Now that the new post on anti-natlism has been puled before I even had a chance to read it, I'm done for good with the natalism discussion, with the sole exception of this thread.
I wonder how much the ethicists and meta-ethicists at Cornell (and other campuses) know about the multiverse. Indeed, I wonder how much people on both sides of the natalism debate know about it. I'm going to guess, not much. Sadly, many philosophers don't know much about science, and may even disdain it; and conversely, many scientists know little about philosophy, and often disdain it in their turn. That's why you need disinterested generalists like me to bridge the gap.
All that notwithstanding, there is a growing body of literature on ethics and meta-ethics in the multiverse. If you're interested, Google, as always, is your friend.
There are a variety of different multiverses posited by modern physics -- Max Tegmark lists four; but there are actually more than that -- and there are strong grounds to believe in the truth of at least some of them. I'm not going to list those grounds, and I'm only going to focus on one version of the multiverse: The quantum Many Worlds thesis.
This is the thesis that every way that a world can be, is a way that a world actually is. So every possible outcome of your life is realized in some branch of the universal wave function. There are countless versions of you out there, doing stuff; and those versions of you find their world to be just as actual, as you do yours.
How does this effect ethics, if at all?
There are two schools of thought. Let's say a couple is deciding whether to procreate. One idea holds that it makes no difference if they do so or not, because the number of branches on the wave function in which they have kids, and the number in which they do not, is exactly the same.
This is, I think, quite mistaken. If a couple decides, in this branch, the one we share, to have a child, then in so doing they will increase exponentially the future number of branches populated by versions of their child born in this branch.
An anti-natalist suddenly has the most powerful argument at his disposal, in my view. In this branch, little Joey may well have a wonderful life. But the Many Worlds guarantees that in countless other branches, little Joey will simply have a terrible life -- on low-density branches, for example, he will be slowly tortured to death over a period of several days by having tiny heated needles very slowly driven into every square inch of his skin. Concoct your own horrific scenario. And yes, on some low-density branches, he will be tossed into a wood chipper just as soon as he comes out of the womb.
By "low-density" branches, I mean what we ordinarily call, on the assumption that ours is the only actual world, improbable events. It's highly improbable, in our world, that anyone would be tortured to death by slowly having needles driven into their bodies. Let's say, arbitrarily, that at birth, the chances of this happening to you are one in a billion. But on the quantum multiverse, this just means that this actually happens in one of every billion branches, since all the branches are actual. Moreover, if there are an infinite number of branches, then this torture will occur an infinite number of times, since any subset of infinity, no matter how vanishingly small, is still itself infinite! These torture branches are "low-density branches" (improbable events), but real for all that, on the Many Worlds view.
Ethics counsels me that if the Many World interpretation of QM is true, we have a moral obligation to keep suffering as low-density as possible in the multiverse -- i.e., we should care for all worlds, not just our own actually perceived world. The inescapable upshot of this reasoning (if MWI is true) is that you should not have a child in this world, because in so doing you will vastly increase the density of worlds in which your offspring suffers, and indeed suffers horribly in some of them. As a general meta-ethical principle, you should avoid doing things in this world which will generate a greater range (higher density) of suffering in the other worlds. Not birthing Joey in this world means that in the future, there will be far fewer branches in which Joey suffers (though to be sure there will still be countless suffering Joeys regardless of what you do in this world). If MWI is true, this is a powerful ethical argument, it seems to me.
That's all I'm going to say on the natalism debate as such; frankly that specific subject bores me, because if anti-natalism is the correct normative stance, (assuming one subscribes to normative ethics to begin with) it is a plain fact that most people are not going to stop procreating any more than they are going to stop eating. So the whole subject strikes me as pointless academic wankery. However, the general subject of ethics and meta-ethics in a multiverse is certainly an interesting topic. Since we have strong grounds to believe in a multiverse (though of course we have, as yet, no proof of such, and indeed it may be impossible to get proof), ethicists and meta-ethicists seem to have a certain intellectual obligation to consider, or reconsider, their convictions in the multiverse context.
This is a thread devoted to "digital philosophy," which seems to be a rapidly expanding new field.
It involves number of issues, including:
The idea that reality is, in some sense, a computation, and is fundamentally based on information and not on matter and energy.
The idea that we are living in a simulation. This includes, but is not limited to, Nick Bostrom's ingenious simulation argument,
The idea that we are living in a hologram, written in Planck-scale pixels "on the cosmic horizon," and that the third dimension of space is an illusion. Much to my surprise, I learned yesterday that Fermi Labs is running an experiment to determine whether this is true, using something called a holometer. The experiment began in August; I know of no results yet.
The idea of "libertarian compatibilism": Mind-body dualism is true, and all minds conspire to collapse the wave function and create reality. They do this ex nihilo, with no causal input, and thus free will is truly libertarian. This seems to have something in common with the Strong Free Will Theorem, in which two mathematicians have claimed to prove, mathematically, that either hard determinism is true, or we have true libertarian free will. The upshot of their argument is that if hard determinism is true, we are forever prohibited from conducting an experiment to prove hard determinism; since this seems beyond the pale, we should conclude that we have libertarian free will.
All metaphysical problems in philosophy -- time, space, consciousness, free will, the true nature of quantum mechanics, etc. -- are resolved by reference to massive multiplayer online roleplaying video games. (wot?)
Reality is a peer-to-peer (P2P) networked computer simulation. (wot?)
OK, that's all I got, till I do lots more reading. But if anyone wants to discuss this stuff, or knows anything about it, have at it. Note to See how metaphysics can encompass ethics and meta-ethics, like the free will/determinism debate? Someday you'll thank me when you become expert at all this stuff at Oxford.
No, Dickhead Dawkins, us "useful idiots" do not say that religion had nothing to do with this attack (though there are other factors); what we DO say is that you cannot indict 1.6 billion Muslims for the actions of a handful of crazy people. What part of that is so hard for dirtbags like you and Sam Harris to grok?
There have been at least a couple of recent, unfortuante comments here that, to my mind, were sneers against sexual minorities. One of the sneers was directed at a brief Slate article, which included a video. The point of the article was that sexual minorities, such as the transgendered, are at much higher risk of bullying and even suicide because of bullying.
Consider if that such minorites were to read the sneers at this site, they might feel bullied. Perhaps it's the last bullying that pushes them over the edge.
I suggest that such comments be prohibited from this site. This never has, after all, been a free-speech site, and in the old days we censored comments and even banned paricipants for offenses like failing to construct a proper philosophical argument or ignoring pertinent questions.
Dear Docktor , I have now had the privilege of reading two excellent papers by you for your philo classes. A lot of your work places a big emphasis on morality. And of course you have spoken of "natural" facts as in some way constitutive of moral realism. You have also characterized procreating as a "morally inadequate" act.
Forgive my possible ignorance if you feel you have already offered a decisive answer to what I am going to ask; or maybe I just missed it. Still, I ask anyhow: How, exactly, do you square your emphasis on moral realism and moral adequacy/inadequacy, with your endorsement of hard incompatibilism, which purports to show that none of us can have free will in the sense that we deserve moral praise or moral opprobrium for our actions? I'd also like to see a post by you elucidating these "natural facts" in the moral realism thread.
Really enjoyed the paper for your feminism class, as I conveyed to you in an e-mail.