Thursday, July 17, 2008

Meta ethics and black holes

One of the fundamental aspects of ethics that I have always found puzzling is why it even exists in the first place. Sure enough, if we go by Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene", concepts like ethics and altruism have to do entirely with survival strategies. The whole concept of ethics would then seem an unnecessary complication, since it would be reducible to functional strategy that helps a species survive. Going by this argument, one shouldn't read too much into altruism.

But, if ethics can be denied by this argument, then so could qualia. Indeed, why couldn't zombie creatures evolve exactly in the same manner as humans and normal creatures around us? Dawkins doesn't even mention qualia anywhere in his book (at least to my memory).

But, the whole point of the philosophy of qualia is that qualia do exist. Which then portrays the concept of ethics in a different light altogether.

If we acknowledge that others around us are able to feel pain qualia due to some of our actions, ethics would dictate that we refrain from performing those actions (in a broad sense). This, I would call, the fundamental premise of ethics. Virtually every religion and many proverbs convey the same in one form or the other. For example, ""Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you" is probably the most obvious and direct of them all.

I have two issues with this reductionist approach to ethics. The first one is the dichotomy associated with some assemblages of atoms versus others. It is ethical to break a computer (a particular arrangement of atoms) but is unethical to kill a puppy (another arrangement of atoms). It hardly matters whether the computer is simulating the same puppy. In fact, any credible theory of qualia, in my opinion, should resolve these kinds of inconsistencies in a seamless manner, even if it has to closely parallel solipsism. As of now, that seems to be the only one that, in my view, treats the two on the same footing and presents no such contradictions.

The more troubling issue is, even if I do acknowledge that the other being can feel pain, why should that prevent me from causing that pain to that other creature? At least, if it is not going to affect me later. Of course, for "normal" human beings, there is an inherent "moral compass" that would discourage them from doing so. But again, is this merely a product of evolution as would be argued by Dawkins?

In fact, if there are no checks and balances, the whole premise of ethics seems vacuous to me, no matter how noble it may seem otherwise. If there is no retribution, then it makes no logical sense to have a code of ethics for the perpetrator when he is assured he can get away with any crime that he commits.

Which is perhaps the reason why most religions threaten its followers with some kind of punishment for crimes in an afterlife. Not only is this more practical in keeping its followers in line, it perhaps is the only logical rationalization in enforcing such behavior, if we cast aside its survivalist value (of the Dawkins variety).

Religions lead us to believe that there is some kind of an afterlife retribution. But, as I have suggested in this post, there is an automatic "retribution" of sorts if we assume that all qualia are ultimately felt by the same entity. This way, by not unnecessarily causing pain to another creature, we spare ourselves that agony, so that in the end we benefit. Note that, this assumption is all that is needed to make the subject of ethics a logically deductible one. And we need not even be bothered about Darwin or Dawkins here.

A fundamental question with such an universal consciousness is how it relates to living beings (including humans) which are physical assemblages of atoms. I have discussed this issue in several of my previous posts, and have even hinted that quantum uncertainty principle might have a role to play here.

It is easier to buy into this if we assume a connected universe. But what happens when there are regions of space-time which are disconnected from the universe we are in? In such cases, how does meta ethics hold true?

To give an example, take the case of a simple black hole (non-rotating and non-charged). Associated with such a black hole is an event horizon, and once an object crosses it, there can be no communication back to the rest of the universe. Now let us do a small though experiment here. Let us have a puppy cross it, so that it can no longer communicate with the rest of the universe. Now we can shoot the puppy from the outside once it has already crossed the horizon. (The bullet can be made smart enough to catch up and actually knock down the puppy theoretically, although there is no way the shooter would come to know of it, assuming he stays outside the event horizon.) If the puppy hadn't been shot, it would have survived till old age happily in its spaceship. (For supermassive black holes, the tidal effects are so weak that this is a real possibility.)

If we assume that meta ethics is a logical fallout of a single universal consciousness, and that the qualia of all conscious entities are mediated by quantum processes, then it follows that conscious entities in regions of space such as the inside of the event horizon cannot be "connected" to any universal consciousness outside, because according to present-day physics, the whole region inside of the even horizon is shut out from the rest of the universe. According to the "no hairs theorem", the only things that matter as far as a black hole is concerned are its mass, charge and angular momentum.

Which then raises the question as to whether shooting a puppy from the outside of the event horizon actually is unethical from a meta-ethical standpoint. If we go by the "no hairs theorem", then it should not matter to the rest of the universe whether living beings inside of the event horizon of a black hole feel pain. And also there would be no accountability on the part of outsiders who decide to torment those inside.

As of my understanding, the Hawking radiation is the only reverse communication that is possible, but this is so weak, especially in the case of supermassive black holes that it probably has no significance anyway. I seriously doubt if meta-ethics is dependent on this phenomenon.

The conundrum regarding black holes and ethics needs to be reconciled.