Are you happy?

A thought experiment occurred to me which looks to answer the question, “Are you happy?”


In a science fiction film I saw recently there was a fantastical machine that copies (clones) whatever thing or person is placed inside it. Without ever explicitly going through the detail of the pros and cons of the situation, the people who use the machine to clone themselves do so at great risk to their very being. Because the ability to make another person, exactly the same as an existing one, has such devastating consequences its users preemptively setup a murder.


And these consequences though unspoken during the film, are well understood to us all. Think of everything you own right now, all the achievements you have won throughout the course of your lifetime. Your claim to them is instantly halved. You would never be able to relax thinking about what your “twin” might try to unseat you. Thus the protagonists take steps. Everytime the machine is used, one of the users of the machine is killed, murdered, by the other.


It seems a brutal thing to do but it avoids a battle over a bank account; a fight over a house and its belongings; a lover; a job; all the things in our routine that we have worked toward, and rely upon for continued happiness.


Imagine being one of those people coming out of the machine, knowing that when you went in you were taking a chance. Taking a risk that you may be murdered by your doppelganger within the next minute. The switch is activated and you arrive helpless, looking down the barrel of a gun. In desperation you plead for mercy – your other self succumbs and offers you a deal.


“If you give up your claim on your half of our life, I will let you live.” You will have no job to go to, you must never see your partner or friends again. You must leave your house, clothes and possessions. You must travel to another land and never contact your family again. It is a heavy burden to pay to save your life.


But you remain you. Inside your head, you have everything that makes you you. The thoughts, experiences, knowledge and skills. It will be hard to give up everything you have, but you’re not starting from absolutely nothing because you can still succeed elsewhere.


The thought experiment


Picture yourself about to step into the machine – you’re about to clone yourself. One will emerge calling the shots, one will emerge facing exile. You step in…


Which person do you wish to be?


Your initial reaction will almost certainly be the version of you which calls the shots. And why not? We all like to be in control, to have power over our own destiny. We wouldn’t want to be threatened with death. But think more carefully. As well as losing all you have, you also get to give up your debts (financial or otherwise), your responsibilities, your goals. You do so not by running away and leaving everything to fall apart in your absence – a perfect copy of yourself keeps the wheels turning. Whatever you would do to protect the ones you love, they would also do. There would be no running away and no guilt.


Does the idea excite you? You would be free to try out anything you wished. There would be nowhere for you to go but up. You have absolutely nothing!


There’s only one lifetime but there are several lives within it. If you would prefer to be the person who loses your life, then what are you holding on to it for? You are not happy.


I’m not suggesting you leave everything and start from scratch, but be honest with yourself. What do you really want that the version of you with nothing could attain, but the person with your current life couldn’t? And if you can think of something, would getting it make you happier than you are now?