On Antisocial Stoics

I would like to address a claim that is sometimes made against stoics, particularly against some of the ideas of Marcus Aurelius, who said, among other things, “Permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own, and nothing to grow upon you that will give you agony when it is torn away.”  Given the extremely elevated status of friends and interpersonal relationships in our society, this concept doesn’t jive well with the idea that we all have to form deep bonds with one another.  The idea of being stoic and of suppressing your emotions as subservient to your mind seems to conflict with the idea that we’re supposed to share our feelings with others.  Why the belief is that if someone else is aware of the factual state of your existence creates a bond is beyond me, but it is implicitly assumed in our interactions with one another.  The most canonical example is when you encounter someone you know and ask them how they’re doing, what’s going on with them, or the like.  Both of you probably know, if you thought about it, that the other person’s answer is irrelevant.  Neither of you could give a damn.  But it’s the greeting you use because it is a sharing of information of a moderately personal nature, or at least it’s a question requesting that information which implies a certain closeness.  Whether you’re doing it to provoke that sense of intimacy in the other person, in the impressions of people listening in, or to convince yourself, I don’t know.  However I do know that very little of what is commonly thought of as conversation is an actual sharing of empathic significance or deep thoughts.  What is commonly accepted as “small talk” is the norm of human interaction, and it is accepted as having zero functionality.

Now, I am of course being a little over-literal here.  The purpose of small talk is that it is talk where everyone concerned might be uncomfortable in having a real conversation, it fills up the time and allows people to get comfortable with one another.  However it is not and will never be the goal or endpoint.  It is vital that just “being with” other people is never something you’re setting out to do, because standing next to other humanoid figures and flapping your vocal folds is, in and of itself, not really a worthwhile activity.  If you’re interacting on an empathic, mental, philosophical, or whatever medium in a way that gives you genuine enjoyment such that you would actively choose to enjoy that person’s presence in favor of some other activity you enjoy then of course it’s a good thing- that’s just a basic pursuit of your own satisfaction.  This is obvious and a trivial proof, but I think I need to inject it here so I’m not scaring off exactly the people who need to hear this.

The best corollary to this whole mess is our modern conception of sex, especially among men.  Men tend to be in a position of weakness and insecurity due to having conflicting internal models and programming and all manner of other nonsense going on in their heads leaving them a little lost and confused.  One of the dominant themes that result is a pursuit of sex that is driven more by social power than actual personal satisfaction.  Many men are more gratified by the fact that they are having sex than they are enjoying the sex itself.  They’ll brag to their buddies about it and allow themselves that extra iota of self-respect because they “got laid.”  The self-destructive side of this thinking is that they honestly believe they aren’t worth anything unless they can convince a woman that they are worthwhile enough to sleep with.  I am unsure of how many women have this problem, but it is widespread among men.  I suspect that because women are dealing with this population of men, they live in sexual abundance and don’t develop the same complex- attractive women at least if not all women.  I am speculating now, but I find it probable that women have a similar complex revolving around marriage, gratified more by the fact of being married than they enjoy the marriage itself, resulting in the “must get married” effect at a certain age.  Many, many people of both sexes are gratified more by the presence of other people than they are actually enjoying being with them.

The simple fact of the matter is that if you go out seeking deep bonds, what you will find is the most superficial of relations with people as desperate for companionship as yourself.  Deep bonds, described as such, actually don’t exist as we conceive of them.  It’s not that you spend a lot of time with someone or that you have known them for a long time, or even that you know a great deal about them and their personal preferences such as their favorite flavor of ice cream.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that knowing a huge amount about their preferential minutiae actually subtracts significantly from the goal that most people are seeking.  If there’s a woman I like, I could care less what her favorite flavor of ice cream is.  The question is whether or not she is fun to be around.  If I was to feverishly try to get her to like me or memorize her personal preferences, that’s work.  Stupid, counterproductive, and manipulative work, at that.  That’s all.  Perhaps we have deep empathy, perhaps we’re alike, maybe we have good discussions or great sex, it makes no difference (OK, I lie) the question is only if she’s a positive presence in some- preferably many- ways.

Part of the problem is the widespread perspective of the “personality.”  And for the love of life NEVER evaluate someone’s “personality” as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  Both those words are the most abused semantic identities ever created, and they both can mean nearly anything while being very specific about one thing and one thing only- and by hiding the implementation of that judgment there is no way to argue with it.  There is no such thing as a personality- a person is composed of the sum of their mind and actions derived from it.  There is no way that you can ascribe someone a personality which if they do something that is “not like them” then they’re being fake or somehow not being themselves.  Whatever the circumstances, they are merely exhibiting a decision-making pattern you haven’t previously observed or were otherwise unaware of.  It is the same person, ergo they are the same person.  This idea that we can understand someone else, ascribe them a simplified model that will predict their behavior and then expect that behavior from them is disgusting.  People are very complex- one person is far more complex than the sum of all of their understandings of other people, much less someone else’s understanding of them.  It can’t be your personality that you like coffee, and that you’re doing something bad when you don’t drink coffee.  The drive to be consistent is not a natural one- it’s a societal stamp mark on the inside of your brain that tells you to be simple so that others can understand you better.  But who gives a flying shit about whether other people understand you?  Do what you want!  If you wake up and wonder if eggs scrambled with cocoa and baking soda tastes good with ketchup, then go right ahead and try it!  It doesn’t have to be your personality that you eat weird things- it’s just something you want to do, so you do it.  That’s a bit of a weird example, but it holds.  Why we don’t expect one another to do what we want is just beyond me, especially in our day and age with so many options available.  There are all manner of stigma against jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, sluts, you name it, there’s a stereotype that someone wants to slot you into.  So, how about, just to screw with them, completely break their model of the world by totally not fitting into the model they would like you to.  Just for fun.

So here’s the question.  “Permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own, and nothing to grow upon you that will give you agony when it is torn away.”  The idea here is that you are your own pursuits and not permitting external people or objects to influence you or your goals.  This is both a warning against addictions of all forms, perhaps especially social ones, and a caveat emptor for everything you allow into your life.  You control your personal sphere- to the best of your ability at least.  It is your responsibility and nobody else’s to make sure that only elements you want are a part of your life, and it’s your duty to yourself to safeguard the vaults against the thieves that would seek to plunder your wealth.

I have something to say about victimization here.  Blaming the victim for a crime committed against them is the original scam.  It is the classical attempt to cheat and then get away with it, and the more serious the crime, the more potent a tactic it becomes.  The idea that you control your person means that yes, to a degree, you are responsible if something bad happens to you.  There are precautions you could have taken, etc. etc.  No matter the event, there are always choices you could have made to avoid that outcome you deem makes you a victim.  However part of the idea of being actually in control means that you are never a “victim” of other people’s choices or actions, because the very idea implies that you aren’t actually in control.  So you are only actually a victim when the aggressor has actively applied intelligence to disable, short-circuit, or otherwise evade whatever defenses or precautions you have taken against being taken advantage of.  Think of it like this: if you’re on a desert island and a bear comes and steals your food, then you’re a victim.  But you could have done any number of things to prevent your food from being stolen, such as hanging your food from a tree, out of reach.  The bear is fundamentally at fault here (I don’t believe the conventional idea of “blame” either, so this explanation might be a little awkward without a background but I’ll have to go on anyway) but that doesn’t mean you can sit there and rage about how that damn bear has made you a victim.  Your actions, to the degree that you invested resources to prevent an undesirable outcome, resulted in some probability of that undesirable outcome occurring- a risk.  Now, there are obviously far too many *possible* risks to address, but we can exercise our reason to determine which ones we need to address, which ones are worthwhile to address, and which ones we can safely ignore.  If you ignore a risk you should not have, then you are responsible for that mistake, even if you aren’t the acting agent of the aggression committed.  A bear is too animate.  Let’s go with physics.  You leave your food outside for a long time, and it rots.  Well?  You are responsible because you misjudged the risk of it rotting, didn’t take sufficient precautions, and now your food is gone.  In this case, there is no aggressor at all- it’s you against the laws of physics, but the situation is exactly identical.  You can mope around claiming to be a victim, perhaps go to the government and demand that your food be replaced…  yada yada.  Now, I absolutely do not want this concept of judgment and addressing of risk to be confused with actually blaming the victim as the active agent in their own victimization.  These are completely different concepts entirely.  An agent acting in a way that is exploitative of another agent is doing so because their incentives line up appropriately to make that a course of action they find acceptable.  The idea of punishing them is to tip these scales enough that it is no longer economical to exploit others.  There is of course the problem of giving the power of retribution to who, exactly, which I won’t go into here because this isn’t a post about anarchism.  The reason why you can’t have the punishment be equal to the crime (remove connotations of law or government) committed is that the risk of capture is never 100%.  Let’s say a thief steals purses.  If he gets caught 50% of the time, but each time he’s caught he only has to return the amount he stole, then it doesn’t really change the thief’s decision-making circumstances that much.  However, if the cost is losing a hand then the thief will think twice before stealing that purse because there would need to be a lot of money in there to justify a 50% chance, or even a 1% chance, of losing a hand.  Now, the funny thing about punishment is that you also have to account for a certain probability of false positives.  So if an innocent man is accused of stealing that purse and gets his hand cut off, well that’s pretty damn unjust, isn’t it?  So we have to scale back the punishment until it is enough to stop thieves while being acceptable to the innocents based on the risk of being hit with that false positive.  Keeping in mind that we are assuming the populace has a say in what the punishments are.  If you’re a totalitarian government, you could give a damn what the civvies say, and drastic punishments make sense because it’s less crime you have to deal with, freeing up resources for you to put towards your own ends.  Draconian methods of control are, pound for pound, more efficient in terms of resources spent versus results achieved.  Their main problem, in fact, is that they are so efficient that it makes life a living hell for nearly everyone.

After that long digression, back to the main issue.  If you’re simply enjoying another person’s presence, then there’s no further expectation in the matter.  If they leave, you’re no longer enjoying their presence.  You start to run into problems when you ascribe ultimate value to people or objects, because you can’t unlink ultimate value as long as you actually perceive it as “the ultimate good in the whole universe.”  Now we run into a very controversial edge case when dealing with the loss of loved ones.  I say it’s an edge case because it doesn’t happen very often relative to our lifetimes.  We’re not losing loved ones every other week.  A model that was focused primarily on dealing with death of the most intimate friends (I will not say “and family” because if your family are not your close friends then why are you with them?).  You know what, I’m going to elaborate on that parenthetical thought.  Your family, especially your nuclear family such as parents and immediate siblings, are people.  You know them for longer, and have more opportunity to become very good friends with them, and when you’re a child there is a certain amount of not-having-a-choice in the matter that forces you to make friends or make war, and rational individuals choose the former in all but the most extreme circumstances.  So there’s just very close friends.  The fact that you’re biologically related is of no philosophical significance whatsoever.  Medical significance, yes, but only because knowledge of your family’s genes can be used to deduce your genes.  Social significance, of course not.  So I will treat death of family as the death of friends who were equally close as family members.  Now, to be honest, this is a topic that I’m reluctant to exercise my usual methods of beating to death because there may be readers who have such a powerful subjective experience of the matter that I will waste my time if I try to dismiss the bits that require dismissal, focus in on what is significant , and use it build up a new model that more accurately fits reality and rationality.  We have arrived at the idea that being with people is something you do for yourself, but it seems like lunacy to say that the death of a loved one shouldn’t hurt because you aren’t able to enjoy their presence any more.  That’s just not strong enough, right?  BUt isn’t that exactly what mourning is?  You won’t speak to that person again, or see them, or talk to them, or whatever else.  If you could do those things then you wouldn’t care if they were technically dead- that’s just a cessation of some bodily functions.  If they could die and leave the person intact, now wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing- you wouldn’t have to worry about death.  This is actually a fairly direct deduction for most people, but the idea that the physical death isn’t the source of their trouble, isn’t.  It is the result of the event of death that they’re mourning.  Many religions exploit this weakness in thinking to interject “But life does continue after death!” and then the explanations, the fairy tales, and the bullshit that follows.  They are careful, however, to always exclude the very functionality that death precludes because they are unable to provide it.  They can’t help you talk to your dead loved ones, so they hide them away somewhere as ghosts or in heaven where you will go, too, once you die.  The intuitive universality of the death process makes this nearly logical, except that a slight elaboration can add a significant degree of control over the behavior of the people who want to believe.  And some of the crueler religions take advantage of exactly these people, and make this death process conditional upon your life, and exactly prescribed behaviors.  The most common trick is to exploit vague semantic identities such as “good” and “bad” which enable retroactive changing of what exactly those conditions are for live updating of the behavior of the believers based on what is expedient at the time.  I’m always amazed and fascinated at the complexity of religion as an organism, and the huge potential that religion proves memes have as a life form.

I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t feel pain- what a ridiculous assertion for a stoic.  The idea is that pain, like other sensations or emotions, are there to help you, not govern you.  If you felt fear and were unable to do anything else but freeze up, curl up into the fetal position, and pray, then what use is that?  For animals like the possum, it is an irresistible instinctive reaction programmed into them because in 99% of cases (at least in the genes’ experience) this is an effective defense mechanism, and giving the possum control over the matter would just screw up the system.  This isn’t strictly accurate because possums evolved their primary featureset in the time before memetic delegation had been “invented” by evolutionary processes.  The application of reason is itself a major feature of humanity, and quite novel in genetic terms.  If you wanted to be truly biological about it, you can look at memetic evolution as the ultimate genetic trick, but the problem is that it is so effective it makes genes obsolete.  Also, intelligence is so effective that genetic evolution can’t keep up with the rate of change.  For the prurient example, we have invented cars and now they’re everywhere.  And now possums, with their very effective defense mechanism of freezing up when afraid, causes them to get run over by speeding cars, and the genes can’t un-wire that feature given the new environment because they aren’t able to perceive and judge.  I would like to say, though, that genes are definitely alive.  Not just in the sense that a person is alive, but the gene of HUMANS is alive in a strange information amalgamation of the genes in every person in a way that we really can’t quite comprehend because there’s too many people, too much noise, and too much uncertainty about genes themselves.  The day that we truly understand genes completely, we won’t need them anymore because we’ll be able to construct our own biological machines to any specification or design we like.  They’re just like any other machine, but far more complicated and sophisticated.  Especially the organic ability to reproduce.  Interestingly, though, the body is itself one of the few things that we are currently unable to separate our selves from.  Some can conceive of what that might be like, and most of them have it wrong (I guarantee that I do, but it’s more complete than most, at least).  Note that the objective is to separate your self from as much as possible of what you don’t want, of that which subtracts from your good or your happiness.  I would argue that, for as long as it works, your body adds immensely to that happiness.  And as far as it doesn’t, it subtracts immensely.  So an ability to perfectly fix the human body, a hypothetical perfect medicine, would obsolete the need for mechanical bodies unless their features were so far beyond those of a human body (which is the case) that you could get even more out of one.  Probably the main advantage is the ability to add processing power and memory, and the ability to have direct inputs.  Anyway, permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own.  I am not my body, but insofar as I use it, rely upon it, and wish to keep it, it is mine.

So if I don’t even value my own body enough to want to keep it, what does that mean?  Well, I never said that I didn’t value my body, just that the value it provides is of the material sort, similar to eating a burrito, except that instead of the satisfaction of the burrito, my body contains the hardware necessary to eat the burrito, and without it any sort of gustatory satisfaction would be impossible (not strictly true- a perfect simulation of the experience is an identity).  This is similar to having a computer.  The computer in and of itself doesn’t actually provide a whole lot of satisfaction, but the things you can do with it will.  Perhaps the computer hardware hobbyists who make it a point of pride to have the best possible machine wired up in the best possible configuration get significant enjoyment out of simply possessing the hardware itself.  However, even with that example, we see parallels with the human body, such as with fitness junkies who make it a point of pride to have bodies sculpted out of steel, and enjoy simply having it.  Important note: most of these “fitness junkies” are doing it because of other people, not because they genuinely enjoy it, or because they even want the results.  And they get further conflicted by the fact that they are causing a change, which might conflict with their perception of themselves, or with others’ perceptions, and for some reason they’re anxious to step outside of that box.

Anyway, my entire point is quite simple, as usual, but it’s dressed up with many trimmings like mirrors in every corner of the room to show off the gleam on the little gem in the middle.  The idea that you should be dependent on others, the idea that that constitutes good social practices, the concept of a social personality, all of these things are foisted upon us because others had them foisted upon them.  We are the monkeys conditioned not to reach for the bananas within our reach because someone, at some point in the past, was punished for trying.  So now we have to live with everyone else.  But the most vital point is this: they don’t matter.  If you want to reach for that banana, they could physically stop you, but if they do then you have a clear and objective obstacle in your way, which can be overcome, instead of the hazy, confusing aimlessness of contradiction.

Macroscopic Decoherence

Macroscopic decoherence is a fancy name for the theory in physics of “many worlds,” a resolution to the dilemma presented by quantum physics that, to some, makes a lot of sense.  Before I discuss what it is and what it means if it is true, first I’ll go over the more commonly accepted modern viewpoint more specifically its aspect labelled the Copenhagen interpretation.  OK, here’s the dilemma.  Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, a verifiable precondition of any theory of quantum physics, states that you cannot determine both the position and the velocity of a particle.  The practical reason for this is that, for objects as small as particles, the act of measuring their properties has a significant effect in changing those properties.  For macroscopic objects such as a table, the photons bouncing off the table into our eyes don’t change the position or velocity of the table and therefore we can ascertain both.  However, there is no yet discovered tool which can be used to probe a particle without changing it in any respect, thus preserving its condition for a second measurement.  Hypothetically, I guess you could measure both properties simultaneously- within the exact same Planck time- but this is utterly impossible with current technology, totally incapable of operating on anything close to that time scale with simultaneity, and there may be other limitations I am not aware of.  Now, strictly speaking, this isn’t an accurate model of quantum decoherence.  Actually, particles behaving like waves exhibit a linear relationship of definition between variables such as, say, position and velocity.  This means that the more certain an agent is about one property, the correspondingly linked property can only be known with a correspondingly limited precision.  So it’s possible to have a continuum of accuracy about both properties.  This seems like a mad system, but this is due to the nature of waves.  I think I should stop and leave it at that before I get sidetracked from the main point- I haven’t even gotten to the standard model yet.
This gives modern physicists a dilemma- it would appear that our universe is a fickle beast.  Let’s say that we ascertain a given particle’s position with perfect accuracy- doesn’t that mean that it is categorically impossible for us to make any statements at all about its momentum, due to total uncertainty?  With the caveat that perfect accuracy is impossible, yes.  So what happens to the velocity?  Or, more importantly, what happens to all the other places it could have been if we hadn’t measured it?
The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics claims that the other possibilities do not exist in any case.  This more closely parallels the way we think about the macroscopic world in practical terms because even if we don’t know where a table is, we know the table has a given location that is not subject to change unless someone or something moved it.  The act of measuring the position of the table only puts the information about the table’s position into our heads, and does not change any fundamental properties about the table.  So, the Copenhagen model concludes that the act of measuring where the particle is collapses its waveform into one possible state.  It actually changes the waveform by nailing down one of the variables to a certain degree, leaving the other one free to flap around in a similar degree.  This collapse model causes particles to behave similarly to macroscopic objects in one sense.  However, in order to reach this conclusion, the Copenhagen interpretation has to violate numerous major precepts of modern science- I won’t go into all of them, although it is a laundry list if you want to look it up, universality and objectivity of the universe for one.  The fact that there are observers begins to matter because it appears that we can change the fundamental nature of reality by observing it.  This raises the question of what exactly constitutes an observation, perhaps one particle bumping into another counts as an “observation”?  But relative to us, the uncertainty principle still stands relative to both particles, so there really is something intrinsically different about being an observer.  This is the most serious flaw in an otherwise excellent model, and it is to address this flaw that I add my thoughts to the camp of macroscopic decoherence- the other one being that this causes particles on a small scale to behave in a fundamentally different way than larger objects.

Macroscopic decoherence does not require a theoretically sticky collapse, hence its appeal.  Instead, the theory goes that the other possibilities exist too, in parallel universes.  Each possible position, momentum, etc. exists in an independent parallel universe.  Of course, due to the number of permutations for each particle, and the number of particles in the universe, this causes us to postulate the existence of an indescribably large number of infinities of universes.  Now, if you accept that postulate, it allows a theory that explains particles in the same terms as macroscopic objects, you only have to accept that this same permutation mechanism applies to any and all groupings of particles as well as individual particles.  So there exists a parallel universe for every possible version of you, every choice you have made, and so on into infinity.  This is something of a whopper to accept in common-sense terms, but it does create a more manageable theory, in theory.  The linchpin of the theory is that, rather than the act of observing causing the mystical destruction of the other probabilistic components of a particle’s waveform, it only pins down what those properties are relative to the observer in question.
In other words, the act of observing only tells the observer in which parallel world they happen to be.  Each parallel world has only one possible interpretation in physical terms- one position and velocity for every particle.  Unfortunately, there are an endless infinity of future parallel worlds, so you can’t pin down all properties of the universe, or a distinct set of physical laws would necessitate the existence of a single universe derived from that one.  The flaw in this theory is that this same approach can be taken to a variety of other phenomena, with silly results.  Basically, there is no reason to postulate the existence of parallel worlds beyond the beauty of the theory.  The same data explains both the Copenhagen interpretation and macroscopic decoherence, which is why the theories exist.  Both produce the same experimental predictions because they’re explaining the same phenomena in the first place.  We can’t go backwards into a parallel universe, and similarly we can’t go back in time and find information that has been destroyed by the act of observing the information we observed then.  It appears to me that, given current understanding, both theories are unfalsifiable relative to each other.  Overcoming Bias makes a fascinating case as to why decoherence should be testable using the general waveform equations, but the problem I see is that theoretically the Copenhagen model could follow the same rules.  True, it lends serious weight to macroscopic decoherence because it systemically requires those equations apply whereas it could incidentally apply to the Copenhagen model.  Or some souped-up version of the Copenhagen model could take this into account without serious revisions, it’s difficult to say.  I do disagree with the idea that macroscopic decoherence must be false because postulating the existence of multiple universes violates Occam’s Razor.  This is a misapplication of the razor.  Occam’s Razor doesn’t refer to the number of entities in question, but to the overall improbability by complexity of the concept or argument being considered.  It just so happens that you have two options- either there is some mechanism by which observers collapse a wave into only one possible result, or there exist many possibilities of which we are observing one.  It is not a question of “well, he’s postulating one function of collapse, versus the existence of an endless infinity of universes.  1 vs infinite infinities infinitely…  Occam’s razor says smaller is better so collapse is right.”  This is not correct by any stretch.  True, currently there is no way to verify which theory is correct, but a rational scientist should consider them equally probable and work towards whichever theory seems more testable.

Well, let’s consider the ramifications if this theory of macroscopic decoherence happens to be correct.  It means that every possible universe, ever, exists.  Every possible motion of every single particle.  According to quantum physics as we know it now, there exists some possibility that the statue of liberty will get up and take a stroll through New York.  It is a…  shall we say… exceedingly small… probability.  I won’t even attempt to calculate it, but I bet it would be a 10 to the 10 to the 10 to the 10…. so many times you couldn’t fit all the exponents into a book.  It could easily be improbable enough that you couldn’t write that many exponents on all the paper ever produced on Earth, but I won’t presume I have any goddamn clue.  However, according to macroscopic decoherence, there actually exist a very large number of infinities of universes where this occurs- one for each possible stroll, one for each particle’s individual motion inside the statue of liberty for each possible stroll, etc. etc. etc.  And this is for events that are truly so unlikely as to be totally impossible, let alone for events as likely as intelligent choices between reasonable alternatives, such as what to order at a restaurant, or what to say every time you open your mouth, and then every minor permutation of each…. gah!  Any attempt to describe how many possible universes there are is doomed to fail.  Trying to diagram the possible life courses on the grand scale that each person might make, I will leave to your imagination.

So now we get to the interesting bit- the reason why I am writing this post.  So in all of these parallel universes there exists a version of you that is doing all of these different things.  So the question I have is, are they really you?  Seriously, there are versions of you out there that are exactly, exactly the same in every respect and living exactly the same lives in exactly the same universes, with a single particle moving in an infinitely small way elsewhere in the universe in a way that does not and could not possibly affect you.  However, because of this schism of universes, you are separate consciousnesses inhabiting different parallel universes.  Now there is a high probability that these universes are not totally discrete- rather they inhabit a concept-space that, while isotropic, could be conceived of as having contours that describe the similarity of the universes, with very similar universes being close together and very different universes very far apart, in a space with an infinite infinity of dimensions.  As a result, even with respect to these parallel universes, these versions of you will be infinitely close to you and could be said to inhabit the exact same space, with versions splitting off into space while remaining identical, and other versions experiencing physical changes on the same spot (some of them infinitesimal, and others rather drastic, such as turning into a snake, a werewolf, or anything else you can conceive of).
So which of them is the “real” you?  Or have you figured out that the concept doesn’t have any significant meaning in this context?  If we narrow down this infinite schisming into a single binary split, then both sides can be said to be equally “original” based on the preceding frame.  By the same token, an exact copy of someone in the same universe should be treated as synonymous with the “original.”  Please note, those who are unfamiliar with this territory- I get this a lot.  I am NOT referring to cloning.  A clone is genetically the same, but so utterly disparate from its progenitor that this level of identity is not even approached.  I am referring to two entities that are so identical that there is no test you could perform to tell them apart.  Obviously, with any time spent in different physical locations in the universe they will diverge after their initial point of creation, but it is that critical instant of creation where the distinction matters.  If the two are synonymous, there is no “original” and a “copy”- indeed, the original is merely existing in two places at once.  If they could somehow be artificially kept identical by factoring out particle randomness and their environment then they would continue to act in perfect synchrony until something caused a change, such as a minute aspect of their environment or a tiny change in their body’s physical makeup, such as a nerve firing or even a single particle moving differently (although that probably wouldn’t change much, somewhere down the line it might due to chaos theory).
So now we get to the difficult bit.  What about alternate encodings of the same information, but represented in a different format?  Are the two synonymous?  I argue that it is, but only under certain circumstances.  1) Using a rigorous and perfectly accurate transcoding method to encode one into the other, 2) the timespan of the encoding must be fast enough that significant changes in the source material are minimized, if not completely eliminated, and 3) the encoding can, theoretically, be converted back into the original form with zero loss or error.  The first requirement is the only ironclad one- if you make an error in the encoding then the result will not be representative of the original.  The second and third are more complicated, but easy to assume in an ideal case.  The reason for this is that there is a continuum of identity, and a certain degree of change is acceptable and will produce results that are “similar enough” to meet identity criteria.  If it’s the “you” from a year ago, it’s still the you from a year ago even if it isn’t identical to you now.  So if the encoding takes a year then it does preserve identity, it just doesn’t preserve identity with changes into the future, which is an utterly impossible task because even a perfect copy will diverge into the future due to uncontrollable factors.  Thirdly, if there is no method to convert the new encoding back then it cannot be verified that it is indeed synonymous with the original.  It is possible to produce an identical representation without this clause, but if for some reason it is impossible to convert it back then you can’t know that it is indeed a perfect process that preserves material identity absolutely.  This is the test of a given process.  Now, for digital conversion, reconversion back into physical media is impossible, but simulation in a perfect physics simulation and producing the same results is synonymous with re-creation in the physical world.  I am aware that this appears to be a figure-eight argument, depending upon the identity of a simulation to prove the identity of digital simulation as a medium.  However, this is false because I am referring to a test of a specific conversion method.  In order to create a proven physics simulation, other provable methods might be used to compare the simulation’s results with the physical world.  Once the simulation has been proven to produce the same results as the physical world, given the same input, then a given instance of simulation can be added and compared with the exact same situation in the physical world, using the simulation as the calibrated meter stick by which to judge the newly simulated person or other digitized entity’s accuracy.

The Contradiction of Freedom

Freedom appears to be the favored subject among my readers, so here we go into greater detail.  First of all we need to establish what I mean when I use the word.  By “freedom” I am referring to unencumbrance in the transformation from desire to reality.  This is distinct from the idea of “liberty” or the fulfillment of all intrinsic rights to the satisfaction of the individual being considered.  I believe the issue of maintaining liberty to be a solved one- however, the issue of freedom certainly is not.  The fact that there are no slaves, no wanton executions in the developed world, etc. etc. indicate to me that the fulfillment of basic liberty is not even particularly difficult if the conditions are right.  Freedom, on the other hand, is more difficult to work with.  The reason for this is that reality itself necessarily impinges on our freedom.  I want to be able to fly around, but gravity says I am not free to do that.  In my common definition of “freedom” I don’t consider such possibilities on the grounds that they are physically impossible.  It is a childlike idea that we should have absolutely everything that we want in a direct transmission from wanting to having.  However, it is not at all a childish idea of freedom that you should be able to make any choice you wish, including both the costs and the gains from that choice.  For example, I could choose to invest millions of dollars in inventing a sleek, compact jetpack that would enable me to fly around to my satisfaction- there is a considerable cost to this venture, and no certainty of success (risk is itself a cost), but I am free to try and free to succeed if that’s how the dice fall.

In this line of thinking, a direct transition from desire to actualization should be the default state of reality.  If an item I want has a cost associated with it, then I can pay that cost and have it without qualms.  This is not the situation of “I want, therefore I should have”- I cannot stress this enough.  Too many people are walking around in that sort of entitlement-based fantasy world.  However, if the demand is reasonable and I am prepared to deal with whatever costs, risks, or other consequences that arise from my decision, then the only thing standing in my way is a bunch of unnecessary human barriers.  If I want an apple and am prepared to endure the cost, given the circumstances, then I should have one.  Now, the circumstances can cause the cost to vary tremendously.  If there’s a grocery store then I only have to pony up the dollar or so required to buy it.  However, if I’m in the middle of nowhere, then the desire to eat an apple requires a more complex plan involving obtaining an apple seed, growing the tree, and then harvesting the apple and eating it.  It just so happens that this is a great deal of cost and effort for quite a small reward, which is why it is much more efficient to have consolidated apple farms which grow apples efficiently in large numbers and sell them to distributors.  Rather than the large investment of personal energy to acquire a tree’s worth of apples, I only have to pay for a fraction of that effort due to the scale of apples being produced.  If I’m an apple grower, this system is also to my advantage because if I grow a lot of apples, each apple costs me less to produce, and because I make a profit on every apple (or else I wouldn’t sell them) then the more apples I sell the more money I make.

This is all fairly typical free-market capitalist thinking so far.  However, the crunch comes when we consider that the government must necessarily introduce barriers to this system in order to do, well, anything at all.  Let’s suppose the existence of a government that has no barrier-producing authority.  Nobody has to take it seriously because it has no money since it can’t institute taxes, and even if it did institute taxes, nobody has to pay them because it has no power to enforce compliance.  THe only type of action such an agency is useful for is advising, and concerned parties can listen and take its advice when it is to their advantage to do so.  If this government started a campaign using volunteers to spread awareness about brushing your teeth, and it worked because it demonstrably improves your dental hygiene and health, that’s all it’s good for.  However, my usual case is that this is all government should be good for, because this isn’t actually a government- it’s a very weak and ineffectual DRO choosing to occupy the nonprofit niche instead of actively pursuing customers.  The idea that government should somehow be fundamentally nonprofit is just laughable.  Most people say that if you have a for-profit government, well that’s just loosing the dogs for corruption the likes of which has never before been seen.  They actually have a point, but the tricky bit is- that’s my point.  No company has a police force with the authority to arrest you if you don’t comply with that company’s policy.  If they did, they would be in exactly the same position as any typical government, minus the checks and balances that most modern governments have.  However checks and balances are like band-aids on a gangrenous wound- government just fundamentally will not be ethical, non-corrupt, balanced, fair, what have you, because it has the authority to seize as much money and power as it can grab.  It may have to disguise its efforts, but under the guise of national security or some other necessity it will do what it pleases.

So now we arrive at the contradiction of freedom that political scientists agonize over so much.  People want freedom, but they appear to need a government to secure those freedoms.  At the same time, in the act of securing their freedoms, the government itself must necessarily impinge upon those freedoms.  I understand the difficulty of wrestling with such a dilemma, but you’re wasting your brain cycles.  What you’ve got there is a conundrum of the first order- totally unsolvable with the same type of thinking that created it.

Here is the logical analysis of the argument in question: 1) People want to be free.  2) Freedoms are insecure in a state of nature.  3) Governments secure freedoms.  Conclusion: We should have a government.  The solution is brutally simple: the premise that governments somehow reduce a state of nature, or that governments act to secure freedoms.  Indeed, governments have only ever acted to reduce the freedoms of individuals beneath them.  Perhaps at times those citizens were under the impression that they were being aided in some fashion, at times perhaps a large majority of them were so deceived.  However the simple fact of the matter is that if what a government offered was so valuable then rational individuals would sign up voluntarily.

The proof that individuals can create extremely complex systems that are able to fulfill their needs is evident in government itself.  Government’s methodology is fine, with the single vital exception that participation is mandatory, and will be backed up by force.  In return, however, the government promises not to take everything you have, only a fraction such as one quarter or one third, which will be put toward projects you have essentially no control over.  Once again, I have no issue with any of these projects in and of themselves.  There may even be circumstances where actions as severe as the war in Iraq become necessary (they definitely were not in this case, but government idiocy is a side effect of the fact that the government retains power no matter what, even if the parties in it change).  Governments should offer services at a fair price, in a manner that its citizens will be prepared to pay for them.  One possible strategy is to have a single subscription model, requiring a third of your income, to which you must subscribe in order to legally inhabit land that the government in question owns.  As a subset of this government’s ownership, it is possible to own land.  We are approaching a fixed model of the US government where it’s essentially the same, with the critical exception that participation is voluntary.  Granted, the costs involved depend on your circumstances.  If the (rather impractical) stance of having a subscribe-or-leave policy were instituted, then you would probably stay just to keep what property you have, such as a house.  However, this solution presumes the existence of a government with the power to simply lay claim to your property as desired, and can use that threat to coerce you to subscribe in one final death throb to stab its superior and would-be-ethical successor in the gut.

So we arrive at the same contradiction for iteration round two.  In order to create a free society it is necessary for people already living under governments to somehow act as though they were not, at exactly the same moment that the government decides to relieve itself of its coercive power in favor of a voluntary or contractual model.  This is never going to happen.  So, the statist theorizes, in order to make a free society, you have to use coercive force to make them free, yes?  So we need a government to, not secure our freedoms, but force us to participate in our free society.  No.  Absolutely, definitely not.

The whole issue here is the idea of power.  The idea that a problem requires power to solve it, or that power is ever a solution worth choosing.  I am referring to power as the exercise of coercive power.  This is to distinguish it from freedom, which is the ability, or the facility, to accomplish something.  Using the definition from earlier, technology very clearly extends our freedom by enabling new courses of action that were previously physically impossible.  However, actions are morally neutral.  By creating new actions that were previously physically impossible, new crimes and new options for the use of power exist as well.  This is a cliche, but the invention of the blade creates both kitchen knives and swords.  The same holds true for everything up to and including F-22’s, although it’s hard to see how some of the more elaborate and expensive pieces of military hardware have any use at all beyond blowing stuff up, if that.  I digress here, but I am actually referring to the fundamental technological components in each case.  Technologies such as avionics systems in advanced fighter jets can be used in civilian planes and other places as well.  Simply that the F-22 and civilian planes are superficially different is taking advantage of the fact that, unlike primitive tools like kitchen knives and swords, they look and act very differently.  Although, if you looked into it, you would likely find that the design of cookware and the blacksmithing of military edged weapons were, and are, extremely different, although the fundamental technologies were the same.  Anyway, my point is that an increased availability of facility and options doesn’t actually get you anywhere in terms of the freedom versus power conflict- it only allows the scale to tip farther in either direction, irrespective of which way it is currently tipping.

I am aware that framing the discussion as “freedom versus power” seems to present a foregone conclusion, but keep in mind that I am referring to freedom as the ability to do subjective work, whereas power is the ability to have others do subjective work on your behalf.  While it is highly likely that the subjective work you have them do will not serve their own interests, there is no reason why this could not be the case.  I believe the origin of centralized authority was in the fact that disparate forces united to a common purpose can accomplish far more than they could individually, even though this means a subsuming of the individual’s judgment to whatever authority is making the decision about what must be done.  So when the scale tips toward freedom, by this logic, it appears that we are being modest in our desires.  We can’t accomplish as much in total.  I suspect this is why, in times of distress such as World War II, nations bond together.  States tighten up and hunker down, and the civilians set to work for the greater good, for fear of annihilation due to defeat in global war, but still a unified and powerful force.  It appears to me that this outcome is simply a result of economy of scale.  The issue, though, is that people are not cogs in machines, and we don’t necessarily respond well to economy of scale on the human level.  We don’t all want to eat the same food, even though it would be most efficient in the grand scheme of things to consolidate all the vast sprawling food industries into a single entity (if we utterly disregard politicking, management inefficiency, balance in parallelism, competition, and a ridiculous number of other factors) and have everyone eat well-designed vitamin and carbohydrate supplements with tap water.  It would cost virtually nothing, and free up so much human capital, labor, and time to other pursuits.  Unfortunately, as a side effect, everyone would have to live on vitamins and carb pills, which is clearly an undesirable situation.  However, on the other side of power, it’s clear that if we consolidate power too much, then human error becomes magnified.  If we consolidate absolute power in one leader then there will be fluctuations not only in that leader’s mood and ability, but also in the variation between leaders, where one person’s thought and personality can have profoundly different effects than another.  We get the good-king bad-king effect, with the good kings working steadfastly for the good of the people, and the huge contrast with the bad kings merrily chopping everyone’s heads off, starting wars and economic crises, and putting a pall of fear over the whole country.  So we see a continuum between power creating efficiency in terms of economy of scale, but inefficiency in terms of the magnification of human error.  Freedom, by contrast, limits the absolute utility available to the sum of the group in question, but also limits the effects of human error to the bounds of the party concerned.  If you want to smoke crack until you overdose- feel free.  You’ll probably be dead, but that will be the total extent of the damage you cause.

The issue with this description is that it isn’t entirely accurate.  In the freedom scenario, people still form together in groups and organizations, they just do so voluntarily only.  As a result, people in control of those large groups might still have a significant amount of power to direct and affect a large number of people.  However, and here is the critical difference, every single one of those people is free to leave at any time.  As a result, we get both the benefits of applying centralized power, and the benefits of freedom’s damage control.  If the leader is being totally ridiculous and irrational, he will either be replaced by those sensible enough to recognize it or everyone the crazy bastard has power over will jump ship and do business with someone else.  This creates a huge incentive for leaders to be effective, but also limits the damage if they are not.  It is the judgment of each person with whom they become involved, and also who they permit to have power over them, and to what degree.

Mandatory participation where each person has significant involvement and power, such as democracy in small communities, approaches this situation, but unlike mandatory democracy it scales to societies of any size.  With the possible exception of small groups in isolation.  However this is because it is assumed to be true in small groups in isolation, so the complex contracts are not worthwhile to make, resulting in stereotypical independence anarchy- the desert island scenario that statists like to employ so much.  However this fails too because the same system could be applied, and in fact would be if the situation became dire enough.  The Lord of the Flies scenario is unrealistic for rational beings (of course, there is some possibility that the circumstances caused them to become irrational) because when a problem arose, a solution, whether systemic or responsive, would be created even if there was only one individual to implement it.  This only fails when the rest of the group is behaving similarly, but treating each other as problems to be solved, resulting in never-ending conflict.  Eventually they’ll figure out how to trust one another, or kill one another first, just as barbarians of old did.  However the idea that appointing a leader prevents this type of worst-case scenario from playing out is shortsighted because the leader could easily be the cause if he tries to direct them in ways their own reason tells them are bad, and they have the independence to resist.  Anyway, this whole paragraph addresses an edge case which is increasingly rare in modern society, and irrelevant with regards to any community, city, state, national, or global scale.