A Thought on Pascal's Mugging

You're demonstrating a comprehensive lack of actual domain knowledge - you literally don't know the thing you're talking about - and appear to be trying to compensate for that by leveraging what you do know.

As far as I can tell, everything Yvain has said on this topic is correct. In particular, there is a further possible assumption under which it is not the case that cosmic ray collisions with Earth and the Sun prove LHC black holes would be safe, as you can find spelled out in section 2.2 of this paper by Giddings and Mangano. As Yvain pointed out in ... (read more)

Because of conservation of both momentum and energy, particles coming out of the LHC are no slouch either. So although under extremely hypothetical conditions, stable black holes can exist without the sun being destroyed by cosmic rays, even then you need to add even more hypotheticals to make the LHC dangerous.

Note that their very hypothetical scenario is already discouraged by many orders of magnitude by Occam's razor. I'm not sure what the simplest theory that doesn't have black holes radiate but does have pair production near them is, but it's probably really complicated. And then these guys push it even further by requiring that these black hole-like objects not destroy neutron stars either!

A Thought on Pascal's Mugging

by komponisto 1 min read10th Dec 2010159 comments


For background, see here.

In a comment on the original Pascal's mugging post, Nick Tarleton writes:

[Y]ou could replace "kill 3^^^^3 people" with "create 3^^^^3 units of disutility according to your utility function". (I respectfully suggest that we all start using this form of the problem.)

Michael Vassar has suggested that we should consider any number of identical lives to have the same utility as one life. That could be a solution, as it's impossible to create 3^^^^3 distinct humans. But, this also is irrelevant to the create-3^^^^3-disutility-units form.

Coming across this again recently, it occurred to me that there might be a way to generalize Vassar's suggestion in such a way as to deal with Tarleton's more abstract formulation of the problem. I'm curious about the extent to which folks have thought about this. (Looking further through the comments on the original post, I found essentially the same idea in a comment by g, but it wasn't discussed further.)

The idea is that the Kolmogorov complexity of "3^^^^3 units of disutility" should be much higher than the Kolmogorov complexity of the number 3^^^^3. That is, the utility function should grow only according to the complexity of the scenario being evaluated, and not (say) linearly in the number of people involved. Furthermore, the domain of the utility function should consist of low-level descriptions of the state of the world, which won't refer directly to words uttered by muggers, in such a way that a mere discussion of "3^^^^3 units of disutility" by a mugger will not typically be (anywhere near) enough evidence to promote an actual "3^^^^3-disutilon" hypothesis to attention.

This seems to imply that the intuition responsible for the problem is a kind of fake simplicity, ignoring the complexity of value (negative value in this case). A confusion of levels also appears implicated (talking about utility does not itself significantly affect utility; you don't suddenly make 3^^^^3-disutilon scenarios probable by talking about "3^^^^3 disutilons").

What do folks think of this? Any obvious problems?