Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why Voting May Not be Such a Stupid Idea (A Multiversal Argument)

I haven't voted in any election for a heck of a long time ... but, in some conversations a couple years ago, an argument came up that actually seems like a reasonable argument why voting might be a good idea.

I'm not sure why I never blogged this before ... but I didn't ... so here goes ...

Why might voting be worthwhile, even though the chances that your vote breaks a tie in the election are vanishingly small?

Consider this: Would you rather live in a branch of the multiverse where the people like you vote, or where the people like you don't vote?

Obviously, if there are a lot of people like you, then you'll be better off in a branch where the people like you vote.

So: You should vote so as to be sure you're in one of those branches.

But, wait a minute. How do you know you won't end up in a branch where most of the people like you DON'T vote, but you vote anyway?

Well, you can't know that for sure. But, the question to ask is, which of the two swaths of possible universes are more probable overall:

Type 1) Ones in which everyone like you votes

Type 2) Ones in which most people like you don't vote, but you're the exception

Adopting an "Occam prior" that favors simpler possible universes over more complex ones, you arrive at the conclusion that Type 1 universes are more probable.

Now, this isn't an ironclad, universal argument for voting. If you're such a freak that all the people like you voting wouldn't make any difference, then this argument shouldn't convince you to vote.

Another counterargument against the above argument is that free will doesn't exist in the multiversal framework. What the heck does it mean to "decide" which branch of the multiverse to go down? That's not the kind of thing you can decide. Your decision process is just some dynamics that occurs on some branches and not others. It's not like your decision process steps out of the branching-process governing the multiverse and chooses which routes you follow....

But the thing is, deciding still feels like deciding from within your own human mind -- whether or not it's REALLY deciding in any fundamental physical sense.

So, I'm not telling you to decide anything. I'm merely (because it's what my internal dynamics are doing, in this branch of the multiverse that we're in) typing in some words that my internal dynamics believe may encourage you to carry out some of your own internal dynamics that may feel to you like you're deciding something. Right? Because, this is simply the way the universe is happening ... in this branch of the multiverse....

Don't decide anything. Just notice that these words are making you reflect on which branch of the multiverse you'd rather be in -- the one where everyone like you votes, or the one where they don't....

And of course it's not just about voting. It's really about any ethical behavior ... any thing such that we'd all be better off if everyone like us did that thing.

It's about compassion, for that matter -- we'd all be better off if everyone was more compassionate.... Would you rather be in the branch of the multiverse where everyone like you is compassionate, or....

Well, you get it.

But am I voting in this year's Presidential elections?

Out of all the candidates available, I'd definitely support Obama ... but nah, I think I'll probably continue my long tradition of lame citizenship and not vote.

I just don't think there are that many people like me out there ;-)

But if I read enough other blog posts like this one, I'd decide there was a large enough population of similar people out there, and I WOULD vote....


Ben Goertzel said...

I said "It's not as though your decision process lets you jump from one branch of the multiverse to another." ... which is true unless you believe in Yverses (see a previous blog entry), and believe that conscious choices let you hop between multiverses within the overall Yverse! But I didn't to burden my blog post on voting, which is an argument I find reasonably solid, with talk about Yverses which are a far wilder speculation. So I appended this comment instead ;-)

Anonymous said...


Just a hunch, but effecting other minds' multiverses may be the fabric of social cohesion. Perhaps we are not jumping (or cannot jump) from one branch to another, but instead observing the direction of our multiverse on those of other minds? In this sense, I see voting as an efficiency measure to see where the multitudes of multiverses cohere at any one point. In this way, your universe observing itself observing the other multiverses chooses not to participate in creating a future for all multiverses.

So, what I am saying is by not voting you choose not to participate in helping your fellow minds move towards a better future for all.

So get off your ass and vote for Obama.

Anonymous said...


You write, "I just don't think there are that many people like me out there."

There are many people like you in the regard that is specifically relevant; that is, those who decide to cast their vote for your candidate of choice, Obama, because they feel that they are representative of a certain group (and not because each thinks his vote will be the tie-breaker).

I consider myself part of that group, whose members I would certainly prefer vote. Whether or not these others and I share other things in common or reach our decision to vote based on a notion of multiversal probability doesn't matter to me.

Nato Welch said...

You know, given that your support for Obama is an indicator of the kind of person you're like, one need only look at the enormous support that already exists in the world for Obama to get a feel for how many other people like you there are in the country...

Anonymous said...

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