How can we explore ethical issues related to existence and death without reminding people of death, hence triggering a worldview defense response?
I have a proposal: let's think about the ethical implications of something similar (in interesting ways) to life-creation and life-ending, but without the scariness: immersive virtual reality experiences. Virtual reality, unlike birth and death, is fun to think about, and does not trigger worldview defense. Simulated experiences are not yet institutionalized and are wide open for ethical investigation.
There are many differences between entering a virtual reality simulation and coming into existence, and between exiting a virtual reality simulation and death. What I do NOT propose to do is to make "gotcha" arguments along the lines of "oh, you'd want to CONSENT to entering a VR simulation? THAT PROVES ANTINATALISM!!!" What I DO propose to do is to explore our attitudes toward simulated experiences, and in the process, explore how good of a metaphor it is for life creation and ending. Rather than assuming no difference, we should identify and explore the differences and their import.
A survey (respond to some or all of these in the comments):
- What would it take to get YOU to sign up for an immersive virtual reality experience, of the kind that would give sensory information to all your senses and feel just like reality? I'm interested both in contract terms you'd demand and in evidence you'd accept that the contract terms would be honored.
- Would you require the ability to exit out of the VR experience as a precondition? Is there anything that would convince you to give up this "off switch" capability, such as the hope that the experience might help you learn something or be more meaningful?
- If you entered a VR experience with an off switch, what would you think about the possibility of deciding in-game to give up your off switch? Would such consent be meaningful, or would it be problematic?
- What would you think about the possibility for extremely negative experiences within the VR story, such as being gang raped for hours or kidnapped and tortured for months, as sometimes happens in real life? Would you want these experiences to be impossible? Would the (small) possibility of these experiences give meaning to the story for you?
- What about children? Should children be allowed to have VR experiences? Should special safeguards against especially bad experiences be in place for them?
- Is there something special about base reality that makes strong VR experiences immoral or undesirable?
Of course, please also help me brainstorm other related questions and topics.
As an aside - in fact, we enter immersive virtual reality every night for several hours, with no obvious off switch. These dreams are chosen by the monkey brain, presumably based on what it thinks will most benefit our reproductive fitness in our waking life (frequently featuring unpleasant content and negative affect), rather than by our conscious selves. Shall we begin to curate our dreams - and, perhaps, our other experiences as well?
As suggested by estnihil below, if you're interested and feeling social, feel free to post some version of these questions elsewhere, like on forums and stuff - cut and paste verbatim or put them in your own words, and you certainly don't have to link to this or credit my walking-mortality-salience-induction self. Post a link in the comment thread or send me a link, or don't. <3