Fission and anticipating having an experience


According to Parfit’s assessment of fission, the fissioner can have prudential concern for each of the post-fission people and that concern will be rational in virtue of some relation he bears to those post-fission people. Parfit suggests that it is plausible that the relation that grounds rational prudential concern is not identity, but some other relation. This argument can be challenged by reference to Velleman’s account of anticipating having an experience on the reasonable assumption that prudential concern with respect to a person P consists, in part, in the ability to anticipate having certain experiences of P. According to Velleman, the fissioner cannot anticipate having the experiences of the fission products. In this paper, I suggest, first, that even if we accept Velleman’s account of anticipating having an experience, there are variants of fission in which his account is satisfied and, second, that his account may have the implication that prudential concern does not require anticipatory concern.

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  1. 1.

    Another mode of first-person unselfconscious anticipation involves forming an intention to do something in the future. In the case of such intentions, according to Velleman, “I do not have to stipulate who its notional subject shall be. For if my intention is going to be executed, its executor will have to be the person who finds himself in possession of the intention when the time for executing it arrives. … I don't have to specify a person from whose point of view I am trying to frame my intention, because that point of view is fixed by the future causal history of the intention itself” (Velleman 2005: pp. 197–198).

  2. 2.

    As a referee points out, it is not clear that Velleman should have an “impinging” requirement in the first place. Might one not anticipate a later experience even though at that later time the subject has amnesia and as a consequence does not remember anticipating the experience and, in fact, the anticipation does not color the experience in any way?

  3. 3.

    My thanks to an anonymous referee for this third point.

  4. 4.

    I am assuming that two experiences had by different people or subjects might be of the same type although not the same token experience. The two experiences that are anticipated in this case are assumed to have the exact same phenomenal content, the same causes (so as to rule out Twin Earth type differences in representational content) and are had at the same time. They differ only with respect to who has the experiences, but I am assuming that does not automatically mean the experiences would differ in content. “It may not happen very often that two subjects have experiences with exactly the same character at precisely the same time, but it is conceivable that they might” (Dainton 2000: p. 25).

  5. 5.

    And, as a referee points out, anticipating different experiences with one act of anticipation may not even require that the different experiences fully match each other in every detail of content. Suppose, for example, I anticipate being tortured the next day. This act of anticipation successfully anticipated the agony I experienced the next day by way of thumbscrews, but it also successfully anticipated the agony I experienced that same day by way of waterboarding. Since my anticipating the agony of torture is not fully detailed, different experiences can match the content and, thus, be what I have anticipated. (This case also shows that there are quite ordinary cases in which multiple experiences can be anticipated by a single anticipation. I anticipate the agony of torture I foresee at the hands of the enemy at two different times the next day through one act of imagining. Intuitively, the pain I experienced that next day, say in the afternoon, was anticipated the day before, but so was the pain I experienced in the morning that next day.) In fact, some of my anticipations may be so general that many experiences will qualify. This point fits nicely with Sider (2018: p. 138) who argues that Velleman’s claim that fission blocks anticipation of having an experience may fail in some cases of fission. He considers a case of subjects who frequently fission, each time waking in a recovery room of varying colors. A “veteran” fissioner will remember entering a fission chamber many times and waking in a recovery room each time although not always of the same color. If I were such a veteran, I would anticipate the experience of waking in a recovery room, although I will be unable to anticipate the color of the room.

  6. 6.

    Belzer (2005: pp. 155–157) argues that first personal access associated with intention, as analyzed by Velleman, can be had by a person at t1 with respect to simultaneous non-identical person stages at a different time t2. In his argument Belzer makes use of a time travel case involving a basketball game. In his case, I anticipate a time-travel scenario in which I will be on different teams. “Now suppose I play in a basketball game and then time travel and play in it again (so to speak). In each case, I can be acting on the strategies I developed in practice. (“When the opponent fakes a shot, don’t stupidly just jump”; “when planning to make a shot, give a head fake first”; and so forth.)” I form conditional intentions to act and these intentions are executed by my selves without requiring that I consciously specify the relevant notional subjects—the latter are fixed by the causal histories of my conditional intentions.

  7. 7.

    I owe the points in this paragraph to an anonymous referee.

  8. 8.

    In fact, as a referee points out, conscious stipulation of some sort may be a component of most or all cases of genuinely anticipating having an experience. Suppose that I anticipate that the Mafia Boss, who I have betrayed, will take his revenge by way of planting and detonating a bomb in my car as is his custom. As it turns out, however, he never does plant a bomb, but decades later, as chance would have it, a car bomb goes off in a car I am in. Did I anticipate “that” experience? Intuitively, I did not since it was not the experience “that was the result of a car bomb that was planted by Mafia Boss.” So conscious stipulation plays a role here in selecting which experience we are anticipating and seems to do so generally. Presumably, however, Velleman might allow for this sort of conscious stipulation as consistent with anticipating having an experience, but still insist that conscious stipulation of the subject of the experience—something which does not happen of this case—is inconsistent with such anticipation since we need to distinguish between anticipating of having an experience and me merely imagining I'm Napoleon or Hilary Clinton.

  9. 9.

    As a referee suggests, a Parfitian who thinks that what gives me a reason for prudential concern, which requires anticipatory concern, is not identity but some other relation and that Mr. Fissiony stands in that relation to both Lefty and Righty, would have a principled reason to say that causal connections only take you so far with respect to anticipating having an experience, at least in case of fission, and so something like conscious stipulation must do any further selecting.

  10. 10.

    Shipley (2002) presents the following case. Suppose that I am scanned and then on the basis of this scan a duplicate of me is constructed that is composed of entirely new atoms, without any changes in the state of my original atoms. How am I to anticipate my post-duplication future experiences if I follow Velleman's argument? “I could not frame anticipations and intentions from a perspective specified merely as that in which they will follow or be remembered, because they may be followed and remembered from two perspectives at once, and I cannot be trying to frame them from both perspectives at once. So I would have to antecedently specify between my duplicate and myself, and such specification is, of course, self-conscious.” (Shipley 2002: 326). So, my post-duplication future would not contain what matters on Velleman’s analysis, which seems to be the wrong result. Shipley concludes that this presents Velleman with an unacceptable choice: “he must either commit himself to the absurdity that a post-duplication future is a worthless one, or accept that his reasons for a post-fission future being devoid of value fail to justify that conclusion” (Shipley 2002: 326).

  11. 11.

    I would like to thank the anonymous referees for their comments on this paper.


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Ehring, D. Fission and anticipating having an experience. Synthese (2020).

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  • Fission
  • Velleman
  • Parfit
  • Anticipation