PHIL: Extropy, Boundaries and Suicide

Darren Reynolds (
Tue, 24 Feb 1998 23:35:22 +0100

"True freedom requires a life without boundaries."

So read the advertisement I saw on the Tube the other day for the re-styled
Royal Automobile Club, which now looks more like NASA. I'm not a member,
and I don't need to be from a motoring point of view. But that
advertisement struck me like a Millwall supporter, and I 'phoned the
number. Needless to say, the person on the other end of the telephone tried
to sell me a membership.

But what are "boundaries" anyway? Show me a boundary, and, unless you show
me the event horizon boundary caused by the limit on the speed of light, I
will probably be able to show you your imagination.

We know from our early physics lessons that everything around us affects
everything else. What you feel, smell or see is affected in some small way
by the very action of you perceiving it. There is little to distinguish a
tool that I make from a tool that I am born with. They are both a part of
me, different only in the degrees to which they are useful and easily
replacable. There is no stark boundary around me. There is only an
extensive, fuzzy zone where I blur into my surroundings.

So, imagine that I am seriously injured, and have been rushed to hospital.
But all the surgeons are having a Christmas party. "Send him away," they
clamour. "We're having fun here!"

I die.

Did the surgeons cause my death? Obviously not: they merely failed to
prevent it. Or did they? Where is the boundary surrounding the set of
events which caused my death? How does one distinguish an event which
CAUSED my death from one which merely FAILED TO PREVENT it? I challenge
anyone to produce a satisfactory criterion. Again, there is no stark
boundary. There are only differences in the degree to which one event
contributes to another.

The introductory message to this list claims that Extropians may have an
interest in "rational ethics (ethics for survival and flourishing)". This
must surprise a lot of list members, who seem to take a far more
libertarian view of ethics. Many here seem to take the view that it's OK to
do what you like, so long as you don't harm anyone else. I challenge those
people to place a boundary around causing "harm to anyone else". Every
action a person takes will affect every other person to some small extent.
You can't live your life without causing harm to someone else. All you can
do is mitigate the degree of harm whilst promoting your objectives. I for
one have an interest in the "rational ethics" declared in the introduction.

Which brings me, finally, to the point.

Someone you know, rationally, carefully and thoughtfully, decides that it
is time to end their life. Such an action has a number of easily
identifiable anti-Extropic effects.

What is the right thing to do? Do you give the person their liberty, or do
you exercise your "ethics for survival and flourishing" and forcibly remove