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TOPIC: Ethics in the Many World's Scenario [refresh]
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FQXi Administrator Zeeya Merali wrote on Jul. 8, 2009 @ 00:36 GMT
Back when I was in grad school and I had to teach astronomy labs, my colleagues and I would compile collections of songs that had vague references to physics to amuse the undergrads during the painfully long and cold hours of failed stargazing, as clouds obstructed their view. One favorite was Enigma’s “Gravity of Love,” so it seems wonderfully apt that I should hear the song again, for the first time in years, in a shop in Ponta Delgada, Azores, where I’m attending FQXi’s 2nd International Conference.

Strange soundtrack coincidences aside, the meeting kicked off officially this evening with a talk by investigative reporter Peter Byrne, who is writing a book on the troubled life of Hugh Everett III, the physicist who came up with the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Byrne talked about uncovering previously unseen documents that gave new insight into Everett’s home life, the reception of his radical interpretation of quantum mechanics that posits the existence of parallel universes, his little-known achievements in the field in economics and his work with the Pentagon on nuclear weapons. I won’t summarise Byrne’s words here because FQXi writer Grace Stemp-Morlock has already done a stellar job of that in this article: “The Many Lives of Hugh Everett III.”

What I will talk about are a couple of questions raised by Stemp-Morlock’s article that I chatted with Byrne about over dinner. The first was triggered by a quote from Byrne about Everett’s work optimizing the "cost-benefit" of both offensive nuclear weapons and defensive systems; Everett wrote much of the original software for the first Single Integrated Operating Program, the ultra-secret hydrogen bomb targeting list. To quote Byrne: "Everett himself would have been Dr. Strangelove. He was the quintessential Cold War technocrat. Here’s this guy who is actually designing multiple scenarios for World War Three that believes that there are multiple universes where his designs are being implemented. Yet he did it anyway.”

Which brings up the question: If you believe in the existence of parallel universes, such that every possible scenario is realized somewhere, should you live by a different code of ethics? That is, should you be more careful in your choices, in the belief that the bad possible outcomes of your actions not only may come true but _will_ come true in some universe? For example, should you be more reluctant to take up smoking knowing that, in some subset of universes, you are consigning your descendent selves to developing lung cancer? What responsibility do you have (if any) to those descendant selves?

We didn’t come up with any definitive answer to that, unfortunately. The second question touched on in the article was far easier to handle. Stemp-Morlock imagines a Hollywood movie dedicated to the life of Hugh Everett III--in the style of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” about the life of John Nash. There is certainly enough material to merit such a film. But who should play the lead role?

Byrne’s pick is Kevin Spacey. He does seem to be the ideal choice and he has a surprising connection to Byrne. Some 20 years ago, Byrne--then a theater director--cast Spacey in his very first acting job, in a play about soccer hooligans called “The Barbarians.” So how about it Kevin? Is it time for Hugh Everett The Movie? And if not Kevin, who else should play the role?

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Cristi Stoica wrote on Jul. 8, 2009 @ 05:18 GMT
I would love to see Kevin Spacey bringing Hugh Everett III to life.

About your question, I think that one’s belief in multiple universes should not influence his or her ethics. You think at all possible cases you can, then you cook up the best answer you can for each case. If there is only one world, yours, then only one case will take place, and you should implement the best answer you found for that case. If there are multiple universes, then for each copy of yours, a different case may occur, and the best answer for that case should be considered. I really don’t see why believing in multiple universes or not should influence any of our strategies, or our ethics.

I would raise a related problem here. Someone may use the multiple universes argument to disregard others lives. She or he may think that others are not unique at all, and so it is less immoral to kill them, because there are many other copies out there, and therefore they are expendable. But this would be wrong, for several reasons. First, it doesn’t matter for a person whether there are other copies in other inaccessible worlds, or not. This person will still care about herself, and will suffer, and will not want to die. And the ones who loved this person, they loved precisely that person, they don’t care too much about other intangible copies. Second, if you favor this thinking, there are many chances that it is favored in the parallel universes too, by your very copies. Therefore, the number of universes in which other persons would be considered expendable will increase. And third, how can we make so sure that there really are multiple universes?

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v wrote on Jul. 8, 2009 @ 13:24 GMT
To your question on ethics:

Can one live by different code of ethics that should be applied regarding whichever universe that you're considering?

And for such parallel universes, would not a set code of ethics be more applicable to one than the other and in some the same code may even be conflicting?

Although it is likely that numerous scenarios would occur, it is unlikely that any single person would be capable of foreseeing all the consequences of their decisions to ensure that negative effects are nullified. Also, if such a person was capable of doing this, then what of the possibility of initial negative consequences producing beneficial outcomes in the long run - for example if you were to take up smoking, knowing that in a parallel universe you were to develop cancer - there is the possibility that because of that situation arising, a cure for lung cancer is found in either that or another spin-off parallel universe. The permutations are endless and this does not even account for unforseeable consequences that may arise from what could be a simple and straightforward decision at the time, like turning right at the end of the road, instead of left.

Given the circumstances, should not peoples' ethics and their standards, if they are even present, let alone affected by strength of resolution, be questioned? But then again, without questionable ethics, mankind would not have "progressed" to where we are today.

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Witchy wrote on Jul. 8, 2009 @ 15:13 GMT
I also agree that multiple universes should have no impact on your ethics. Cristi Stoica is quite right: we should always look for the best answer we can and work on that basis. After all, if you choose to take up smoking, the universe in which you develop cancer could well be this one.

And if there are endless permutations of you out there then good luck to them - perhaps things are working out better there!

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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Jul. 8, 2009 @ 16:37 GMT
At lot of heat is generated over many worlds interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics. It shifts the questions about nonlocality and observership from one form to another. The problem of how a superposed state of a system is reduced to a single eigen-vector, corresponding to the eigenvalue measured, is shifted from the problems of Schrodinger cats and the implausible role of a conscious observer to some eigen-branching of the world. The Bohmists claim to "solve" the same problem as well, and they have been featured here as well. Yet, while they can claim to have a rational dynamics for a particle (beable), they still have these strange pilot wves and quantum potentials which are nonlocal and behave strangely. The problem of interpreting QM is a bit like a Cheshire cat, you can view the Schrodinger cat in various perspectives, but the smile never goes away --- and you can't predict if it is alive or dead.

MWI has some features which have made it attractive as a format for solving some problems with quantum computation. Even Bohm's interpretation has some limited use in quantum chaos problems. Yet these things are really just instruments that shove the problem of quantum measurement from one form to another. Quantum mechanics is in a way the simplest of physics. It is linear vector spaces, operators in matrix prepresentation, eigenvalues and so forth. What could be simpler? What makes things tough is that we measure QM according to macroscopic (classical and thermodynamic) systems. The real mystery is why does the world at a large scale have these macroscopic properties?

I saw the NOVA program a few months ago which featured his son, a rock singer/guitarist with the band "The Eels," in a search for his father Hugh. There was a tragic sense of things, and I got the sense the family was very dysfunctional. Hugh it appears was an alchoholic as well, which is usually a sign of depression, and he pummelled his health into an early death.

Lawrence B. Crowell

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Brian Beverly wrote on Jul. 9, 2009 @ 02:45 GMT
What a great topic the MWI and ethics. A Hollywood film would only make the MWI even more popular and then we could look forward to more documentaries and papers on the MWI. Is it ethical to promote a scientific hypothesis with propaganda? I'm going to read Byrne's book because I want to understand how this meme evolved.

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John Merryman wrote on Jul. 9, 2009 @ 10:09 GMT
Ethics is a function of decision making. Do i do good, or do I do bad. The problem is that this is a false dichotomy. contrary to our religious foundations, good and bad really are relative. What is good for the fox, is bad for the chicken. It is not a clear distinction between one and the other, but the essential binary code imbedded in all biological calculations. Even amoebae distinguish between beneficial and detrimental. We have just learned to project this distinction onto ever larger spheres of influence, from the health of our particular group, to the health of the entire planetary eco-system.

The point then, is that no one distinguishes between good and bad in order to decide which to do. The decision is a function of making the distinction. we always take the path of what we determine to be good, even if others might disagree.

This also applies to the many worlds theory. The process doesn't view the potential possibilities and then takes all paths according to their potential benefits. The path is chosen as a function of all potentials weighed against each other and what emerges is the compromise effect. Which is to say that between black and white are not just binary shades of grey, but all the colors of the spectrum. We live the multi-world.

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Jesse wrote on Jul. 9, 2009 @ 16:25 GMT
Interestingly, I think the two major schools of ethical theory - utilitarian and deontological - would provide opposite answers to the matter of whether the multiverse theory has a bearing on moral decision-making.

Deontological, principle based ethics do consider the outcome of an action as being morally relevant, so the matter of all possibilities coming about in alternative realities would not have any bearing on the law/principle at hand.

Utilitarian ethics, however, which consider the benefit or harm of the action may reach different outcomes if the multiverse theory is considered. In examples of measuring risk before taking an action, the idea that in a portion of the realities people will have to deal with the negative effects might influence a decision.

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Cristi Stoica wrote on Jul. 9, 2009 @ 22:39 GMT
Ethical paradox in the Many Worlds Interpretation

Suppose that a physicist named, let’s say, Max, decides to test the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, by performing the quantum suicide experiment. He thinks that it would be enough if he survives to 10 shots, because the chances are one in 1024=210. Would he be responsible for the death of the other 9 (=10-1, not 1023=210-1) copies of him, who will not survive the experiment?

Let’s suppose that he feels he will be responsible, and decides to cancel the experiment. Instantaneously, the world splits in two worlds: one in which he performed the experiment leading to the death of 9 copies of him, and the one in which he cancelled the experiment. What if, by contrary, he decides to perform the experiment? The world will split exactly like before, only that he will be in the other branch.

The only difference is that Max is, in one case, less guilty for the deaths of his copies, than in the other case. But we still have one Max, say Max1, who is guilty, and Max2 who isn’t guilty.

Really? Let’s think again. Both Max1 and Max2 evolved in only one copy of Max. The other 9 copies who are dead didn’t exist before the decision is made. They come to existence precisely when they dead, so they didn’t have time to exist. On the other hand, Max2 created 9 new entire universes.

It seems that discussions about ethics and responsibility in the context of MWI are more complicated, apparently leading to paradoxes.

Note: this discussion assumes that our brain can split the world in two alternative worlds, just by making choices. This seems to be contradicted by Tegmark’s argument against the quantum brain.

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Cristi Stoica wrote on Jul. 9, 2009 @ 22:40 GMT
Sorry, there are 10 dead copies, not 9.

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Cristi Stoica wrote on Jul. 9, 2009 @ 22:44 GMT
And 10 new worlds created by Max2.

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Brian Beverly wrote on Jul. 10, 2009 @ 00:34 GMT
John Merryman,

The moral relativist, the Cincinnatus of science, plowing a path for the future.

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John Merryman wrote on Jul. 10, 2009 @ 10:14 GMT
Brian,

Thanks for the compliment. Assuming it is a compliment, as moral relativism has such a bad reputation.

I don't know that I fully tied together my point about how decisions and distinctions are one and the same, with the relationship between physical possibilities and actualities. Since few people seem willing to consider my observation that time is not a medium through which we travel from the past into the future, but is a process by which the events of which we are part, come and go, from future potential, to present circumstance and on to remnant information, another way to reconcile the multiple possibilities of the future, with the seemingly deterministic processes by which options are sorted might be to examine the timely corollary of economics and our tendency to blow bubbles of financial hope that periodically get dashed on the rocks of physical reality. The swarm intelligence of humanity is naturally hard-wired to consider any and all possibilities, as well as optimistically hope the majority of the good ones come true. The problem is the physical means isn't sufficient to manifest all potential, so there is endless cycles of expansion and consolidation. Now it is safe to say that nature is no more generous with her resources in providing the energy necessary to manifest all quantum possibilities, just because our brightest minds haven't agreed to how the process works.

I do think some of our current physics models have far more to do with human psychology than we care to admit. The patterns we see are a function of what we project and process. It is not that nature is observer dependent, but that our understanding of it very much is.

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Cristi Stoica wrote on Jul. 10, 2009 @ 13:22 GMT
Another ethical dilemma in the Many Worlds Interpretation

Let’s assume that a Schrödinger cat experiment is done, except that instead of the cat we have an entire planet, so that after the experiment, the planet is either unchanged, or a global catastrophe occurred, making the habitants suffering very much. For simplicity, let us consider that this planet is the only planet alive in that world. As a result of the measurement, the world splits in one healthy version, and one sick version.

Let us now consider that the governor of that planet has the idea that each new quantum measurement multiplies the number of sick worlds, among the totality of the worlds in the multiverse. Each spin measurement in the sick world duplicates the sufferance in the multiverse. For example, 10 spin measurements in the sick world increase the number of sick copies with 1023. On the other hand, 10 spin measurements in the healthy world give birth to 1023 new healthy worlds. The governor then concludes that, in order to reduce the number of sick worlds compared to the number of healthy worlds in the multiverse, the quantum measurements should be eliminated. If the sick world avoids 10 spin measurements, compared to the healthy world, the total sickness in the multiverse goes from 50% to under 0.1%, so the strategy seems very effective.

So, the governor wisely decides to forbid any quantum measurements.

Then, the quantum physicists tell him that, even after prohibiting quantum measurements, the world continues to split, for example even by just making decisions (under the quantum brain hypothesis), or by decoherence (supposed to be required by the very existence of the classical level of reality).

The wise governor comes to the following conclusion: the best minimization of sufferance in the multiverse can be accomplished by destroying the entire suffering planet. Let me emphasize that this conclusion is not based on the silly idea that “eliminating” the suffering people eliminates sufferance, but on the idea to eliminate the proliferation of sick worlds in the multiverse, so that the sufferance ceases to be multiplied exponentially by quantum measurements.

What should the wise governor do?

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Brian Beverly wrote on Jul. 11, 2009 @ 09:40 GMT
John,

It is a compliment and Cincinnatus lead by example. I see some physics in your comments but it is hard for me to find the time to think them through. I have to place physics on the back burner while I focus on keeping my job. I was three hours late for work today because I got excited about physics and played through the night. No one around me understands why I like physics so much they treat me like some ugly duckling. I think this is why they pigeon hold and stuff me into a cube. I'm thinking about leaving (I'll probably just get fired) but externally there is pressure to stay. I'm going to put all my limited options on the table, but it depends on if the job market will cool further or if unemployment filings drop. I think I'll let chance call it.

I do think you're right about psychology in physics; people think there is safety in numbers and that majority might is right. Usually this is true but when wrong it is disastrous. Adding a soundtrack of laughter makes something not funny become funny (what sound do sheep make?). When people are unsure how to act with something new and different they look to others for the appropriate behavior.. For example, if you had a heart attack at a concert there is a sizable chance everyone would stand around and watch you die because you're a stranger. While watching you die they would also give each other that wtf? look as they collectively decided what to do. There is only one solution to this problem and that is to make it personal, choose someone to help you which snaps everyone out of collective hypnosis.

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John Merryman wrote on Jul. 11, 2009 @ 15:29 GMT
Brian,

You're young, as are likely most of the people you hang with, but as you grow older, the collective knowledge expands and in that particular type of situation, someone will know what's happening.

A little insight from outside the box; You live in a very linear, structured and I would say, psuedo-rational world. Try an experiment. Just stare vacantly at the wall until the little floaters in your vision and the little squigglies in the atmosphere start to come alive and merge. Don't focus on any of them, just let the patterns come and go. You can even keep semi-consciously busy, but just keep backing away from every thought, rather than pursuing it. After awhile, you begin to realize there is no real distinction of where you begin and your environment ends. What is inside and outside just start flowing together. After a bit, you then realize everyone else blends together as well. Though some attract and some repulse. You then begin to sense their presence as electro-static fields and can sense when someone else is focusing on you, or even when they are focused on something in your vicinity. After awhile these presences take forms, from very focused, to wavey and spaced and any number of permutations

Now this may seem all woo woo and new agey, but if you were living a feral existence out in the wild and your life depended on a complete awareness of everything going on around you, these would be the senses you would be developing, whether as predator, or prey, or likely both. Right now we live in this very structured and ordered existence, where nothing can really be considered real unless it can be repeated endlessly, is solid, or everyone completely agrees to it. The problem is that structure requires energy to replace what is lost, or it starts to crumble. That is what is wrong with our economy and the world built on it. It is a massively complex structure that is extremely dependent on ever more input, or it begins to cannibalize itself and implode. Witness all the public moneys being poured into the banking system. It is not an economic recession, but a debt implosion and much of the conceptual structure on which our civilization is based will be shaken to the core, if not flattened.

That is why you need to expand on your thinking process and understand how the larger subconscious works. It's not about just order and patterns, as they fall into the past, but that raw and feral energy on which the future depends. You don't have to leave the cubicle, just start becoming aware of all that goes on around you and use it as education. It's both physics and biology. That is how you escape the walls, by making them part of your energy, not by feeding your energy to them. Otherwise you just find yourself in another pigeon hole, if you leave that one.

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Brian Beverly wrote on Jul. 12, 2009 @ 07:08 GMT
John,

I appreciate all the advice, you have a natural wisdom. It is true that young predators are prey until they reach maturity; those principles will help me survive any corporate culling. I'm in good shape because my student loans are paid and I have enough savings to see me through any downturn. I saw the trouble coming and prepared. My workload is seasonal the volume is greatest in the summer and lightest in the winter, I might fall off the face of the earth for awhile. I do need to unplug too, I'm going to take some PTO and just go wild! I'll let you know if I find anything. I'm glad you're a lateral thinkerI can "hang" :) with. I once had a physics professor tell me "Ulam is da bomb!" it was hilariously unexpected and beautiful.

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John Merryman wrote on Jul. 12, 2009 @ 20:25 GMT
Brian,

You're young and pushing the envelope, but keep some balance as well. Remember it's expansion and consolidation. That video you linked was all about expansion, while the construct of the song itself was an artful process of consolidation.

Mass, as a consolidation of energy, is also a consolidation of space and when we release the energy, the space expands as well, thus an explosion. On the other hand, our world economy is over-reaching and trying to control more than it can define, so it is imploding.

Physics is about understanding the balance and the limits to which you can push it, before it starts pulling back.

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Cristi Stoica wrote on Jul. 13, 2009 @ 12:07 GMT
Initially (on Jul. 8, 2009 @ 05:18 GMT), I said that the ethics should be the same without regard of the many worlds hypothesis. In two further comments I raised questions that seemed to require new ethics, apparently contradicting the original viewpoint. I will answer now the questions.

Q1 (Jul. 9, 2009 @ 22:39 GMT): Quantum suicide may give birth to other worlds, but there are cheaper ways to do this. In the Multiverse, there is no need for human sacrifice to create new worlds.

Q2 (Jul. 10, 2009 @ 13:22 GMT): If the world split can be obtained only by quantum measurements, then prohibiting them is the solution to reduce the proliferation of the sick worlds in the Multiverse. If the brain can also split the world simply by making choices, then the wise governor can’t do anything. Killing his planet will not help, because in parallel worlds there are other governors taking the opposite decision, so the sick world will proliferate independently of his choice. And maybe the sick world will evolve in a better direction, who is the governor to decide anyway?



I think that the circle is closed, since both questions I asked (although initially seemed to be counterexamples, pointing the need of new ethics for the MWI) eventually sustained the original viewpoint, that the ethical decisions should be unchanged.

One should take care of problems from our relative state, without regard to other relative states. Especially because it is very possible that our state is the only existing one. The MWI may give the impression that it resolves the quantum measurement problem, but in fact each world remains with its own wavefunction collapse, having therefore to face the same problems as the standard interpretation.

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Brian Beverly wrote on Jul. 13, 2009 @ 12:24 GMT
John,

Somehow I knew you would reply that way ;-)

I think swinging on the spiral is related to that infinite process discussion we had earlier, expansion and consolidation, growth and decay. Pushing the envelope is easiest when surrounded by BS options. All of it acts as a fertilizer for new growth; but only if you are among the first to ride the green bubble into blue skies.

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John Merryman wrote on Jul. 13, 2009 @ 17:03 GMT
Brian,

Yea, too much advice is overkill. You seem to have the idea. Be careful with the bs, though. Sometimes it's a handy step to something better and sometimes it's a trap. Enjoy the here and now, even if it's a little messy, because it all goes by pretty damn quick.

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Brian Beverly wrote on Jul. 14, 2009 @ 12:15 GMT
John,

I don't think I've ever received such important advice, you're very unique. I'll try to enjoy life as much as I can in the present moments. Maybe a few them will be about something other than physics but then those moments probably wouldn't be very enjoyable.

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John Merryman wrote on Jul. 15, 2009 @ 01:28 GMT
Brian,

Thanks. Most people think I'm a bit of a whack because I tend to play by my own rules and just be one with wherever I'm at and not need a particular group's belief system. If you really want to make the universe your playground, you have to be able to see through the mental walls, including mortality. That doesn't mean thinking you survive death, but knowing you have your time. Life is like a sentence. It's not the point at the end that matters, but how well it ties together what comes before with what comes after.

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Brian Beverly wrote on Jul. 15, 2009 @ 12:59 GMT
John,

It must have felt strange being the only person with vision.

The sentence is part of a shared story with many complex and beautiful characters; we should always choose to keep writing it.

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Chuck Sweet wrote on Jul. 15, 2009 @ 16:53 GMT
Considering the fact that quantum states are superposed, and each individual particle in this universe has a nearly infinite number of states, each of them interacting upon other nearby particles, then there is actually an infinity squared, or cubed number of possible Universes, multiplied by the total number of changed states times the number of Possible states for each and every particle. Because of this, there would therefor be an unimaginably huge number of possible universes that have already come into being, and an even larger number of ones that are nascent, not yet realised.

Considering this, then all possible outcomes are not only possible, but would be, in fact, mandatory. Therefore the ethics of any particular situation would have to be determined on a purely local set of decisions because they are inextricably linked to the state that caused the situation in the first place, no two of them being exactly alike, and so, no matter what decision is made, the opposite, or even third and fourth (and so on) number of possible decisions WILL be made anyways. Something to consider also is that one's person ethics may or may not be 'correct' compared to the ethics of other individuals, and so there would be an infinite to the Nth number of degrees of ethical states, no matter which ones an individual chooses.

However, in this time/space/mass frame, one can only make the choices that correspond to their own set of personal situations and histories.

I myself try to live my life the best that I am able, and have, of course, made wrong decisions, but they in turn, affect my decisions at a later point in time/space, where i am Still trying to make the best decisions that I can...Just like an infinite number of copies of 'me' are doing, and some are doing better than others, having had different outcomes from their decisions because of changes in the underlying set of states in which they exist. Because of that, those "copies" of me are No Longer Me...they are unique individuals that have only shared a portion of their states with this incarnation of "me".

Ethics therefore would only be relative to the single universe (or set of univeses) that the individual actually inhabits, and one cannot say that what they do actually affects other universes, as those universes would already HAVE to come into existance anyways.

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John Merryman wrote on Jul. 16, 2009 @ 09:25 GMT
Brian,

Part vision. Part education. Nature and nurture. I have the advantage of being inbetween culture and nature and having a basic education in how they inter-relate. By being a good sentence, you make yourself part of the larger story. It can be short and to the point, or long and informative.

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Brian Beverly wrote on Jul. 18, 2009 @ 16:41 GMT
John,

I think I will make it short and to the point. I would like to include more recent ideas but I'm breaking down and the rest is not ready.

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Brian Beverly wrote on Jul. 18, 2009 @ 19:10 GMT
Listening to Wagner right now :)

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