[extropy-chat] The Anticipation Dilemma (PersonalIdentityParadox)

Russell Wallace russell.wallace at gmail.com
Thu Apr 12 21:36:47 UTC 2007

On 4/12/07, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
> 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).

Oh yes, and I'm agreeing with you 100% except in this: I think you're
looking further afield than you need to. There's no need to invoke time
travel; there are plenty of real situations where our anticipations are
irrational, and it's common knowledge that they are irrational. It's not
really news, everyone knows people aren't always perfectly rational and this
is one of the ways in which we aren't.

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.


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
> irrational).

*blink* Well leaving actions aside, haven't you ever heard someone say to
someone else who's dreading a bad event that may happen but if so cannot be
prevented, "no point worrying over things you can't do anything about"? It's
just the common way of expressing that which us philosophers put in fancier
language as "it is irrational to waste attention on anticipating events over
which we have no causal influence".

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?

Well yes, it's exactly what I meant, and not only that, it's not a
scientific or philosophical discovery, it's common knowledge, always has
been. With this caveat: human evolution was operating under constraints of
time, information, computing power, such that there was no way to create a
perfectly rational system - indeed, there's no evidence that a perfectly
rational system is even possible; so I wouldn't use the word "incorrect",
for the system we have is the best evolution could find. I would use the
word "imperfect".
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