If there are five murder worlds branching off from myself at 17, then there are five no matter what.

That's equivalent to saying "if at the moment of my 17th birthday there is a probability 5% that I will murder someone, then in that moment there is a probability 5% that I will murder someone no matter what". I agree with this.

there's still a fixed number of murder worlds extending from the day I was born, and there's nothing I can do to change that.

That's equivalent to saying "if at the day I was born there is an X% chance that I will become a murderer, there is nothing I can do to change that probability on that day". True; you can't travel back in time and create a counterfactual universe.

Is that a faulty case of determinism?

It is explained here, without the Many Words.

Short summary: You are mixing together two different views -- timeful and timeless view. In timeful view you can say "today at 12:00 I decided to kill my neighbor", and it makes sense. Then you switch to a position of a ceiling cat, an independent observer outside of our universe, outside of our time, and say "I cannot change the fact that today at 12:00 I killed my neighbor". Yes, it also makes sense; if something happened, it cannot non-happen. But we confusing two narrators here: the real you, and the ceiling cat. You decided to kill your neighbor. The ceiling cat cannot decide that you didn't, because the ceiling cat does not live in this universe; it can only observe what you did. The reason you killed your neighbor is that you, existing in this universe, have decided to do so. You are the cause. The ceiling cat sees your action as determined, because it is outside of the universe.

If we apply it to Many World hypothesis, there are 100 different yous, and one ceiling cat. From those, 5 yous commit murder (because they decided to do so), and 95 don't (because they decided otherwise, or just failed to murder successfully). Inside the universes, the 5 yous are murderers, the 95 are not. The ceiling cat may decide to blame those 95 for the actions of those 5, but that's the ceiling cat's decision. It should at least give you credit for keeping the ratio 5:95 instead of e.g. 50:50.

Would you be willing to commit to an a priori ethical principle such that ought implies can?

That's tricky. In some sense, we can't do anything unless the atoms in our bodies do it; and our atoms are following that laws of physics. In some sense, there is no such thing as "can", if we want to examine things on the atom level. (And that's equally true in Many Worlds as in One World; only in One World there is also a randomness in the equations.) In other sense, humans are decision-makers. But we are decision-makers built from atoms, not decision-makers about the atoms we are built from.

So my answer would be that "ought" implies psychological "can"; not atomic "can". (Because the whole ethics exists on psychological level, not on atomic level.)


Short summary: You are mixing together two different views -- timeful and timeless view.

This sounds right to me, and I think your subsequent analysis is on target. So we have two views, the timeless view and the timeful view and we can't (at least directly) translate ethical principles like 'minimize evils' across the views. So say we grant this and move on from here. Maybe my question is just that the timeless view is one in which ethics seems to make no sense (or at least not the same kind of sense), and the timeful view is a view in which it is a pressing concern. Would you object to that?

Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 3

by OpenThreadGuy 1 min read7th Jul 2012209 comments


From the last thread:

From Costanza's original thread (entire text):

"This is for anyone in the LessWrong community who has made at least some effort to read the sequences and follow along, but is still confused on some point, and is perhaps feeling a bit embarrassed. Here, newbies and not-so-newbies are free to ask very basic but still relevant questions with the understanding that the answers are probably somewhere in the sequences. Similarly, LessWrong tends to presume a rather high threshold for understanding science and technology. Relevant questions in those areas are welcome as well.  Anyone who chooses to respond should respectfully guide the questioner to a helpful resource, and questioners should be appropriately grateful. Good faith should be presumed on both sides, unless and until it is shown to be absent.  If a questioner is not sure whether a question is relevant, ask it, and also ask if it's relevant."


  • How often should these be made? I think one every three months is the correct frequency.
  • Costanza made the original thread, but I am OpenThreadGuy. I am therefore not only entitled but required to post this in his stead. But I got his permission anyway.



  • I still haven't figured out a satisfactory answer to the previous meta question, how often these should be made. It was requested that I make a new one, so I did.
  • I promise I won't quote the entire previous threads from now on. Blockquoting in articles only goes one level deep, anyway.