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On Simulation, Part I
nerve staple
northrop_fried
I had a conversation with max_ambiguity that broaches some recent concerns of mine about simulation.

When I was riding my bicycle earlier this week, I thought again about how I always get angry at drivers, and that I dislike how this anger wastes my emotional and physical reserves. Lots of cyclists, I'm sure, get angry at drivers, especially in a congested city; your safety depends on remaining aware of your exposure to hurtling machines of varying tonnage, your own adrenaline is up from simple exertion, and then some douchebag makes a left turn in his Escalade while talking on his cellphone, forcing you to hit your breaks because it's your momentum or your life. This elicits a volcanic, but utterly impotent, rage in me.

So while I was biking earlier this week, I found a solution; rather than thinking of drivers as moral agents whose efforts to snuff me were deliberate, I would imagine that they were just simulations, no more possessed of moral agency or the potential for courtesy than a video-game boss. Stupid, rude, dangerous drivers were simply an obstacle, ghosts in the maze. And you know what? It worked. What use is there in getting mad at an algorithm? I calmed down, and ever since, bicycling around town has visited less stress and fatigue on my body. Montaigne compared anger to an acid that consumes its own container.

But this got me thinking; if this worked so well when commuting, how would suspending my belief in the interiority of others-- not seriously, but for pretend, as my son would say-- benefit operations in other areas of daily life? I quickly decided that deliberately viewing the world as a sociopath would be a moral abomination. The self-delusion I entertain as a cyclist could be morally justified by the fact that while the douchebag in the Escalade could do considerable harm to me, I could do no him no harm (except potential guilt and a probable bill at the auto body shop), and therefore my disregard for his interiority would have not effect on him or anybody else whatsoever.

Regarding a bank teller as a simulated person, on the other hand, strikes me as a categorical moral transgression. But then, I thought, what if I regarded myself as a simulation also? Would I treat myself any differently?


To be continued...

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I certainly didn't mean to spark all that with a comment about friendship!

I bet lots of people use a similar technique to accomplish certain jobs, though. Soldiers, for example. And maybe teachers. Forget the touchy-feely no red pen stuff. What if we regarded each set of student papers as something produced by an algorithmic entity? Get rid of any suspicions that so-and-so cheated, and whatshisname willfully ignored the assignment instructions, etc. Just grade them like a machine wrote them and the machine needs to be informed of its deficiencies. Would that help?

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