Is life worth living?

by philosophytorres1 min read30th Aug 201759 comments


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Genuinely curious how folks on this website would answer the following question:


First, imagine the improbable: God exists. Now pretend that he descends from the clouds and visits you one night, saying the following: "I'm going to give you exactly two choices. (1) I'll murder you right now and annihilate your soul, meaning that you'll have no more conscious experiences ever again. [Theologians call this "annihilationism."] Alternatively, (2) I'll allow you to relive your life up to this moment exactly as it unfolded the first time -- that is, all the exact same experiences, life decisions, outcomes, etc. If you choose the second, once you reach the present moment -- this moment right now -- I'll then annihilate your soul."


Which would you choose, if you were forced to pick one or the other?

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I think given the scenario, I roll over and go back to sleep. Put simply that's such a silly god I'm not going to pay any attention to it.

Another thought, "exactly as it unfolded" suggests I will have no awareness of any prior loop as I certainly have none now. Moreover, such an awareness necessarily changes how my life would unfold. There simply seems no difference between the two options from a practical perspective for me.

This answer has too many upvotes in my view.

I suspect it was here early in the discussion and people upvoted for whatever reason it is people upvote early comments.

Agreed, there does seem to be no practical difference for the you-in-bed. But that feature seems to be the whole point of this scenario, so I think pointing that out is just a form of debasing the thought-experiment (which also ends with the sentence "if you were forced to pick", I might add).

Initially I thought I'd pick #2. My life was kind of fine enough, so I'd rather prefer to give a copy of me the privilege of experiencing my life than not.

However, assuming world#take2 is populated by "real people" (aka. complete simulations, not just some p-zombie Truman show shenanigans with fake "people outputs" who lack subjective experience) the question really becomes something else: Does the "video-clip" that was your life contain enough fun-for-you-and-others to outweigh the suffering of all the real/perfectly simulated people that would be re-living their existences alongside you? Kind of makes me tend strongly towards #1 just to get it over and done with, there's just still too much shit happening in this world. Just to be safe in order to not commit atrocities for a bit of mediocre hedonistic fun it is #1 for me. Life's fun but who needs it.

Personally, I find life worth living.

Me too. And death not worth dying!

By the way, it is surprisingly not easy to demonstrate that death is bad from the utilitarian perspective - but it is.

That's one of the advantages to what's known as "preference utilitarianism". It defines utility in terms of the preference of people; so, if you have a strong preference towards remaining alive, then remaining alive is therefore the pro-utility option.

The problem with this (from the point of view of people like turchin) is that many people do not show many signs of not wanting to die. He mentioned this recently.

I don't think lack of life extension research funding actually comes from people not wanting to live, I think it has more to do with the fact that the vast majority of people don't take it seriously yet and don't beleive that we could actually significantly change our lifespan. That's compounded with a kind of "sour grapes" defensive reflex where when people think they can never get something they try to convince themselves they don't really want it.

I think that if progress is made that at some point there will be a phase change where, when more people start to realize that it is possible and suddenly flip from not caring at all to caring a great deal.

This is a falsifiable empirical prediction. We will see whether it turns out to be true or not. I think more likely you will see some ambivalence in people's response. I do see many people around the age of 80 who think they have lived long enough, and it pretty clearly has nothing to do with their state of health. I accept the same thing to happen in many cases even after aging can be prevented biologically. Calling it "sour grapes" is just not recognizing that some people are different from you.

This is a falsifiable empirical prediction. We will see whether it turns out to be true or not.

Yes, agreed.

I should probably be more precise. I don't think that 100% of people will necessarally choose longevity treatments once they become available. But depending on the details, I think it will be pretty high. A think that a very high percentage of people who today sound ambivalent about it will go to great lengths to get it once it becomes something that exists in reality.

I also think that the concern that "other people" will get to live a very long time and you might not will motivate a lot of people. People are even deeply worried about the fear that rich people might live forever and they might not now, even people who don't seem to really believe that it's possible seem to be worried about that, which is interesting.

But depending on the details, I think it will be pretty high.

It would certainly have to depend on the details, since obviously many people do not choose the longevity treatments that are already available, like healthy eating and exercise, even though they are usually not very expensive. Sure, maybe someone will be more motivated by an extra 50-100 years than by an extra 5-15. But then again maybe they won't.

It would certainly have to depend on the details, since obviously many people do not choose the longevity treatments that are already available, like healthy eating and exercise, even though they are usually not very expensive.

Eh. That seems to be a pretty different question.

Let's say that an hour of exercise a day will extend your lifespan by 5 years. If you sleep 8 hours a night, that's about 6.3% of your waking time; if you live 85 years without exercise vs 90 years with exercise, you probably have close to the same amount of non-exercising waking time either way. So if it's worthwhile probably depends on how much you enjoy or don't enjoy exercise, how much you value free time when you're 30 vs time when you're 85, ect.

I think exercise is a good deal all around, but then again that's partly because I think there's a significant chance that we will get longevity treatments in our lifetime, and want to be around to see them. It's not the same kind of clear-cut decision that, say, "take a pill every morning to live 5 years longer" would be.

"take a pill every morning to live 5 years longer"

It is an assumption that it will be that easy. If there is a complicated surgery that will extend people's lives by 5 years, or even by 20, it is likely that many people will not want it.

Sure. Obviously people will always consider trade-offs, in terms of risks, costs, and side effects.

Although it is worth mentioning that if you look at, say, most people with cancer, people seem to be willing to go through extremly difficult and dangerous procedures even to just have a small chance of extending lifespan a little bit. But perhaps people will be less willing to do that with a more vague problem like "aging"? Hard to say.

I don't think it will stay like that, though. Maybe the first commercially available aging treatment will be borderline enough that's it's a reasonable debate if it's worthwhile, but I expect them to continue improve from that point.

Thanks for pointing on right term.

You should perhaps consider whether "the utilitarian perspective" is not the right perspective, and that this is the cause of the difficulty.

It's amazing how many people on FB answered this question, "Annihilation, no question." Really, I'm pretty shocked!

I have been working on life extension industry for years and the main problem is that people want to die. It is the root of all other problems with funding or research, regulation etc. Technical problems are smallest.

I don't actually think people want to die. I think people think they want to die.

When I have this discussion I often try to paint this scenario: It's easy for you to say you'd want to die now, but imagine for a moment that you live in a future where two of your three neighbors already got their life extension treatment and felt super young, vitalized and healthy again, while you're pushing 60 and you notice how you're slowly falling apart. Many celebrities do it routinely, and eventually even some of your closest family members become convinced and get the treatment as well and some of them even keep pushing you on why the hell you haven't done it yet. If you were not making this decision in some theoretical vacuum but inside some actually plausible social context, I don't think you would possibly choose to just die while everyone else around you is having fun or begging you with tears in their eyes to not be a fucking traditionalist moron about this imagined non-issue.

Usually a lot of people then switch gears into justifying how its probably not possible anyway instead of actually engaging that particular argument and I shift gears into ending the conversation. They'll do it anyway - I know it, you know it and maybe they know it too now.

High school again.... Does that count as infinite suffering ?

I don't think there's any difference between the two choices. Might as well choose option 1.

This seems like a question about aesthetics - thia choice won't change my experience, but it will change what kind of universe I live in. I think I'd choose duplication - I put a pretty low value on tiling the universe with conscious experience, but it's larger than zero.

Seems like you pick relive. Doesn't gain you anything, but maybe the horse will learn to sing.

I liked Nietzche's framing of the question in terms of infinite recurrence better. Strangely I would forgo infinite recurrence but would choose the second option in your scenario ( since if it turns out to be a mistake the cost will be limited ).

I dunno, it might well be infinite. If God makes your life happen again, then it presumably includes his appearance at the end. Ergo you make the same choice and so on.

I don't see the difference between the two.

To answer the question of the title: Yes.

I have another test: If the only chance of your survival will be your head transplantation on a pig body, would you agree? It will be possible in 2019 in China, as they will start xenotransplantations and (separately) head transplants.

I will because most time I just lay on my bed and look into a computer screen of my macair and replacement of my body will not change much.

Haha, what a mind f**k :)

I believe that apart from the infinite loop the dizzying effect of the thought experiment is also due to the fact that you ask for a choice in a context that you have defined as deterministic. This is inherently contradictory. Hidden within is also the question 'is life worth living without free will?'.

This is my current concurrent implementation in language (imagined sound):

  • I choose a pragmatist perspective.
  • I choose to believe that free will exists.

I chill out. Phew that was tiring... :P

If I was presented with this choice ten years ago, I very well might have chosen (1), but I would have been aware that my life was fairly reliably getting more enjoyable as a function of time. (For me, being five was horrible, being ten sucked, being fifteen was frustrating, being twenty was actually pretty good, etc.)

Experiencing something twice doesn't seem indistinguishable to me, which is the notion I'm getting from a lot of other people's responses. I don't remember eating ice cream a few months ago, but I'm pretty sure I did and I enjoyed it. I ate ice cream yesterday and it was enjoyable. The enjoyment of something is still relevant even if I don't remember it; if I ate ice cream now, got mindwiped of the memory of that, and then had another cone I still think more than one ice cream's worth of utility is being generated. Likewise, reliving my life over again still has meaning.

I do kinda wish I could start the replay around fourteen though. That'd skip a lot of the worst moments.

The experiment specifies that the circumstances are all but literally indistinguishable:

I'll allow you to relive your life up to this moment exactly as it unfolded the first time -- that is, all the exact same experiences, life decisions, outcomes, etc.

If the sequence of events is "exactly" the same, then from your perspective it cannot be distinguished. If it could, then some event must have happened differently in the past to make it such that you were aware things were different, which violates the tenets of God's claim. In other words, the two timelines basically must be indistinguishable from your perspective.

You are correct. Rephrasing, as I was unclear before: my experiences will be indistinguishable to me, but from an outside perspective I think there's a difference. In the moment I'm making the decision, I'm trying to take that outside view. I suppose I'm trying to answer what I think was the spirit of the question; I value me existing and having experiences. Getting to go through life again means I exist 'longer' (it's unclear exactly how the time reversal works in this case, but for this to make any sense there has to be some kind of added amount of subjective experiences, even if they're exact copies of 'previous' experiences) and I would rather prolong my existence than cease to exist.

Imperfect analogy: imagine telling a paperclip maximizer that you will copy every paperclip it's made, but you will copy them somewhere else where the paperclip maximizer will never sense them. It wants more paperclips, so it likes this idea. In a similar way, I like me existing and having experiences.

Framing note: it's worth examining how intuitions change when you replace "God" with "Omega" and "relive" with "reset the deterministic simulation that computed".

To be a little pedantic, I suspect an infinite loop in that specification. If the code looks something like...

if want_reboot() = TRUE {
  goto START_OF_LIFE }


...the last line would never execute either execute on the first pass or not at all. There is also the question of whether this is the first time through the loop. If it turns out the answer is no, then God is giving you a chance to live forever (though you'll never know it except for the last few seconds of each loop). edited for clarity

But in any case: since continued existence is an instrumental value whose worth is determined by our ability to pursue our terminal values, I don't see the point in taking the offer since it was stated that I would be unable to affect the universe in any way. Worse, if I were to retain my memories for the second pass I would be locked into a lifetime of torture (being fully aware of my impending doom but by definition unable to do anything to avert it). No, thanks.

As God can't lie, but He has to lie on the second run, it will halt the God and you will escape and will become God yourself (will get root access). Profit.

You are assuming "the present moment" means after the offer. But that terminology is vague enough to mean "up to the moment just before the offer was made."

LOL I think you mean "prophet" ;)

That is not the code. You are automatically annihilated on the second pass, without any choice, according to what was specified.

philosophytorres specified that you have the EXACT SAME EXPERIENCES on the second pass. This implies being offered the choice again.

That depends on what is meant by the "present moment." They could have meant the moment just before being asked. Even if it included being asked, the implication would be that on the second pass, you would be annihilated no matter how you answered.

shrug Doesn't change my answer in any case.

It should. Your answer was that there is an infinite loop, and there is not. If you mean no point in taking the offer, I agree, but not because it is bad, but because the situations are indistinguishable.

Is one's answer to the dilemma supposed to illuminate something about the title question? Presumably a large part of the worth-livingness of life consists in the NPV of future experiences, not just in past experiences.

  • Title question: Yes. Proof by revealed preference:

(1) Life is a good with free disposal.

(2) I am alive.

(3) Therefore, life is worth living.

  • Dilemma: Choose the second, on the odds that God changes its mind and lets you keep living, can't find you again the second time around, is itself annihilated in the interim, etc.

Quibble: Annihilationism is an eschatalogical doctrine about the final fate of all souls, not the simple event of the annihilation.

I assume the thought experiment ignores instrumental considerations like altruistic impact.

For re-living my actual life, I wouldn't care that much either way, because most of my experiences haven't been extremely good or extremely bad. However, if there was randomness, such that I had some probability of, e.g., being tortured by a serial killer, then I would certainly choose not to repeat life.

However, if there was randomness, such that I had some probability of, e.g., being tortured by a serial killer, then I would certainly choose not to repeat life.

Your future life as of this moment certainly has a large amount of randomness.

Yeah, but it would be very bad relative to my altruistic goals if I died any time soon. The thought experiment in the OP ignores altruistic considerations.

Even if the probability was trivial?

Yes, because I don't see any significant selfish upside to life, only possible downside in cases of torture/etc. Life is often fun, but I don't strongly care about experiencing it.

If there was randomness such that you had some probability of a strongly positive event, would this incline you towards life?

Currently I don't care much about strongly positive events, so at this point I'd say no. In the throes of such a positive event I might change my mind. :)

re-live. Although I'd rather live the same amount of time from now onward.

This has already happened, you're reliving your 498,776th life and will be asked again in a few weeks (and you'll choose 2 again, because you did the first time).

However, as the saying goes "past performance does not necessarily predict future results". Whether your past is worth re-living and whether your unknown future is worth living are two very different questions, which could easily have different answers.

And finally, everyone who answers (1), can you identify the point when your past turned from nonnegative to negative? If not, you probably have a skewed memory and the sum of your experiences at those points in time is probably higher value than your aggregated memory at this point in time.

And finally, everyone who answers (1), can you identify the point when your past turned from nonnegative to negative?

I just don't see a point in replaying the events with no possibility of changing them or using any understanding gained from the replay. It's not a past-is-negative situation so much as a nothing-gained situation.

You are supposed to get annihilated automatically the second time, without a choice. You do not get to repeat it again and again.

That said, to me there is no difference in value between the choices because I cannot distinguish the results, no matter which one I choose. And I disagree with the implicit argument "better to live twice than only once, even if you don't notice any difference." There are many situations where I would agree an objective difference matters. Just not in this one or any similar one.

My first thought is one of some sort of heroic defiance against a God that ridiculous and tyrannical, and yelling imprecations at the God while he presumably annihilates my soul. That probably wouldn't be smart though, as I have enjoyed life thus far, so I guess reliving in would be enjoyable as well, as I imagine I would have to have no prior knowledge of having already lived it, so I suppose I would choose the second option.

This isn't working for me as pumping the intuition you seem to want it to. I think life is worth living and I'd just cut to the chase and pick 1 because option 2 doesn't make sense as a way to get more life. Pattern theory of identity, life is a process, not a weighted lump of time-space-matter-stuff where you can just say "let's double the helping" like this. If you run the exact same process twice, that doesn't get you any new patterns and new life compared to just running it once.

Or if the idea is that I'd be aware of having gotten a second run, the part about the exact same decisions and experiences seems to make this amount to spending a few decades watching a boring home video with nothing you-on-second-trip can do about it and constantly aware that you'll be annihilated at the end. I guess the "maybe the horse will learn to sing" thinking would make sense here, but that's just fighting the hypothetical that the thought experiment will unfold exactly as described.

There are many moments of my life that would give me pause about re-living them. However, were I much younger and aware that I was doomed to that set of experiences, I wouldn't opt to commit suicide. It therefore follows that my life thus far has been worth living, and that I should opt to re-live it, rather than be annihilated.

That said, it seems to me that these 'choices' are not an opportunity to make a choice at all. In this thought experiment, do we live out our second instance with the knowledge that it is a second instance and we are incapable of acting differently? If "God" makes the offer to bring me right up to that very moment in exactly the same way, all the while I'm aware that the decision is approaching, the experience of living will be qualitatively different than it was in ignorance of this fate, even if I am powerless to change it. However, the wording of option 2 seems to imply that this is not the case.

Assuming I do not have some sort of epistemic access to the fact that God has rewound my life, I will live my life exactly as I did in the first instance. To me, this is metaphysically indistinguishable from (and morally equivalent to) living it in the first place. However, there is an important difference. At the time God approaches me, the "choice" has become a lie: because God already rewound my life and let it play out again, I will behave in the same way (choose option 2) and God will annihilate me anyway! It is, after all, a stipulation of the rules God presented.

From my perspective, God is just going to annihilate me no matter what, so I'm indifferent between the two options.