I don't think I understand the riddle of experience vs. memory. I would daresay that means the concept is half-baked.
Within the TED talk, Daniel Kahneman poses the probably familiar philosophical quandary: if you could take a beautiful vacation and afterwards your memory and photo album was completely erased, would you still do it? Whether you would still do it illustrates whether you live in service of the experiencing self instead of the remembering self.
Part of what prevents me from understanding the riddle is that I believe vacations are worth more than the memories and photos: vacations change you.
Maybe you could argue that this change is also a form of memory in service to the remembering self, but I'm not sure that's what he meant. In his thought experiment on vacations he asks if you would still take a vacation if, at the end of it, you forgot the whole thing and all of your photos were deleted.
- a chance to unwind from not having to work
- a chance to heal, because you break normal patterns of repetitive stress (e.g. not sitting at a desk all day for a week or two)
- a chance to work out every day in a different way
- developing your "worldliness"; e.g. opening your mind a bit, because you've likely met new and different people
- come back with a sweet tan
- come back with more Facebook friends
- come back with extra dives in your SCUBA log book
- new delicious condiments in your kitchen
- flashes of insight you get from having some time to consider a 30,000 foot view of your life
- surprisingly large dip in your bank account balance (so much personal development awaits)
- if you're lucky (or maybe unlucky), you discover new modalities of being and abandon your current way of life
If I were Kahneman and I had posed that riddle, I would object that the entire point of the thought experiment is to consider the activity as being of no future utility whatsoever. Just observing the way people behave every day, most of us choose to indulge in pleasures that have no future utility (and in some cases have negative future utility) all the time. We eat junk food, watch TV, waste time watching cat videos. Things that would not obviously be missed if they could not be got.
Sorry, I don't follow you. If you were Kahneman you would have posed the riddle differently? Or are you saying that I'm unfairly describing it?
What I mean is "this is what I think he intended".
Understood. In that case, I disagree on this point.
Are you sure there's no future utility? Doesn't resisting these useless but pleasurable activities deplete the ego? Doesn't depleted ego lead to bad decision-making?
This is not to say that every time a parole judges eat a brownie it's because they're trying to protect their ability to make sound decisions, merely that I don't agree that it's the same as taking a vacation that totally evaporates when it's over.
For at least some of the stuff I do, yes I'm sure. You can easily reduce this ego-depletion argument to absurdity by supposing that foregoing every minor indulgence is ego-depleting and that you should never deny yourself. Even that there exists some activity B with higher (expected) future utility than activity A, but lower present utility, which we sometimes nevertheless forego in favour of higher immediate returns shows that we don't act to maximise future utility; you lose out on the difference in opportunity cost.
To suggest that such activities B don't exist, or that we never choose them, is to suggest that (at least some) human beings are entirely "subjectively rational", i.e. always make the choice they believe to yield optimal future benefit. If you know any such person see if you can gather up a few hair samples so we can clone him!
Alright, let's say I agree that in the space of all possible activities there exist some pleasurable activities that have zero future utility.
Couldn't we die at any minute? Given this, shouldn't we always do the pleasurable thing so long as there's no negative utility and no opportunity cost because there's a small chance it'll be the last thing we do?
Doesn't choosing the beautiful vacation that evaporates when it's over have the benefit that if we die in the middle of it, life was just that much more pleasant?
I guess I don't understand why someone would choose not to take the vacation.
The problem with this (I think, I'm not that hot on decision theory) is that you can pretty much never assign an opportunity cost of zero to an activity unless your life depends on it, as would be the case for breathing. For as long as we're given no reason to believe our life will end at any particular point, you have to calculate your opportunity costs on the assumption that you'll continue to live. At least, it seems that way in the general case. You could push this too far by assuming you'll never die, and therefore you'll perpetually forego short-term gains for some massive payoff you expect to get infinitely far into the future.
I think your confusion comes from an underspecification of the initial problem. Are only your memories reset, leaving more subtle personality or physical changes in place (Where did this tan come from?!? Why am I so relaxed?), or are your brain and body (and the rest of the world) entirely reset to the way it was before you went on the vacation? Really, the problem doesn't specify what it means by "not remember the trip" well enough.
Not if everything is reset back to the way it was!
I think the problem is meant to imply that there would be no way of ever telling you were on the trip; if you took a vacation and then afterwards your body and mind were reset to the way they were before the trip, as were everyone else's, and all evidence of the trip was destroyed, would you take it? Your list of vacation features are all things that, to me, are implicitly implied to be reverted back to previous settings after the vacation.
Isn't there a medical condition that makes people forget the waking period after they go to sleep, and so begin the next day with a mindset (progressively) falling behind the world? Suppose you offer someone with this condition a half-day-long experience which would be as worthy (considering their actual goals) as anything they would ever have a chance of doing, if they agree to forget it immediately?
How much is half a day worth, if you only have a day, yet are reasonably certain you'all be around tomorrow?
He doesn't say that though. Perhaps he meant to imply that. Let's suppose he did, what does the experiencing vs remembering self model say about that?
You would start building memories. As you build them you're servicing the experiencing self, and over the course of the vacation your remembering self can recall the things you did earlier in the vacation. Finally the vacation ends and time resets to before the vacation and it's all gone, memories, sunburn. All of your new Facebook friends are strangers again.
If this is the problem he meant to specify then I'm still confused. Isn't this vacation model a microcosm of life? One day it ends, and everything is gone. Do you still bother living it? Is talking about a vacation that resets just less likely to trigger existential angst in the audience than asking people to think about why they bother living?
A different but related question that (I feel) makes the dilemma clearer:
Is there any cause that you would be willing to be tortured for if you were assured that your memories of the torture (and all subconscious aftereffects) would be subsequently erased, but would be unwilling to be tortured for if there were no such assurance?
Introducing a hard mind reset would be a massively negative feature of the vacation, regardless of how I feel about having fun with activities that bring no future benefit.
From Yudkowsky's Epistle to the New York Less Wrongians:
If you mainly value brownie-eating memories, this is perfectly reasonable advice. If you instead you eat brownies for the experience, it is unhelpful, since eating half a brownie means the experience is either half as long or less intense.
Is this the sort of thing you're looking for?
I think the issue runs deeper, I call it the "Is the future you always right?" problem.
Consider a classic willpower problem, you want to lose weight but you also want to eat that cake. It is a debate between current you, who wants to enjoy the cake, and future you, who wants to be not fat. Time preference / time discounting and all that. The issue is, if you always choose current self, you will be an unhealthy addicted trainwreck, and if you alway choose future self, you per definition never enjoy anything now. Usually people say the virtuous thing to do is to choose your future self. But is it?
I don't think it's quite right to frame this as a debate between current-you and future-you. Future-you doesn't exist yet and as such is in no position to debate anything with anyone. It's a debate within current-you between the interests of current-you and future-you. If you want to model it as a debate between sub-agents, they're "short-term current-you" and "long-term current-you".
I think everyone agrees that you shouldn't always give priority to future-you. (Consider e.g. an extreme miser who lives as if in poverty while hoarding huge sums for later use. Though one could instead object on the grounds that they probably aren't really acting in the best interests of future-them.) But our natural inclination is to overprioritize current-us by so large a margin that "weigh the future more heavily!" is almost always good advice for most of us.
(Just as, on most accounts of ethics that people are prepared to endorse explicitly, "weigh other people's interests more heavily!" is almost always good advice for leading a morally better life even though it's possible in theory to go too far and destroy one's life in the name of helping others. Here, again, in uncontroversial cases of going too far it's probably possible to argue that the person who went too far didn't actually optimize for other people's lives because they'd have been able to help more by not wrecking their own.)
Another way to think about it: suppose your timeline is forked, and in one fork you go on vacation. That timeline is subsequently terminated, after "the experience" happens. Leaving aside the moral issues of terminating a timeline (say, you have no choice in the matter, laws of physics force it, etc.), would you want the fork to happen? This should be easier to deal with, as it has zero consequences for the other timeline.
Yes? What are the consequences of not letting the fork happen?
There are no consequences except knowing that there would be no experience you don't remember afterwards, which seems like exactly what you asked.
I could imagine calling all the changes that take place in one's mind due to an event as the memory of that event - not just the ones that involve conscious recall. Still, to be a little more general, I would maybe frame it as process vs. consequences.
Though honestly I'm more interested in understanding the different types of mind-changes it is useful to have names for.
I think it might be better to remove the other effects. If you could pick between having fun and remembering having fun, all else being equal, which would you choose?
If that's the case, then I think it depends on how frequently you get to have fun in the present.
The value of remembering having fun greatly exceeds the value of having fun if you don't get to have fun very often -- because memories can continue to bring happiness through reflection. But if you get to have fun all the time, then the memories lose much of their value. If you have fun ALL of the time, then there's very little time to reflect on memories.
which do you choose?
I like this because 1 has the benefit of being closer to the actual human experience.
You can actually do something very similar to going on vacation and not remembering it. For example, you can go on ten vacations and only remember one of them. The way to do this is access a quantum random number generator that gives you a number between 0 and 1 and go on one vacation if the value is between 0 and 0.1, a different vacation if the value is between 0.1 and 0.2, etc. Now because of many worlds interpretation you have experienced all ten vacations, but will only remember one.
Now that you realise that "you" can experience so much more than you can remember, will you actually do it?