A Brief Thought Experiment

A few days ago, I wrote that I would support any party that I thought would achieve my policy goals, including submitting to the benevolent tyranny of an omnipotent Artificial Intelligence. Freedom, I declared, was more important than any other policy I might support, which were really just means to that end. I consider myself ecologically conscious, not because I believe in the inherent goodness of ecology, but because it’s hard to be free when you’re choking on smog. And so on, the point being the one already stated: I would accept the Ends by any Means necessary.

This gave me pause. I examined this assertion at some length, and eventually decided that I hadn’t said what I actually meant. By “freedom,” what I actually meant was “happiness.” All the language about being free to “become” and “self-actualize” as just a euphamism for that. Happiness. Nothing wrong with that.

But I wanted to test it, so I eventually developed a brief thought experiment, which runs as follows:

There is a button in front of you. 

If you push this button, every human being on Earth (and in Earth’s orbit, the astronauts don’t get out of this) will die. It will be immediate and painless. No one will be spared.

If you push this button, in the instant before death, every human being will experience perfect, pure happiness, which they will perceive to last hundreds of years. The happiness will be complete, without exception or condition. 

Do you push the button?

If my assertion is true (That A) Happiness is all that matters and B) anything is worth it), it’s a no-brainer. Centuries of happiness is longer than any other human could expect to experience on their own. Their painless death means that they have to suffer no more. If I believe what I say I believe, I’d press the button.

But I can’t.

And I can’t for a simple reason: it isn’t my place to make that decision for someone else. And that means that I believe that a decision, freely made, has more moral weight than a decision that another makes on your behalf, even if their decision will make you happier. That means I actually believe not in happiness, but in freedom.

I can’t overemphasize that this is not a scientific study, or a rigorous discovery. This is just a process of self-interrogation that resulted in the realiztion that my beliefs aren’t exactly what I thought they were.

I don’t like to stick my hand into the grease trap that is my underconscious, but it’s healthy, every now and then. You’ll never know what you’ll scoop out.



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