Plenty of room on the teletransporter

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Terence Spies recently pointed me to the results of survey on a variety of controversial philosophical issues. It's actually surprising how little consensus there is on some pretty straightforward questions:

Newcomb's problem: one box or two boxes? [* -- EKR]

Other 441 / 931 (47.3%)
Accept or lean toward: two boxes 292 / 931 (31.3%)
Accept or lean toward: one box 198 / 931 (21.2%)

... Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?

Accept or lean toward: survival 337 / 931 (36.1%)
Other 304 / 931 (32.6%)
Accept or lean toward: death 290 / 931 (31.1%)

...

Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible? [* -- EKR]

Accept or lean toward: conceivable but not metaphysically possible 331 / 931 (35.5%)
Other 234 / 931 (25.1%)
Accept or lean toward: metaphysically possible 217 / 931 (23.3%)
Accept or lean toward: inconceivable 149 / 931 (16%)

One thing that surprises me is that quite a few more people (56.4%) accept physicalism of the mind than survival in the teletransporter scenario (36.1%). I'm not saying that there is a straight line reduction from physicalism to survival, but you're think they'd be pretty connected. In other news, 72.8% of philosophers accept or lean towards atheism.

Another odd feature of this survey is that the questions are deliberately sketchy unless you're familiar with the jargon (hence my links above). The survey authors explain this as follows:

The questions are phrased in a minimal way, in part because further clarification would usually be tendentious and would call for still further clarification in turn. Of course any philosopher can find ambiguity or other problems in such a question, so a number of "other" options are available. Nevertheless, we strongly encourage you to adopt the most natural interpretation of each question and to report an acceptance or a leaning toward one side or the other wherever possible.

For the record: my positions are two boxes, survival, and no idea.

6 Comments

My take on the bogosity of Newcomb's problem is here.

The last thing you want to do is publicly state that you will two-box! What if the Predictor is listening? :-)

Dan Simon: I quite like your analysis.

For the teleportation question, I gave it some thought after reading the Quark and the Jaguar by Murray Gell-Mann. This convinced me to fall on the survival side.

If you were to instantaneously swap a single subatomic particle from somewhere in your body with another identical particle with identical spin from somewhere else in the universe, I don't think anyone would argue this constitutes you dying and being replaced by a new person.

To argue that a swap of all particles would imply death, therefore, would imply there is some quantitative threshold of your matter that must remain intact to mean you are the same person. Something like: above 70.6% replacement you die and are a new person, but below 70.6% you are the same person.

Since it's hard to see how that could possibly be a defensible argument, I say survival.

I'm fascinated by the answer on the Trolley problem, in which people decide whether to switch the the track of a train that is about to kill 5 people, even though switching it will cause a single person on the other track to die.

The number of respondents who would kill 1 person to save 5 outnumbers the number of people who would not do so by 9 to 1.

PBF, I'm not at all surprised at the result for the trolley problem--the whole exercise is clearly engineered to push respondents into a consequentialist approach. The people at risk are reduced to abstract subjects, the set of choices is artificially limited, and the effects of those choices are unrealistically certain. It's like those "racism tests" where you're asked whether the race of an undifferentiated stranger matters in a completely abstracted, simplified situation: if you're required to give a yes/no answer, and then given only one criterion on which to base that answer, who wouldn't use that criterion?

A question for the folks who vote that they survive the teletransporter: if it gets upgraded to a telecloner that leaves the original intact, where do you end up?

For the zombie question: why don't they have an option for the obvious answer--"everyone other than me is pretty clearly a zombie"?

For the zombie question: why don't they have an option for the obvious answer--"everyone other than me is pretty clearly a zombie"?

Because we're trying not to tip you off.


I wonder how the one-box versus two-box question maps to people's investment strategies. I don't think it's worth my effort to try to beat the market, meaning I don't think I'm better to beat more participants. If the Oracle presenting the box has successfully predicted a thousand people before me, I don't think I can beat that market, either, and I so I one-box.

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