Practical Implications of Wheeler’s Single-Electron Postulate

The epistemic practice of the ancient Persians was to contemplate matters of great importance twice: First while drunk and then while sober. My personal fit is to specialize in phase one of this process.

The EA community has discussed electron welfare before[1], but we’ve been neglecting an important crux. In 1940, physicist John Archibald Wheeler proposed the idea that all electrons are really a single electron travelling forward and backward in time.

A single electron experience(s/​d)[2] the combined lifetimes of every electron across all spacetime. This adds up to roughly years[3]. This means that improving the single electron’s welfare is the most longtermist cause area yet discovered.[4]

When people dismiss concerns about electron welfare, it’s because of scope insensitivity[5] and the identifiable victim effect. But if there’s only one electron — a single pale blue dot — its importance is much more salient. To help people[6] care more about the electron’s welfare, i propose that we name it Ellie.[7]

Past discussion of electron welfare has been dominated by negative utilitarians concerned with electron suffering. Such attitudes are based in long-standing anti-electron bias ultimately rooted in Ben Franklin’s arbitrary decision to label their charge negative. Just because the electron is negatively charged doesn’t mean we should charge it with being inherently negative. Ellie wants to live.

We can increase Ellie’s lifespan (as measured in ELYs — electron life years) by doing things that, from our frame of reference, look like creating new electrons. These include

  • Shooting high-energy gamma rays into metal to create electron-positron pairs

  • Freeing neutrons so that they fall apart

  • Creating large amounts of beta radioactive isotopes using fission reactors[8]

  • Work with chip manufacturers to develop semiconductors with fewer electron holes[9]

It’s also possible that research into double beta decay could allow us to produce twice as many ELYs.

Additionally, to keep the electron from feeling bored, we should build solar panels that put Ellie in an excited state.

We need a new branch of EA dedicated to the Electron Life Lengthening and Improvement (ELLI) space. I’ve already designed an original logo (Figure 1) for this new movement.

Figure 1

Light bulbs are a common place for the electron to hang out, the heart represents how we feel about Ellie, and it’s blue because electrons are blue.[10]

Bayesian prior on asked questions

Should we build an AI that’s programmed to maximize electron welfare?

That depends on how much Ellie would enjoy powering the AI’s circuits. We can’t know for sure, but it sounds pretty fun.

I’m not a utilitarian. What’s the most effective way to pursue alternative axiologies (for Ellie’s benefit, of course)?

There’s a wide variety of ways to contribute to electron freedom.

The single-electron postulate says that positrons are Ellie moving backwards in time. What should we do with them?

The crux of this question is whether hedonic valence has even or odd time reversal symmetry. It’s possible that feeling good while moving backwards in time feels like feeling bad, which would imply that we should torture positrons.

  1. ^

    coincidentally, on this exact day of the year

  2. ^

    due to time travel, the tense of this verb is undefined

  3. ^

    unlike traditional cosmology, where the error bar is in the exponent, the utility at stake here is so vast that the error bar is in the number of Knuth up arrows.

  4. ^

    but only because we’re still a positive integer number of years away from discovering electron welfare meta-charity

  5. ^

    not to be confused with emotional insensitivity to the contents of an oscilloscope, of which they are also guilty

  6. ^

    by which i mean donors

  7. ^

    or hire Naming What We Can to provide it a cuteness-maximizing name

  8. ^

    or fission weapons? TODO consider instrumental value of humanity

  9. ^

    though this could potentially hinder AI progress

  10. ^

    as everyone knows