­cles. This is a braid of in­ter­ac­tions within close neigh­bor­hoods of time­less con­figu­ra­tion space.


Every point in­ter­sected by the red line is unique as a math­e­mat­i­cal en­tity; the points are not mov­ing from one time to an­other. How­ever, the am­pli­tude at differ­ent points is re­lated by phys­i­cal laws; and there is a di­rec­tion of causal­ity to the re­la­tions.

You could say that the am­pli­tude is flow­ing, in a river that never changes, but has a di­rec­tion.

Em­bod­ied in this time­less flow are com­pu­ta­tions; within the com­pu­ta­tions, ex­pe­riences. The ex­pe­riences’ com­pu­ta­tions’ con­figu­ra­tions might even over­lap each other:


In the causal re­la­tions cov­ered by the rec­t­an­gle 1, there would be one mo­ment of Now; in the causal re­la­tions cov­ered by the rec­t­an­gle 2, an­other mo­ment of Now. There is a causal di­rec­tion be­tween them: 1 is the cause of 2, not the other way around. The rec­t­an­gles over­lap—though I re­ally am not sure if I should be draw­ing them with over­lap or not—be­cause the com­pu­ta­tions are em­bod­ied in some of the same con­figu­ra­tions. Or if not, there is still causal con­ti­nu­ity be­cause the end state of one com­pu­ta­tion is the start state of an­other.

But on an on­tolog­i­cally fun­da­men­tal level, noth­ing with a per­sis­tent iden­tity moves through time.

Even the braid it­self is not on­tolog­i­cally fun­da­men­tal; a hu­man brain is a fac­tor of a larger wave­func­tion that hap­pens to fac­tor­ize.

Then what is pre­served from one time to an­other? On an on­tolog­i­cally ba­sic level, ab­solutely noth­ing.

But you will re­call that I ear­lier talked about any per­tur­ba­tion which does not dis­turb your in­ter­nal nar­ra­tive, al­most cer­tainly not be­ing able to dis­turb what­ever is the true cause of your say­ing “I think there­fore I am”—this is why you can’t leave a per­son phys­i­cally un­altered, and sub­tract their con­scious­ness. When you look at a per­son on the level of or­ga­ni­za­tion of neu­rons firing, any­thing which does not dis­turb, or only in­finites­i­mally dis­turbs, the pat­tern of neu­rons firing—such as flip­ping a switch from across the room—ought not to dis­turb your con­scious­ness, or your per­sonal iden­tity.

If you were to de­scribe the brain on the level of neu­rons and synapses, then this de­scrip­tion of the fac­tor of the wave­func­tion that is your brain, would have a very great deal in com­mon, across differ­ent cross-sec­tions of the braid. The pat­tern of synapses would be “al­most the same”—that is, the de­scrip­tion would come out al­most the same—even though, on an on­tolog­i­cally ba­sic level, noth­ing that ex­ists fun­da­men­tally is held in com­mon be­tween them. The in­ter­nal nar­ra­tive goes on, and you can see it within the vastly higher-level view of the firing pat­terns in the con­nec­tion of synapses. The com­pu­ta­tional pat­tern com­putes, “I think there­fore I am”. The nar­ra­tive says, to­day and to­mor­row, “I am Eliezer Yud­kowsky, I am a ra­tio­nal­ist, and I have some­thing to pro­tect.” Even though, in the river that never flows, not a sin­gle drop of wa­ter is shared be­tween one time and an­other.

If there’s any ba­sis what­so­ever to this no­tion of “con­ti­nu­ity of con­scious­ness”—I haven’t quite given up on it yet, be­cause I don’t have any­thing bet­ter to cling to—then I would guess that this is how it works.

Oh… and I promised you a real-world ap­pli­ca­tion, didn’t I?

Well, here it is:

Many through­out time, tempted by the promise of im­mor­tal­ity, have con­sumed strange and of­ten fatal elix­irs; they have tried to bar­gain with dev­ils that failed to ap­pear; and done many other silly things.

But like all su­per­pow­ers, long-range life ex­ten­sion can only be ac­quired by see­ing, with a shock, that some way of get­ting it is perfectly nor­mal.

If you can see the mo­ments of now braided into time, the causal de­pen­den­cies of fu­ture states on past states, the high-level pat­tern of synapses and the in­ter­nal nar­ra­tive as a com­pu­ta­tion within it—if you can viscer­ally dis­pel the clas­si­cal hal­lu­ci­na­tion of a lit­tle billiard ball that is you, and see your nows strung out in the river that never flows—then you can see that sign­ing up for cry­on­ics, be­ing vit­rified in liquid ni­tro­gen when you die, and hav­ing your brain nan­otech­nolog­i­cally re­con­structed fifty years later, is ac­tu­ally less of a change than go­ing to sleep, dream­ing, and for­get­ting your dreams when you wake up.

You should be able to see that, now, if you’ve fol­lowed through this whole se­ries. You should be able to get it on a gut level—that be­ing vit­rified in liquid ni­tro­gen for fifty years (around 3e52 Planck in­ter­vals) is not very differ­ent from wait­ing an av­er­age of 2e26 Planck in­ter­vals be­tween neu­rons firing, on the gen­er­ous as­sump­tion that there are a hun­dred trillion synapses firing a thou­sand times per sec­ond. You should be able to see that there is noth­ing pre­served from one night’s sleep to the morn­ing’s wak­ing, which cry­onic sus­pen­sion does not pre­serve also. As­sum­ing the vit­rifi­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy is good enough for a suffi­ciently pow­er­ful Bayesian su­per­in­tel­li­gence to look at your frozen brain, and figure out “who you were” to the same re­s­olu­tion that your morn­ing’s wak­ing self re­sem­bles the per­son who went to sleep that night.

Do you know what it takes to se­curely erase a com­puter’s hard drive? Writ­ing it over with all ze­roes isn’t enough. Writ­ing it over with all ze­roes, then all ones, then a ran­dom pat­tern, isn’t enough. Some­one with the right tools can still ex­am­ine the fi­nal state of a sec­tion of mag­netic mem­ory, and dis­t­in­guish the state, “This was a 1 writ­ten over by a 1, then a 0, then a 1” from “This was a 0 writ­ten over by a 1, then a 0, then a 1″. The best way to se­curely erase a com­puter’s hard drive is to de­stroy it with ther­mite.

I re­ally don’t think that care­fully vit­rify­ing a brain to pre­vent ice crys­tal for­ma­tion and then freez­ing it in liquid ni­tro­gen is go­ing to be a se­cure erase pro­ce­dure, if you can ex­am­ine atomic-level differ­ences in the synapses.

Some­one hears about cry­on­ics and thinks for 10 sec­onds and says, “But if you’re frozen and then re­vived, are you re­ally the same per­son?

And if they hap­pened to know all about quan­tum physics and could ap­ply the ab­stract knowl­edge to real life, and they had fol­lowed the whole de­bate about zom­bies and re­solved it against epiphe­nom­e­nal­ism in gen­eral, then they would be able to vi­su­al­ize the braids in the river that never flows, and say, “Yes.”

But this knowl­edge is not com­mon.

So they die.

There are nu­mer­ous other rea­sons that peo­ple seize on, when they search for a ra­tio­nal­iza­tion for a nega­tive ini­tial flinch against cry­on­ics. And nu­mer­ous other knowl­edges that would be re­quired to an­swer those ob­jec­tions. “But wouldn’t it be bor­ing to live such a long time?” (Can be an­swered if you know he­do­nic psy­chol­ogy, and have de­vel­oped a the­ory of fun, and can vi­su­al­ize ac­cessible fun spaces that in­crease in vol­ume with in­creas­ing in­tel­li­gence.) “Why would fu­ture civ­i­liza­tions bother to re­vive me?” (Re­quires un­der­stand­ing ei­ther eco­nomic growth diminish­ing the cost, or knowl­edge of his­tory and how so­cieties have be­come kinder over time, or know­ing about Friendly AI.) “Isn’t it wrong to live so long?” (Re­quires know­ing about the “sour grapes” bias. See also tran­shu­man­ism as sim­plified hu­man­ism and the mean­ing that im­mor­tal­ity gives to life.) Then there’s the meta-knowl­edge of how to ques­tion all these deeply wise cached thoughts that pop into your head about the fu­til­ity of life; and the abil­ity to do things that might make peo­ple look at you weird, and so on...

Some of these are se­ries of posts I haven’t done yet. But if you an­ti­ci­pate up­dat­ing your prob­a­bil­ities when you read those fu­ture posts, then you should up­date them now. Or, if you pre­fer, trust me:

If you would rather live hap­pily ever af­ter, than die, and you are will­ing to spend be­tween $300 and $2000 per year(*) to ex­press this prefer­ence, then sign up for cry­on­ics.

If you’ve been cry­ocras­ti­nat­ing, putting off sign­ing up for cry­on­ics “un­til later”, don’t think that you’ve “got­ten away with it so far”. Many wor­lds, re­mem­ber? There are branched ver­sions of you that are dy­ing of can­cer, and not signed up for cry­on­ics, and it’s too late for them to get life in­surance.

See, know­ing about many wor­lds can help you vi­su­al­ize prob­a­bil­ities as fre­quen­cies, be­cause they usu­ally are.

It might en­courage you to get around to get­ting health in­surance, too, or wear­ing a helmet on your mo­tor­cy­cle, or what­ever: don’t think you’ve got­ten away with it so far.

And if you’re plan­ning to play the lot­tery, don’t think you might win this time. A van­ish­ingly small frac­tion of you wins, ev­ery time. So ei­ther learn to dis­count small frac­tions of the fu­ture by shut­ting up and mul­ti­ply­ing, or spend all your money on lot­tery tick­ets—your call.

It is a very im­por­tant les­son in ra­tio­nal­ity, that at any time, the En­vi­ron­ment may sud­denly ask you al­most any ques­tion, which re­quires you to draw on 7 differ­ent fields of knowl­edge. If you missed study­ing a sin­gle one of them, you may suffer ar­bi­trar­ily large penalties up to and in­clud­ing cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment. You can die for an an­swer you gave in 10 sec­onds, with­out re­al­iz­ing that a field of knowl­edge ex­isted of which you were ig­no­rant.

This is why there is a virtue of schol­ar­ship.

150,000 peo­ple die ev­ery day. Some of those deaths are truly un­avoid­able, but most are the re­sult of in­ad­e­quate knowl­edge of cog­ni­tive bi­ases, ad­vanced fu­tur­ism, and quan­tum me­chan­ics.(**)

If you dis­agree with my premises or my con­clu­sion, take a mo­ment to con­sider nonethe­less, that the very ex­is­tence of an ar­gu­ment about life-or-death stakes, what­ever po­si­tion you take in that ar­gu­ment, con­sti­tutes a suffi­cient les­son on the sud­den rele­vance of schol­ar­ship.

(*) The way cry­on­ics works is that you get a life in­surance policy, and the policy pays for your cry­onic sus­pen­sion. The Cry­on­ics In­sti­tute is the cheap­est provider, Al­cor is the high-class one. Rudi Hoff­man set up my own in­surance policy, with CI. I have no af­fili­ate agree­ments with any of these en­tities, nor, to my knowl­edge, do they have af­fili­ate agree­ments with any­one. They’re try­ing to look re­spectable, and so they rely on al­tru­ism and word-of-mouth to grow, in­stead of paid sales­peo­ple. So there’s a vastly smaller wor­ld­wide mar­ket for im­mor­tal­ity than lung-can­cer-in-a-stick. Wel­come to your Earth; it’s go­ing to stay this way un­til you fix it.

(**) Most deaths? Yes: If cry­on­ics were widely seen in the same terms as any other med­i­cal pro­ce­dure, economies of scale would con­sid­er­ably diminish the cost; it would be ap­plied rou­tinely in hos­pi­tals; and for­eign aid would en­able it to be ap­plied even in poor coun­tries. So chil­dren in Africa are dy­ing be­cause cit­i­zens and poli­ti­ci­ans and philan­thropists in the First World don’t have a gut-level un­der­stand­ing of quan­tum me­chan­ics.

Added: For some of the ques­tions that are be­ing asked, see Al­cor’s FAQ for sci­en­tists and Ben Best’s Cry­on­ics FAQ (archived snap­shot).

Part of The Quan­tum Physics Sequence

Next post: “Thou Art Physics

Pre­vi­ous post: “Time­less Causal­ity


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