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Natalism, Ethics, and the Multiverse

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Posted

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. :humble:

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.

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Posted

I think this moves a little too quickly, at least for me. On what kind of moral obligation does it follow that we should keep suffering low-density? It looks like a consequentialist argument but, since we have no access to the other worlds in which people apparently suffer, how does this have any force over our actions in this one? If the obligation is one of duty then how much difference does it make that there are, or may be, infinite other worlds? Surely one world would suffice for the duty to not cause unnecessary suffering to hold?

Separately, how do we 'count' (let alone judge) the number of worlds in which adverse consequences occur? Someone in favour of having a child might claim that there are also a vast - even infinite - number of worlds in which having the child is overwhelmingly positive. Aren't these both countable infinities?

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Posted

I am not sure where to place moral obligation to alternate worlds, because there are so many forks and branches before I got here, that don't or won't include me.

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