Thought Experiment August: A ‘Hunger Games’ Style Death-match with Yourself

(Remember folks, in a thought experiment you can do anything! To say, “That’s impossible!” is not allowed!)

So I’ve been reading Hunger Games (which I highly recommend), and a devilishly conceived thought experiment presents itself.

Aliens come to Earth with highly advanced technology and a sporting air. They tell you they are going to make an exact copy of you (and your spirit). They say it will contain all your memories, thoughts, experiences—everything. Every atom in your body is duplicated and placed in the new one exactly where it was in the old. The only difference between you and your double is your spatial location. So they knock you out with some gas. Then you wake up in a large forest. You realize that you don’t know if you are the old you, or the new copy. There is no test for your identity. You look and feel just like you always have, but you know the double will wake up the exact same thoughts.

An alien approaches and tells you it’s a fight to the death between you and your double. If one of you does not die, they will kill both of you and all your family. They also say that no one will ever know which, the original or the copy, died. So which of you wins, will not matter much to your loved ones. They don’t even know about the fight.

Two questions:

(1) Why does it matter to you who wins?

(2) Assume you buy into the fight. How do you take down someone exactly like you? Someone, with exactly your skill set, background knowledge, physical condition, motivation, and feelings about things? Is there some strategy you could use (and that you know he/she may also use) that will improve your odds?

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23 Responses to Thought Experiment August: A ‘Hunger Games’ Style Death-match with Yourself

  1. Geoff J says:

    1) It doesn’t (logically).
    2) Luck.

  2. Geoff J says:

    BTW — I loved Hunger Games and Catching Fire. The good news is that Mockingjay comes out this month.

  3. John C. says:

    I’d kill me. I have it coming.

  4. Rink says:

    For my family it wouldn’t matter who wins or dies since they don’t know about the fight. I would let myself be killed. It wouldn’t matter in the end. Cop-out huh?

  5. Jared* says:

    1. Because there’s no way to know if the aliens can actually do what they claim. Therefore, I assume that I am the real me.

    2. I don’t exactly know, but I use the golden rule and kill him as I would want to be killed.

  6. Cap says:

    1. Well, obviously it would matter to me that I win because I don’t want to die. I don’t know if I’m the copy or not, but if everything is exactly the same then I would relate it more to twins and not ctrl+c ctrl+v. Could I kill myself? I don’t know.

    2. I don’t know if I could take myself down because I don’t think I could kill myself. I would also know that the other me would feel the same. However, what is the time line that one of us needs to be dead. In that time that we spend as separate entities I feel would determine who wins. Although we would have the same goals we are in different places. I am in a forest, I don’t know where my ‘twin’ is. Maybe he’s now a millionaire. Maybe he’s in Spain. All of these factors would go through my mind and I feel that where we’re placed will determine who wins the batter. I’m in a forest I hone my survival skills. My ‘twin’ lives in luxury on the coast of Spain and gets lazy. I feel the determining factor comes down to the time and experiences that happen before we meet.

    There are now two separate minds, and I, (knowing myself) would consider different options some more extreme then others and some more calm. So… As we become two separate human beings who agree on everything we soon will become very different. I could not kill myself at this current state, so what happens after I or my other is ctrl+c’d?

  7. L-d Sus says:

    You sure know some morbid aliens.

    Although, maybe these aliens are no different than me -I used to love starting and watching death matches between various bugs.

  8. Stan says:

    I would kill myself to avoid the extreme metal trauma of my other self having to kill me. Of course my other self would think the same thing and kill himself. Your alien friends would get bored with our bizarre human behavior and move on to some other planet/race. So in sacrificing myself, I have saved all of humanity. =:)

  9. JJP says:

    1) It certainly does matter. I know I want to keep living.
    2) Seeing as it will be unlikely that I can outsmart myself in anything strategic since my other self would just be thinking the same thing, I would search my other self out. He, having the same idea would be looking for me. Once we found each other, we would decide who would be the winner by flipping a coin. The winner would kill the other in a quick and painless way.

  10. Samuel says:

    Who wins is completely subject to the spatial locations in which the aliens put you both and how they acted toward you, because otherwise you are both completely the same and both would do the same thing, even if it means killing yourselves at the exact same time.

  11. mark olsen says:

    Hi Steve,

    I don’t know if you will get around to reading this, since the post is old, but this thought experiment is not REALLY new. You need to read the section on personal identity in Derek Parfit’s _Reasons and Persons_. While there is no talk there of exact replicas killing each other, the rest of the thought experiment is nicely detailed there.


  12. SteveP says:

    Thanks Mark, Parfit is cool because he uses Star Trek! Thought experiment’s involving personal identify copies predate Parfit. But this thought experiment is about the death match. Here’s another based off of who I think does it better.

  13. Glen says:

    2) Stated the way you’ve stated it, I think the answer is that the outcome is entirely determined by the initial conditions. It’s a completely symmetrical problem in game theory, and therefore on average the outcome should be a draw, ie each party will win 50% of the time.

  14. chemistry says:

    Your outlook in this article is much like my own. I think you have a winner here. This is quality information written in a clear manner. You make a great first impression with your writing.

  15. M Davis says:

    1. It matters to me, because I don’t want to die. But I am willing to die in order to save my family, comforted by the fact that they will still have either me or me’ to keep them company.

    2. I know, and I know that my other self knows that I don’t like brutality and don’t want to be brutal. The nice thing is, we can agree on a strategy that will resolve the dilemma for us, by appeal to a third part, that is chance. I and myself will prepare two identical cups, on lethal, the other not. We will place them on a turn table and give it a spin and both leave the room together. When it is done spinning, we will return to the room, each to a pre-determined side of the table and drink the cup closest to us. Then we will engage in a good wrestling competition until one of us, the poisoned one, dies in the others arms.

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