[extropy-chat] The Anticipation Dilemma (PersonalIdentityParadox)

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Thu Apr 12 19:17:51 UTC 2007

Russell writes

> > It seems that we can separate causality from anticipation by considering the
> > passive beneficiary of something good or bad (that is slated for him
> > or her) but who has no influence on its occuring or not. 
> But in that case we can agree that anticipation is irrational, so it doesn't
> contradict the criterion that anticipation is rational if and only if you have
> causal influence.

Let me recap.  My original lament is that the feeling of anticipation (of 
this or that)---that is, the feeling of imminent experience---cannot be
made rational in the sense that there exist A and B such that one naturally
has anticipation in case A and fails to have anticipation in case B, yet both
A and B can be shown to be equivalent.  For example, you cannot help
but anticipate (we call it "dread") imminent pain, but we will not anticipate
pain that occurred in the past, even though with the complicated thought
experiments the two were shown not to differ in any important way.

I hope that I was understood in my essay as noting this, and being
disappointed that our naturally evolved anticipation isn't consistent
(I did say rational).

> It's rare that something good will happen to you whether you like
> it or not, but sadly not so rare for something bad, so it's easier to
> analyze this if we take negative anticipation i.e. fear.

Oh, I don't know, awakening each morning isn't rare, and many
people love life enough to almost always look forward to it. Especially,
I suppose, those in precarious situations who wonder whether or not
it really will occur.  But anyway...

> Consider the case of a man who has tooth problems, such that there
> will be pain if he goes to the dentist, and more pain, albeit somewhat
> deferred, if he does not. Yet he postpones going to the dentist
> because he fears the pain. Yet this is irrational

Now *that* I will agree is exactly irrational.  And it is irrational because
he really is the same person from day to day, and suffering relatively
little early benefits his life in an obvious way. As an aside, we ought to
define "person" in such a way to make this true, hence my impatience
with the claim that we are not the same person from second to second.

> Yet this is irrational [you write] because he cannot actually prevent
> pain - he has no causal influence over that aspect of things, there
> will be pain no matter what he does. 

Well, to me that's an odd usage.  Two points:  first, he *can* prevent
a certain difference in the pain he is to receive. Based on his actions,
it will be lesser or greater.  But then, I am saying that his *action*
of not going to the dentist is irrational, not his anticipation of pain
which to me is an entirely different thing (and which, for me, it is
still strange and new to classify such a feeling as either rational or

> In that case everyone - not just us, everyone, including likely the
> poor man himself! - will agree he is being irrational, and he would
> be better off if he could just switch off his fear instincts and deal
> as dispassionately with the matter as he would if it were happening
> to a stranger.


> So we see that the logical criterion does actually match our intuition. 

Your logical criterion is, again, that some anticipations are rational and
some are not. Somehow actions got mixed up with feelings here, it
seems to me.

In any case, suppose that either (A) I shall get a large check from the
government that will finally allow me to take a long-needed vacation,
or (B) I shall be arrested by the IRS and taken to prison.  Either way,
at this time I can do nothing about either, say, and so why is the 
feeling of exhileration in the first case, and dread in the second case,
not as you would say "rational"?    I doubt that you can mean that it
was incorrect for nature to have equipped us with such feelings about
our near future (even in these cases, here, where we can do nothing
about upcoming experiences).  But is that what you meant?


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list