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Moral consequences of the MWI?

  1. Sep 14, 2009 #1
    I cant stop thinking about my poor copies in alternative branches. Because of some weird quantum fluctuations in my brain these copies had attacked people for nothing, killed cops, and now have to serve very long time in prison...

    Also, I definitely have some injured/paralyzed copies.

    You would probablly say: "the probability of these branches is very very low". But I dont think that the probability affects the 'feeling of being real'. For example, generate 100 random decimal digits using true (quantum-noise based) random generator. Read this 100 digit number. Now you are on one of 10^100 branches. Do you feel yourself 10^100 less real then a minute before? No...
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2009
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  3. Sep 14, 2009 #2


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    Would this change anything morally though? Whether you achieve a local determinism via classical newtonianism or MWI? Either way, you would have "no choice" as you now believe your actions are micro-determined. Whether your past was a straight line of causality or just a particular path through an infinitely branching history.
  4. Sep 14, 2009 #3
    Newtonian or Bohmian determinish is very different from the MWI determinism. In BM all future events are pre-coded in the initial conditions. In MWI system initial conditions can be vary simple, but as everyhting happens system evolves filling all voids in the universum.

    Next (it probably deserves a separate thread) determinism != no free will. Free will can exist even in the deterministic universes.

    So what she be my motivation for doing this but not doing that?
  5. Sep 14, 2009 #4


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    Of course I don't believe in this as an approach to freewill. And most discussions of freewill don't even start with a realistic description of the human situation.

    But just to run with the interesting question you raise, I still can't see the crucial difference between a micro-causal thread running deterministically through a newtonian universe, or a second micro-causal thread running pseudo-deterministically through a MWI labyrinth of worlds.

    In the MWI version, surely it is still the case that once a branch is "chosen", no other choice was possible for that branch?
  6. Sep 14, 2009 #5


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    Hi Dmitry. Who or what is this "me" you're referring to? Sounds like a dualistic assumtion. Doesn't all conscious phenomena stem from some material interactions? Aren't we all nothing more than the interaction of molecules?
  7. Sep 14, 2009 #6
  8. Sep 14, 2009 #7
    I don't know if I'd answer as strongly as Dmitry, but the idea that consciousness is totally reducible to physical entities and interactions is an assumption. It seems to require a leap of faith. Cartesian doubt proves our own consciousness, but proof of anything empirical or physical is harder to achieve, if not impossible.

    The view that everything is physical is probably most commonly known as reductive physicalism, although there may be some additional features in typical reductive physicalism. See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/. You mentioned dualism, so you probably already knew about all of this. Forgive me for posting for the sake of the thread :smile:.
  9. Sep 14, 2009 #8
    I agree with apeiron's post and don't see what MWI adds to the discussion about free will. I have seen it mentioned before that there is no choice at all in MWI and that even within branches there is no such thing as probability. If this claim is made, then moral responsibility is already lost.

    Either choice in MWI is the same as in any other physical theory, or there is no choice at all. Either the world is deterministic or not, and the usual arguments follow.
  10. Sep 14, 2009 #9
    Still there is something probability-like in MWI. Say, "intensity" of a branch. So even for MWIers there is a difference between likely and unlikely branches. So I am good in some branches and I am evil in the other branches, but can we define some norm over these branches saying that in most of the branches I am good?

    Also, are you aware that if (which is very likely) our Universe in infinite in space, then ANY theory looks very MWI-like because you are represented by an infinite number of copies on the clones of the Earth very very far from each other.
  11. Sep 14, 2009 #10
    Not necessarily. Numbers are infinite yet no two numbers are the same. It looks very likely that there are no repeated patterns in the infinite digits of pi either.

    I don't know that we can make judgments about events in worlds that are theoretically isolated from us and are unknowable. I'd just stick to moral judgments about my own current branch.
  12. Sep 14, 2009 #11
    No, ti is impossible because limited space can contain only limited amount of information (lets forget about the BM hidden variables). Hence, if you are God filling infinite Universe with stars, planets etc, then very soon he will run out of different configurations.
  13. Sep 14, 2009 #12
    But how do you know what branch is yours, if, until some moment, all macroscopic events are the same?
  14. Sep 14, 2009 #13

    We are the highly specific emergent phenomenon of the interaction of specific molecules arranged in a very specific configuration.

    The interactions of biochemicals may be deterministic, but the system they create – the cell – has emergent properties with new rules and, thus, more degrees of freedom. Groups of cells interacting together as a single system – an organism(e.g. human being) – give rise to even more emergent properties, with even more rules and, thus, even more degrees of freedom. The result is the emergence of the mind. Deterministic reductionism is a dead end that leads to confusion and unnecessary human drama.

    If it were only bottom-up causality, we would be determined and unfree slaves– but the fact is that we are a nested set of bottom-up, followed by top-down interacting causality. Look around you, our whole planet is abundant with different levels of emergent phenomena - it is not talked much about because science starts at the multi body system. How many molecules of H2O are needed to create surface tension? At what count does water emerge with all of its properties - viscosity, temperature, etc?
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2009
  15. Sep 14, 2009 #14

    The world(s) in MWI is pretty abstract. If you truly believe in the MWI, why would you care so much for an abstraction?

    What happens to energy conservation in MWI if you insist on 'real' branches?
  16. Sep 14, 2009 #15


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    Why should determinism (or mental causation for that matter) have anything to do with dualism? P-consciousness can be supervenient on the physical, and potentially have a causal influence. I don't see any logic to suggest that mental causation requires dualism.

    The much harder proof is to show that mental causation exists.
  17. Sep 14, 2009 #16


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    Assuming you accept some kind of dualist notion, who or what are you assigning moral responsibility to? In other words, if MWI is true, then in each case we'll assume there's a material person that splits off at every possible quantum event. In this case, there are multiple copies of 'you', one for each world.

    Are you assuming each has it's own unique soul? Are you assuming every copy shares the same soul? Or is there another alternative? What is this 'me' you refer to that has 'moral responsibility'?
  18. Sep 14, 2009 #17


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    The difference would be that in newtonian determinism, it was determined that your current state is determined. And in MWI, it would be an accident that you found yourself on some individually deterministic world trajectory. Or rather "accident" as the wider view that would reveal the whole branching family tree is unknowable (the worlds are isolate and not summing over histories).

    This is a hard argument to counter, I agree. If we assume actual infinity. But I think it may be possible to attack this along the lines that probabilities work in two directions. There is the probability of something happening against the probability circumstances will weigh against it. Both of these would be amplified by infinite scale of being, and if the negatives outweigh the positives, then one would be a larger infinity (following cantor's hierarchy).

    So I think that in every turn of the development of a complex situation, like you and me existing exactly as we are at this moment, there would be many more opportunities for things to have gone other ways along the line (though this in turn is a point that hinges on my disbelief in strict causal determinism, and preference for an ontology of vague beginnings).

    Anyway, the negative turns would easily drown out the positive turns even when amplified to infinity (indeed, infinity may make exact replicas less likely if this approach holds!).

    At least this seems a more intuitive outcome than the Tegmarkian infinite clones approach.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2009
  19. Sep 14, 2009 #18

    Just a small note - I think the generally agreed view is that branching of real universes under MWI works only within the constraints of the laws of physics. I.e. outcomes that violate the Newtonean laws, do not actualise in a real universe like ours and this puts us always on a deterministic comprehensible course without resorting to luck or miracles.
  20. Sep 14, 2009 #19


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    Agreed, the fact that even MWI would have to be constrained by generally prevailing laws is an important point - part of my instinctive reasons to reject it in the first place. How do the laws prevail across separated worlds? There is no mechanism in MWI that connects developing initial conditions to emergent laws, and this is a deep objection from a systems perspective.

    So my own view would instead be more like a radical sum over histories ontology. At any local quantum-scale instance, perhaps anything actually is possible. There are no laws constraining the (vague) potential. But then the universe is a developing system that has laws encoded in its fabric - it is a process that entrains entropy in the way a vortex is a self-organised dissipative structure that sucks a surrounding random flow into an ordered structure. And so it is the universe that selects the QM outcomes that "fit" with what has already crisply happened during its history.

    This would tie into a decoherence interpretation, and also take a teleological Cramer-style interactionalist approach seriously. So the laws don't exist floating outside the universe. They are instead the shape and memory of the system that acts to select the material events - turning quantum vagueness into crisp classical outcomes that fit the developing story.

    But still, the OPs point was that our observation of our history is always located. And does it make any difference if the only causal path we can see is the actual determinism of a Newtonian trajectory or the faux-determinism of MWI?

    I can't see that there is a visible difference. But as you point out, this is really because the focus is on the micro-causality and not the macro-causality. Newtonianism and MWI are both precisely theories that cannot see the wood for the trees. And people then repeat that basic lack of sytems perspective when they turn to neurology and human action.

    The freewill story is of course as much about the macro-causality of social constraints (the laws of society - the limits imposed by sociology, anthropology and ecology) as about the micro-causality of neurons and brain architecture.

    And you can see how human society is a developing system with a history and memory that acts downwards to constrain local individual choce. Society - in its most extreme western form - looks down from on high and tells us to make creative individual choices. So it imposes a freedom. And then it also gives us the context for making those choices. We are supposed to use our freedom in the best way we can to further society's global goals. Goals like growth, domination, etc.

    The idea of the autonomous individual was a powerful expansionary meme born in ancient Greece, drove ancient Rome, became woven into Christianity to make it the most aggressively exported creed, then eventually led to the Western technological revolution and exponential resource consumption (or rape of the planet as we might also call it). Western civilisation is a dissipative structure supreme.

    Freewill is an illusion, not because humans are micro-determined but because choice is a "gift" imposed on us by society for a reason. Its reason. Or the second law of thermodynamics reason, in the wider view. We are granted a wider range of actions because there is a system waiting to select what "fits" from that creative variety. We will act - perhaps even randomly by some lights - and there is a system that can punish and reward, amplify or suppress, accordingly.
  21. Sep 15, 2009 #20
    Yes, what most puzzles me is the soul. In MWI time is a tree, not a line. Is soul also a tree? Can I go to the hell and the heaven simulataneusly?
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