Bernard Williams' body swapping thought experiment

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Bernard Williams' body swapping thought experiment

Post by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz » Sat May 18, 2019 12:25 pm

I heard about this thought experiment from the philosopher Bernard Williams a while back and I'm curious to hear some responses to it.

Imagine a mad scientist abducts you and somebody else and plans to recode your brains so that your personalities, memories, etc. are switched. He then tells you that once the experiment is finished, he will torture one of you, and give the other one of you a large sum of money. He asks you which one he should torture and which one he should give the money to.

What would your response be and why? Would it differ depending on who the other person was?

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Post by sykkelmannen » Sun May 19, 2019 8:01 am

Torture is a one-time event? First I imagined it would be forever. But if receiving a sum of money is a one-off, then so should be torture, which makes it a lot more acceptable. Also, what is a large sum of money? Large enough to buy a house, or large enough to change the world?

Of course it would differ depending on who the other person was! Imagine it was someone you love! I would surely consider the other person even if they were complete strangers. Age, health, aspirations...

I fear this experiment hoped to work with 'absolute reward and punishment' and induce 'selfish' reactions, which - in my case at least - doesn't work with money and torture.

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Post by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz » Sun May 19, 2019 10:24 am

sykkelmannen wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 8:01 am
Torture is a one-time event? First I imagined it would be forever. But if receiving a sum of money is a one-off, then so should be torture, which makes it a lot more acceptable. Also, what is a large sum of money? Large enough to buy a house, or large enough to change the world?
The sum of money was $100,000 under Williams' original thought experiment. I don't think he specified how long the torture would last. Would your position be affected by the amount of money the scientist offered, or how long he stated the torture would last?
I fear this experiment hoped to work with 'absolute reward and punishment' and induce 'selfish' reactions, which - in my case at least - doesn't work with money and torture.
Even under non-selfish motives, I'd be interested to see what viewpoint would be taken as not only does one have to take their own moral viewpoint into account but also their viewpoint on personal identity.

For instance, assuming the other person was someone who was similar to you in most respects, what would you think the best course of action would be?

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Post by sykkelmannen » Mon May 20, 2019 6:48 am

Apparently WIlliams questions what actually constitutes personal identity.
Are you sure you want to use the word personality? He didn't, from what I read.

With your vocabulary choice, you imply that persons involved would merely 'swap bodies', their identity will remain untouched (albeit in a new body) and you explore the moral side of the story. In that case:

100,000 is hardly a mind-blowing sum. I think the duration of the torture must somehow correlate with the sum of money. Yes, it would all affect my position.

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Post by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz » Mon May 20, 2019 7:12 am

sykkelmannen wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 6:48 am
100,000 is hardly a mind-blowing sum. I think the duration of the torture must somehow correlate with the sum of money. Yes, it would all affect my position.
Under which conditions would you be willing to have the other person (with your personal identity) be tortured?

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Post by sykkelmannen » Mon May 20, 2019 3:30 pm

Assuming that I'd be the one that suffers under it:
- if it left no permanent damage and lasted for a couple days, I fancy I could take it. It's an experience, anyhow ;)

What about you?

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Post by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz » Tue May 21, 2019 3:05 am

sykkelmannen wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 3:30 pm
Assuming that I'd be the one that suffers under it:
- if it left no permanent damage and lasted for a couple days, I fancy I could take it. It's an experience, anyhow ;)

What about you?
I'd like to think that I'd do the non-selfish thing and take the suffering for the other person. However, if it was in a situation like that, I would be very confused as to what would be the non-selfish course of action.

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Post by sykkelmannen » Fri May 24, 2019 8:58 am

In the show Altered Carbon, they invent a way to extract the person's entire 'consciousness' onto a piece of some precious metal; and the body becomes a mere 'sleeve' (albeit an expensive one) for the consciousness. The sleeves were shown to be extremely expensive tho.
If you were to exchange sleeves (of comparable quality) in this scenario, would you still be confused?

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Post by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz » Fri May 24, 2019 9:16 am

sykkelmannen wrote:
Fri May 24, 2019 8:58 am
In the show Altered Carbon, they invent a way to extract the person's entire 'consciousness' onto a piece of some precious metal; and the body becomes a mere 'sleeve' (albeit an expensive one) for the consciousness. The sleeves were shown to be extremely expensive tho.
If you were to exchange sleeves (of comparable quality) in this scenario, would you still be confused?
I'm not exactly sure what is meant by "sleeve" here.

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Post by sykkelmannen » Fri May 24, 2019 4:00 pm

Body. A vessel for consciousness without any psychological properties. You'd shed your old body like you would worn out clothes, and buy yourself another one (if you had the means). Your identity remained the same, just physical appearance changed.
In this show, consciousness was immortal as long as it was downloaded on the "stack" which was placed in the cervical vertebrae. If the stack got physically destroyed, it meant perma[nent]-death. So you could live forever switching worn out bodies, as long as you had the money to buy them and avoided headshots.

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