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Evan, I think you are right in that you can’t split a soul. And that changes everything.

I first encountered the Many-Worlds Interpretation in the original Star Trek (probably like a lot of people). It makes for an interesting story, like the time loop in Groundhog Day. And it’s interesting to briefly explore emotions like regret, or the concept of grace. But because you can’t split a soul, it can become a downward spiral. It can become a downward spiral into regret and depression in particular. A lot of people get tripped up in the NEGATIVE of it.

It is actually more productive to use this way of thought to look at near FUTURE choices you are presented with. Something within our daily human power. Or even PRESENT choices. Even better. Things like, can my choices now repair or deepen a friendship? How can I have the best outcome possible in my career/job with just today’s choices considered? Do I need to cut my losses with xyz in order to place my energies elsewhere?

This theory can be alluring. And has its uses. But must be used for good and not evil in any story. Including our stories in reality. In which, we don’t get the luxury of a parallel or a do over.

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(I cannot find *anything* in Substack's documentation about which forms of text markup are acceptable in comments. Well, if it comes out as raw HTML, at least it will be clear what was meant.)

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>><i>We don't know how human choices come about in the brain. If they're completely caused by physical parts of the brain, then of course each choice will split off some number of alternate universes, the exact percentages depending on how the brain works... and what sort of person you are. We know that some people are more likely to make some choices than others, so we can say (for example) that in the universes diverging in May 1940, Churchill surrenders to Hitler much less than half the time. One could perhaps build a moral theory off of this, where you would try to be the sort of person who makes the more moral choice in more universes. It still sounds uncomfortably deterministic, but no more so than most materialistic moral theories.</i>

Huh, my main problem with it is exactly the opposite: that's the *most* comfortable level of determinism, more so than levels above *and* below it, and as such it seems too good to be true. The multiverse was not made for me, and I would find it suspicious if it just *happened* to work the way I intuitively feel it ought to work.

I'm not especially disturbed by the idea that someone with perfect knowledge of my mind could perfectly predict how I would react to a given situation: after all, in order for me to be said to have made a decision, it has to *matter* that *I* was the one making it. If each of my decisions is simply the aspect of my fundamental essence that that precise situation evokes, that seems basically fine.

(The main problem I'd have with living in a fully deterministic singular universe wouldn't be the lack of free will (why would I *want* the ability to go against my own nature?), but something more like a lack of quantum immortality. Variance is inherently (albeit not infinitely) bad: in any given dangerous situation, I'd rather have a guaranteed small fraction of my forks die than a small probability that all of me dies†. "Live in the worlds in which you live††" is more comforting if it's literal, even if it's still a useful heuristic for a singular universe.)

No, the *really* viscerally disturbing ontologies are the infinitely-branching ones like in "<a href=https://www.uncannymagazine.com/article/and-then-there-were-n-one/>And Then There Were (N-One)</a>". (I'm surprised you didn't mention that one: feels like it was all over the place a couple of years ago. Maybe it was just an accident of whom I happened to be hanging out with.) None of those Sarahs have ever actually made a decision in their lives: *random noise* made the decisions, and they were just along for the ride.

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†I was rather confused by <a href=https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/david-wallace-many-worlds-theory-of-quantum-mechanics/>reading</a>:

"<i>Maybe you now think of a time you drove home drunk without incident as being worse — because there are branches where you actually killed someone. But David thinks that if you’d thought clearly enough about low-probability/high-consequence events, you should already have been very worried about them.</i>"

Somebody clearly has very different intuitions.

(I'm plenty worried about low-probability/high-consequence events, FTR)

††more commonly phrased as the lower-stakes version, "if only one card can win you the game, play as if that will be the next card you draw"

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Thanks for the detailed comment - and I haven't figured out any forms of text markup that come through in comments here; if you do, please let me know!

Yes, the infinitely-branching multiverse where there's a version of you that makes every possible choice is exactly why the Many-Worlds Interpretation doesn't feel satisfying! There's a version of Churchill that reacts every which-way; there's a version of Gene Trimble who kills himself or heads home early or does every other possibility; et cetera ad infinitem. I hadn't heard about that story - thanks for the link, and also thanks for the great phrase describing it! "Random noise made the decisions," indeed!

So I don't understand your calling it "the most comfortable level of determinism" when we get exactly that, but there're simply more of you making one choice than another. Either I wasn't communicating that clearly in my original post, or I'm not understanding your comment?

(And yes, quantum immortality is one aspect of the multiverse that could be comforting. But when I think about some of the likely places for a pattern like me to be instantiated after a few billion years, like Boltzmann brains, I don't really think it's so comforting.)

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>>So I don't understand your calling it "the most comfortable level of determinism" when we get exactly that, but there're simply more of you making one choice than another. Either I wasn't communicating that clearly in my original post, or I'm not understanding your comment?

I think we're conceptualising "We know that some people are more likely to make some choices than others, so we can say (for example) that in the universes diverging in May 1940, Churchill surrenders to Hitler much less than half the time" differently. I read that as something like "of the possible sets of circumstances arising from May 1940, much less than half of them can convince Churchill that surrendering to Hitler is a good idea".

The Sarahs appear to have overwhelming quantities of random noise going on *within their own minds*, making very different decisions even in very similar situations, while in the "be the kind of person who makes a good decision in more worlds" framework as I see it, almost all random noise occurs *outside* of you. Random noise might push you on something where you're already on the fence, but almost all variation is caused by (presumably random-noise-stemming in the end) differences in *the situation you face*, such that the different situation evokes a different aspect of your (almost entirely stable) decisionmaking. Sufficiently bad luck may place Churchill in a position where surrender is the least bad option.

(It may be worth noting that I have an unusually strong and stable sense of self (and no I am *not* looking to get rid of it, please go away zealousness-of-converts!Buddhists and also people who think that being a good person requires a willingness to abandon everything you are), and my regrets are approximately always of the form "I wish I'd had better information when making that decision" and not "I wish I'd done different things with the information I had".)

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Oh! Yes, that's a different interpretation of what I wrote! I meant it as "Given one identical set of circumstances in May 1940, in most universes, Churchill responds by resisting - but in a minority of universes, he responds to that identical set of circumstances by surrendering." I was talking about that same random noise within minds that we see in the Sarahs.

But now I see how I was unclear. I totally agree, your interpretation is very comfortable, and something like it is the most comfortable interpretation of a multiverse!

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Greg Egan is a must read for implications of MWI. “Singleton” and “Schild's Ladder” come to mind.

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I've read his "Schild's Ladder" and "Diaspora," which say some interesting things about a multiverse, but it's a different sort of multiverse. I hadn't heard of his "Singleton" till recently, though; I'll check it out!

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