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From att!sun!proof.ergo.cs.cmu.edu!Timothy.Freeman Sat Apr 22 10:11:51 1989
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Subject: CRYONICS -- Ethics without death
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 89 18:10:52 EDT
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From: sun!PROOF.ERGO.CS.CMU.EDU!Timothy.Freeman
Status: R

It's very easy to have nonterminating discussions about ethics, so
I'll make this my next-to-last post about it, regardless of how
interesting the responses are.

Pete writes:
>If life is guaranteed, then
>what is moral and what is immoral? Be careful, friend Tim. There be thorns.

There seems to be two kinds of morality.

The first, and more commonly shouted about, happens when other people
try to get you to believe something to promote their well-being.  This
is easy to observe in most religions, and in most parents trying to
teach ethics to their children.  This kind of ethics is shouted about
loudly because shouting (and human suggestibility in general) is the
only foundation it has.

The second, and more interesting kind, is behaviors that one chooses
to do to enhance one's own well-being.  It seems to me that
cooperation and "moral" behavior can arise from a consideration of the
pragmatics of the situation, and that philosopy and the inevitablity
of death aren't relevant.

I recently read _The_Evolution_of_Cooperation_ by Robert Axelrod; this
explains how cooperation can arise among unrelated entities when they
interact repeatedly.  The model he uses of a typical "ethical dilemma"
is a "prisoner's delimma": if both players "cheat", they both lose; if
they both "cooperate", they both win a little bit; if one cooperates
and the other cheats, the cheater wins big.

His conclusion is that if two entities are going to be in repeated
prisoner's dilemma's with each other, a pretty good strategy for each
one is what he calls TIT FOR TAT: if you cheated on the previous move,
I'll cheat on this move; if you cooperated on the previous move, I'll
cooperate on this move; I'll cooperate on the first move.

This sort of cooperation arises spontaneously in many situations.  The
example of his that I find most interesting is informal truces in
trench warfare in WWII.

In his model, longer interactions tend to promote more cooperation
than brief interactions.  This is consistent with real life; one is
more willing to cooperate with friends than with strangers.
Immortality tends to increase the length of interactions.

I've read several times the assertion that the inevitability of death
somehow makes the people trying to cope with it better people.  I
really don't understand this, since in my experience desperate people
will do nearly anything, and impending doom tends to cause
desperateness.  If you really think that impending doom is good for
you, I'm sure it is possible to arrange some sort of private doom for
yourself that will, if you are correct, cause great improvements.

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