Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Would you push the button? (by Sunny)

This is a short assignment I give my Intro to Philosophy students. 


Imagine you KNOW that you and the entirety of this world are in a virtual reality right now, a fully simulated reality where you have no “real” body elsewhere floating in a vat of nutrients.  You are wholly virtual.  As we all know, this world is full of violence, hate, and more than enough suffering of every stripe and variety to go around ten times over.  This is the way of our world since before recorded history.

Now, imagine that one day while walking to class, you notice a small blue box.  You pick up the box, open it, and find a button and a pamphlet.  The button is labeled “OFF.”  After reading the pamphlet, you realize that this button is the OFF button for the entire simulation.  With one push, you and EVERYTHING ELSE would vanish without a trace, without pain.  It would be like turning off a video game.  There wouldn’t be a violent ending, just an ending.  No one would even know.  You are now faced with a decision…will you push the button?


For the sake of argument, I’ll take the less popular stance.  Considering that we are nothing but simulations and pushing the button would not result in ANY violence, it would be immoral NOT to push the button.  You can talk about self-survival, wanting to experience the joys of life, not wanting to make such a big decision for others, and the prospects of a brighter future.  But none of that will trump the fact that millions of people are suffering horribly right now.   War, famine, oppression, slavery, forced prostitution, extreme poverty, deadly illnesses, and natural disasters line every corner and crevice of our world.  It would be the moral decision to push the button and end all of this suffering.  If you decide not to the push the button, then you have given your assent to every suffering that happens henceforth.  Every genocide that happens thereafter will have happened because you allowed it to happen.  The impending torture, rape, and killing of every child, will have happened because you failed to put an end to such atrocities.  These sufferings would be on your shoulders.

Yes, by pushing the button, you also put an end to all the joys that would have happened had you not pushed the button.  But that price pales in comparison to the benefit – the benefit of ending all the pointless suffering in the world.  Since we are nothing but simulations and pushing the button would not result in ANY violence, the moral thing to do is push the button.

Think about it this way.  You might think that it’s a no-brainer decision to say, “no way!” as you comfortably live in relative luxury.  But what might the person who is just about to starve to death decide who has already lost his whole family to famine?


Like I said, I’m proposing this view for the sake of argument.


  1. Easy - PUSH IT! Most of what people would consider the joys of life are mere illusions and deliver only momentary pleasure, while the true joys are highly scarce and/or over-romanticized make-believe bullshit. Everything comes down to suffering. So let's get the shit over with already. When we exist, we feel what it's like to long for happiness, and it sucks. When we don't exist, we don't long for anything, and it doesn't feel like anything. Would you miss your friends, family, etc. if you didn't exist? No. Can you sadly miss your friends, family, etc. when you do exist? Yes.

  2. So quick to kill the world in the name of kindness, but what have you ever done to improve it? I would wager you've done nothing that really matters or would improve the world we live in. There's a word for what you are. It's hypocrite.

  3. 2:53 you didn't understand the question, and you certainly didn't understand my response.
    For one, you have no reason to suspect or "wager" that I've done nothing that really matters or would improve the world we live in. Not that I've ever won a Nobel Peace Prize or anything but I feel like I have done some things.
    And... the point of this question is, why bother trying to improve the world when it is just a virtual reality thing? Who gives a shit? Someone or something programmed us to do whatever the fuck it is we're doing, so why give a damn about improving the world?? Why not give a damn about cutting it off so instead of bad and good, we have neither. It's all or nothing and I'm going with nothing, because it's clear the bad outweighs the good. "The Good" is just what we talk about to ease the suffering from "the bad". Don't you get it? Don't you get this question??

  4. Oh I get it. I do think there is a glaring contradiction in the question tho, because there is no way to simulate feel will. Glossing over that, does that fact that the world is virtual make the pain or love any less real? No, of course not. Feels the same either way, so what else is there. Do you know what most people say after a near death experience or major tragedy. Most not all say they are just happy to be alive. Have you ever seen this suffering, or been to say a third world country? I have, I've been to a few actually. You know what the craziest thing about those people. They are happy, I'd say more happy and content than most Americans. They want to live, I want to live. I couldn't care less about some virtual reality factor. I enjoy and love life.
    When a cult kills all it's member via "the cool aid." Would you say, good for them, no more pain and suffering. NO, we think it's a tragity, and that they are crazy. So, drink the cool aid and kill yourself if you want, but leave me and the world the choice to choose life over "peaceful death."
    So, unless you've seriously gone out of your way more or less sacrificing yourself to improve this world, virtual or not then you are in no place to cast jugdement over it or it's inhabitants. I'd say no one is.

  5. Well, as someone who probably has a pretty good life, it's easy for you to make the call, isn't it? If a cat is chasing a rabbit, catches it, bats it around for a while, then skins it alive before it claws and chews the thing to death, do you think it's more important for the cat to be satisfied than to end the suffering of the rabbit?

    I 'm not saying that people in third world countries or wherever can't be or aren't happy, I'm just saying that pain is more miserable than pleasure is satisfying. And for those near death experience people, the only reason they have for saying they're happy to be alive is because they ARE alive, and are terribly afraid of death to begin with, and they get uncomfortable just at the very thought of their own non-existence. Little do they know that when you die, and you stop existing, you don't even have the means to think, "I miss my life", or "I miss my family" or anything someone might think of when they ponder not having life and not being with the world anymore. The only good reason for someone to say they're happy to be alive is because they realize their being alive is sparing pain for someone else who may be close to them. That's it.

    I know there's a lot of pain in this world, that comes in many forms, and leads to immense suffering of many forms. The pleasure in the world is worthless. Pain and suffering are the only valuable things we have in the world, because they are what keeps us moving. But if we knew this was a virtual reality, and everything we did was nothing but a virtual game for which the outcome was meaningless, then why not turn it off, and let those who suffer and those who feel joy meet in the middle? I'm not saying everyone in the world would be better off if we put an end to it all, because there are plenty of people who would consider themselves happy and enjoying life. I happen to be one of those people. However, for the rest of the world, it would mean more to spare them the torment than it would mean to allow people to be "happy" living. Sustaining others' so-called happiness is not worth sustaining others' inescapable misery.

  6. The above scenario is making an assumption in an area that shouldn't be ignored: that those who suffer would prefer non-existence/death to physical or emotional pain. If this is true, is the suicide count amidst areas of warfare and poverty an accurate depiction of this idea?

    If it is an accurate/high count, then one might think that pushing the button might be justified if under the belief that denying good is a lesser evil than denying suffering.

    If the count is too low, then it means that people (though suffering) are choosing to live vs end their life. Then pressing the button would hold no meaning as it would be denying the CHANCE at a better life.

    This makes the real question "who should be the one to determine when Person A has a right to say when enough is enough for Person B?"

    But now consider this. How is pushing the button different from speciocide? Murder does not always include pain and suffering. So would pushing the button be tantamount to murder?

    That evolves the question of pushing the button into when is it okay to kill? When is it okay to kill in the ~belief~ of bettering the world? (Those people that are suffering have not been or cannot all be asked so it is a belief and not a fact as pertaining to the initial post.)

  7. Oh brother you are SO missing the point 7:29.

    Don't you get that if the world was a fucking virtual reality and NOT REAL that it wouldn't MATTER who lives and dies, and that there is no such thing as murder?! And no such thing as killing!? Because it's a VIRTUAL REALITY. A computer program, and we may just be so intricately programmed by some super intelligent aliens for all we fucking know. So IF you found this out for certain, that we are all just carrying out some virtual reality that has no meaning aside from the entertainment/experiment value for some other higher being to enjoy/carry out, then WHY NOT press the damn button!? It's not about KILLING anymore when you find out everything is nothing!

  8. Push the button and blow this bitch up