Bear with me here.

Let's assume, for the purpose of this discussion, many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. This interpretation stipulates something like multiple parallel realities that don't interact going forward. It opens door to interesting thought experiments, including quantum immortality.

Combined with subjective antropic principle MWI would allow the following actions:

1) You and 1000 strangers make a "suicide or get rich pact": set up a machine that would randomly pick one of you to become the inheritor of the other 999 participants and simultaneously kill them. Due to MWI you conscious will be limited to the world where you are the winner, and each of the strangers' conscious will be limited to the parallel world where he is the winner. Since nobody's conscious really disappeared, should you have moral objections to such an action?

2) A setup similar to the above one but less bloody, you buy a lottery ticket and setup the quantum suicide machine to kill you unless you win. Again, your conscious will be limited to the world where you won; however, your family members may exist in both happy dad-got-rich world and terrible-dad-is-dead world. Are you morally responsible to the latter instances of your family members' consciousnesses?


Given the answers, perhaps I should clarify something about MWI + antropic principle. The reason for these questions is that MWI in some respects sounds awfully similar to solipsism. The world YOU live in is in some respects taylored for you and nobody else: it's the world where YOU must be able to exist. The difference with solipsism is that the objective existence of other people is not denied.

Imagine now a Matrix style existence where each participant is presented with his own image of the world. The images may interact, but they can also split apart with no further interaction. Quantum suicide is just a split between the worlds of particular people: one is the sole survivor in his world, and the other one - in his own world.

2 Answers 2


What objections are there to suicide in general, and how do they apply under the Many Worlds Interpretation? Case #2 here hints at the importance of this question.

An inescapable fact of suicide is that someone dies, and that this affects those who knew the dead. If you are the one committing suicide, you might not care about the consequences, or — in circumstances where you are moved to suicide by intolerable physical or mental distress rather than a bizarre get-rich quick scheme — you may decide that the consequences are acceptable. But others, your friends, family, and other social entanglements, must cope with the social trauma caused by your death, and in particular the social ramifications of choosing to die in such a scheme. If you are in great pain, they might themselves find it a relief that you can find release, if they are able to understand things in that way. But as a pact with nearly a thousand strangers, on the premise that you will only experience worlds where you get rich?

Suicide causes a social injury to the people left behind, who in all branches of the wave-function must cope with the needless deaths of 999 people. Furthermore, anyone who may be directly affected is only spared this burden in 1/1000 of the amplitude of the wave function. The fact that the deaths are all of greedy solopsists may not prove much consolation to those who know better sides of them.

Is suicide without duress, less irresponsible if taken up at random, as in a perfectly "fair" game of Russian Roulette? Even if we weight the moral barrier by the probabilities involved, a 99.9% chance of a terrible act is hardly less than the terrible act, for the people left behind.

But a final, practical concern — the details of the execution of such a suicide pact may be crucial. One should take care that it is impossible to learn how the gamble pays off before getting killed. The ideal is for the random process which determines who lives and who dies to be a purified quantum mechanical process, such as the decay of a radioactive nucleus, which triggers a lethal mechanism so reliably and immediately that you have no room for conscious experiences between the period before the gamble, and after you have "won". This is the only way to try to ensure that your consciousness does not blunder into the branch of the wave-function in which you have lost. This is presumed to be important, because if once you have experienced a world in which you will not live, that copy of you will experience being killed. Indeed, as we do not understand how consciousness works, we cannot guarantee that you will only experience victory, rather than death.

I have played the lottery a few times, and never experienced winning the lottery. I presume that this is not due to a mechanism to kill me if I would otherwise have won. The versions of me who have won, would presumably exist just as readily, and without any marked improvement of their circumstances, if I had been killed by a quantum catastrophe just before the results of the lottery arose in the branches where I would lose. Why should that version of me rejoice, that there are metaphorical graveyards filled with versions of me less lucky than him? And why should I suppose, if I take up quantum Russian roulette, that I will experience something rather than nothing — when I don't know why I experience anything to begin with, nor my somewhat atypical (turn of the 21st century Canadian-born) life in particular?

A concern for social responsibilities will halt a believer in the Many Worlds Interpretation just as easily as it will halt a non-believer; and for those less certain about social responsibilities, a reflection on just how little we understand the cause of conscious experience should also give them pause.


The MWI does not affect whether it is right or wrong for you to commit suicide in a given case.

In case (1) your moral objection to the scheme should be that it will limit the set of people with whom you can interact fruitfully. With high probability, some people will be dead at the end of the experiment so you will lose the opportunity of interacting with them. There are better ways of making money that don't involve people ending up dead.

In case (2) you chose to bring a person into the world who could reasonably expect to be dependent on you for knowledge, resources and that sort of thing: your child. Regardless of whether your attempted suicide succeeds the fact of the matter is that you have taken a substantial risk of being unable to provide many of those services. If you survive other people, including your child, should be reluctant to deal with you since you are willing to fuck people over.

There may be circumstances under which suicide is the right thing to do, but those don't include get rich quick schemes. And if you're going to commit suicide you should make arrangements for somebody to take care of your child and the child should consent, which is a bar so high it will not be met in the vast majority of circumstances.

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