RE: Rationalizing Suffering

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Wed Apr 02 2003 - 20:39:58 MST

It was Mark Waser (not me) who originally wrote

> Suppose it's twenty years in the future and I'm
> playing the newest total immersion version of
> this game. I'm booted out of the game once it's
> apparent that my character is about to die
> horribly but everyone else "sees" me die horribly.
> Is this morally wrong?

Let me jump in and opine "No".

> Suppose that for the ultimate in realism and to
> truly "live the game", I've decided to accept the
> temporary blockage of all outside-game knowledge.
> Until I "die" inside the game, I won't remember/
> know about anything outside the game, but once I
> "die", I will go on living my normal life outside
> the game. Is this morally wrong (Assume that
> we're advanced enough that there is no way in
> which in-game events can harm, much less
> traumatize, my outside-game self)?

Again, I would opine "No". You have your own possibly
non-computable interpretations of pain/pleasure, and
you're right now the best---and perhaps ultimate---judge.

Paul responded differently to Mark's question:

> I was amazed when I first read this, because
> I've had thoughts along these lines... Firstly,
> let's go to the uber-video-game universe where
> you're completely immersed, with your memories
> of your real-self blocked out temporarily, and
> all you can remember is memories from the game
> If your character dies in the game, but you are
> pulled out the instant before death and experience
> no pain (or a minimal amount), but all the other
> players believe that you are indeed dead and gone,
> then this is definitely morally wrong, because
> presumably some of the other players will feel
> mental anguish at your loss, which is suffering
> for them...

Well! Then! You fix the problem where the problem
is, not where it is not! The problem is that they
are reality-challenged here, and think that something
has happened which has not happened. Although no one
should keep lying to them, it's really their own
responsibility to learn the truth.

Paul continues

> What I'm getting at here is, at what point is it
> morally reprehensible to kill an AI in a video
> game? Most people would just laugh this notion
> off, but I'm serious here.

Eliezer and I have a long-standing disagreement about
one of the aspects of this question. As for me, if
you own the resources the AI is running on, then as
it's on your nickel, you can provide it as much or
as little runtime---perhaps parsed out by the second
over millennia---as you choose. (I believe that E.Y.
thinks that even if a creature has only come into
existence during the last nanosecond, its legal rights
ought to be as inalienable as ours, no matter who
brought the creature into existence.)

But if the AI does not belong to you, and has licensed
its resources (its runtime) accordingly from some other
provider, not only should you *not* off it, you should
not even be *able* to off it.

I have also heard it argued that whether or not the
entity cares whether it lives or dies is relevant.

> With really no one other than myself considering
> such possibilities,

Well, you're not alone!

> I could very well see the whole Roman-arena thing
> happening in the future again. I.e., we look back
> now and say "how could the Romans actually watch
> and enjoy real people being torn to pieces before
> their very eyes?",

It's a good question. I thought that they inherited
some compassion from their hunter-gatherer ancestors,
but sometimes the historical record hardly shows it.

> but perhaps in the future sentients will say about
> us "how could the homo sapiens sapiens actually
> watch and enjoy real sentients being torn to pieces
> before their very eyes?"

I presume from the structure of your question that the
sentients find this a painful process. In that case,
it's unacceptable. Gratuitous suffering is always
unacceptable, and is to be vigorously denounced.

> Although it's possible that I really never was sick,
> or the Mongol invasion of China or World War II never
> happened, that they were all just "backstaging" set
> up by the programmers (Gods) of the game, but that
> still doesn't mean there isn't suffering.

Yes, the two ideas are not connected. Simulations could
be with or without actual suffering. It's exceedingly
improbable that this is *only* a simulation, but it's
even more improbable that our suffering is delusional.

> If I stab myself right now, I'm quite confident that
> I'll feel pain and suffer; it's not just some memory
> implanted there by the God running this game.

Well, if the God(s) did exist, and if they ran such
pointless games---two extraordinarily big "ifs"---
then it could happen that you would not suffer, but
only later have memories of having suffered.

> If this is a game, why do we have to suffer?
> To make it seem "realistic"?

Nah. The whole boatload of crap about this being some
kind of game, or that Jehovah exists and allows suffering
for a Divine but Inscrutable reason just has to be dumped.
All the apologists for suffering should IMO do some
serious soul-searching.


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