Saturday, January 7, 2017

Looping and eternal pleasure

Scenario 1: You experience a day of deeply meaningful bliss and then are annihilated.

Scenario 2: You experience a day of deeply meaningful bliss and then travel back in time, with memories reset, to restart that very same day of an internally looping life.

Scenario 3: You experience a day of deeply meaningful bliss, over and over infinitely many times, with memories reset.

Here are some initial intuitions I have:

  1. Scenario 3 is much better than Scenario 1.

  2. Scenario 3 is at most a little better than Scenario 2.

But the following can be argued for:

  1. Scenario 2 is no better than Scenario 1.

After all, you experience exactly the same period of bliss in Scenarios 1 and 2. Granted, in Scenario 1 you are annihilated, but (a) that doesn’t hurt, and (b) the only harm from the annihilation is that your existence is limited to a single day, which is also the case in Scenario 2. Time travel is admittedly cool, but because of the memory reset in Scenario 2, you don’t get the satisfaction of knowing you’re a time-traveler.

This is a paradox. How to get out of it? I see two options:

  1. Deny the possibility of internal time loops.

  2. Affirm that Scenario 3 is much better than Scenario 2.

Regarding 4, one would also have to deny the possibility of external time loops. After all, it wouldn’t be significantly all that different for you if everybody’s time looped together in the same way, and so external time loops can be used to construct a variant on Scenario 2.

I personally like both 4 and 5.

Objection: On psychological theories of personal identity, memory reset is death and hence in Scenario 3 you only live one day.

Response 1: Psychological theories of personal identity are false.

Response 2: Modify Scenario 3. Before that day of bliss, you have a completely neutral day. On each of the days of deeply meaningful bliss, you remember that neutral day, but then have amnesia with respect to the last 24-hour period once each blissful day ends. By psychological theories, there is identity between the person on each blissful day and the neutral day, and hence by symmetry and transitivity of identity, there is identity between the person over all the blissful days.

Note: Scenario 1 is inspired by a question by user “Red”.


Unknown said...

I'm not so sure scenario 2 is no better than 1. As I take it, phycological theories of identity are false, and so this becomes a question between preferring that someone either die or live. If I had to answer it for myself, I would rather live than die--even if it was not evident *to me* that my life was "over" in a sense. I don't hold a "utilitarian" view of the sole and identity: just because *I* don't get much use out of my existence anymore doesn't mean I'd rather it dead. One reason for this comes from the consideration that to prefer scenario 1 is to prefer that His Creation be destroyed. Perhaps by asking it as a question for someone to answer for themselves you'll get less original responses since much of the debate could come down to whether suicide is a valid option.

Since the person is not supposed to be aware of what's happening, you empower the person answering with exactly what he's supposed to lack in these scenarios: extended memory between life cycles. So, maybe one could examine this without their own life in question? Regardless, I still thought this was a very interesting observation: "the only harm from the annihilation is that your existence is limited to a single day, which is also the case in Scenario 2. " I guess I would just disagree that that's "the only harm done," on that grand scale.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I think, if time travel weren't completely incoherent, Scenarios 2 and 3 might be equivalent. Every time I think I understand a reason why 2 is slightly worse than 3, I run into an incoherency in time travel simpliciter. I just don't think it's possible to use language correctly (i.e. to speak meaningfully) when discussing time travel.

Now, it would be infinitely greater to have Scenario 4, which lets me live different perfect days forever (which is what I think the Bible teaches that we will have here on Earth... Ps. 37:11, 29; Ps. 72:7; Rev. 21:3, 4; etc etc). However, I don't think Scenario 3 and 1 are equal, if for no other reason than that, at any given moment on Scenario 3, I am experiencing goodness, no?....

Alexander R Pruss said...


Yeah, I've wondered about that. Circular life is an interesting way of posing the question about the badness of death. If Jim lives for a day linearly and Sally lives for a day circularly, they have the same length of life, but Jim *dies* and Sally does not. Is there something more to death than a limitation on the length of life?

Red said...

Pruss and Jo :
Don't you think death will feel same as sleeping . so if sleep is good,Death(annihilation) will be good?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Socrates argued that if there is no life after death, then death is like dreamless sleep, and dreamless sleep is good. But I think dreamless sleep is only good because it makes one rest for future activity. Being in dreamless sleep for decades seems pretty terrible--it's a coma.

Unknown said...

"Don't you think death will feel same as sleeping . so if sleep is good,Death(annihilation) will be good?"

I once heard someone say, "if there's nothing after death, then there's nothing to be afraid of!" Either way, I honestly think these represent simplistic understandings of the implications of eternal non-existence. Sure, from nothing we may have come--but to go back to nothing would make it so that, to us, it was as if we never existed at all.

To go deeper with what Dr. Pruss said, it's not the qualifier of rehabilitation that makes rest meaningful but the lack of future existence, as a lack of future existence is the permanent inexistent of what once existed. If there were no afterlife, then sure, we won't be in pain--but that's just it: we won't be in anything! Without a future we all fall under the same sending no matter what we do now, rendering everything that we did before this result meaningless. I see the practicality in doing what can be done for happiness's sake for now, but that's still just pragmatism. If we die as you say, then there's no judgement to even make upon whether it is good or not. On that view, way you feel about things doesn't matter. The way you love people, enjoy philosophy and reading, food, friendships, all our hopes and dreams and promises kept or lost would cease and never be again.

People will say, "without God there is no meaning; nevertheless, I will create meaning," however: something is not meaningful just because one says it is. Either it is objectively so or not, as the aspiration to give meaning to life is a truth claim to objectivity: that of a possibility or an achieved goal. But if it comes down to one's own power in "creating meaning," then it comes down to the subjective desires of that person, and what is called "meaning" becomes just a useful pragmatic fiction

Unknown said...

"Is there something more to death than a limitation on the length of life?"

No, the limitation of the length of life is length is death indeed. However, the length of observed life by the person in question (i.e. a person looping forever but experiencing the same day has his life limited only insofar as it is the life which he experiences) v.s. the actual length of that persons' life.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I wouldn't only appeal to the wrongness of suicide for justifying my "non-utilitarian" view of identity. Here's another argument in favor which may have some plausibility:

If it were true that premise 2 was practically equal to premise 1, then it would be morally permissible to murder someone if they only had one day left to live if that day was going to be an exact repeat--at least to their knowledge--of yesterday. This is because it holds true at any repeat of the cycle in scenario 2 that the person in question does not know that he is dead.