An Introduction to Immortalist Morality
In a recent Nature paper , a moral dilemma was described.
Two subjects were asked to share a pot of money, say $100, in
which one person decided the amount that each of them got
and the other person either had to accept it or neither of them
would get any money at all. They only play once. If A decides
that he should get $95, and offers B only $5, it might seem
logical for B to accept. After all, B gets $5 if he accepts, and
nothing if he does not. But when the game is played in real
life, people refuse to accept splits that are too unequal, forego-
ing personal gain in order to punish the other guy.
Moral behavior is only of advantage when the game is
played many times (an iterated game). Over many games
it is logical for the person who is offered an unfair split to
decline, and for the person splitting the money to do so fairly.
This is because it is known that the optimum strategy for inter-
actions between two parties over the long run is simple Tit for
Tat. The success of the Tit for Tat strategy was discovered
in a worldwide computer competition in 1981. The competi-
tion was looking for a solution to a moral dilemma known as
The Prisoners Dilemma.
There is a lesson there. In the real world kindness to strang-
ers is only really to ones advantage over the long run. In fact,
morality would only be perfectly logical if we lived forever.
People have to stick around long enough to reap all of the
consequences of their actions. When humans act morally they
are in a sense acting as if they are immortal! We can conjec-
ture that human morality is in part explained by the uniquely
human sense of time. Only sentient beings capable of ratio-
nal thought can plan far into the future, and only they can
understand that the world will continue to carry on without
them should they die. Humans are motivated to act morally
because, in their imaginations, they can consider what people
would think of them if they were alive at any time into the
future be it 5 minutes from now or 5 centuries.