The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!

16Jul/114

Criminals Invoking the Evil Parallel Universe Defense

A thought occurred to me today, at the intersection of my thoughts about the justice system and the parallel universe theory.

We accept certain "excuses" for crimes.  The situations are relatively rare, but they exist.  If you are in an area devastated by a hurricane, with normal food sources cut off, you are effectively allowed to steal food from an abandoned store.  If someone has carjacked your car with you in it and is demanding that you drive at 100 mph you are not criminally responsible for your speeding.  If your life is in danger you may kill in defense of your life.  If you are clinically insane or seriously mentally retarded you will not be held criminally responsible for your actions, whatever they may be.  The point is not so much the specific excuses that are acceptable as the concept that the legal system does not hold people criminally responsible for crimes they did not have the capacity to avoid committing, whatever they may be.

And now we come to the theory of parallel universes.  For those that don't know, a beautiful conceptual way out of quite a few sticky quantum mechanical problems is to imagine that for every situation where multiple events could happen, we avoid the question of why did this or that happen by saying that there exists a parallel universe in which every possible outcome exists.  To bring it to a macroscopic level, imagine you flip a coin.  It lands tails side up.  There exists an inaccessible parallel universe exactly like the one in which you got tails, with the slight change that in that one an identical you got heads.  And in fact there are an infinite number of variations on the theme, tracing out every possible combination of ways your brain could tell your thumb to move, the weather systems could cause the air to gust, etc.  If we imagine that scientists might be correct in this theory then on a macroscopic level there must exist parallel universes in which otherwise "good" people do "evil".  You may be a kind person in this universe but in another you are a homicidal murderer.  This must be, if parallel universes exist.  And so, too, the evil people in this universe manifest themselves in saintly ways in parallel universes unknown to us.  So the quantum philosophical question then becomes, how responsible can any individual be for any actions, when there exists a version of themselves in another universe doing something completely different?

Why couldn't the homicidal murderer invoke the Evil Parallel Universe Defense at his trial, saying in essence, "I am not responsible.  The laws of physics dictate that there must exist some universes in which I am evil, and this happens to be one of them.  In others universes, you, Mr. Prosecutor, you, your Honor, and you, the Jury, are all murderers, just like me.  We are all guilty, somewhere.  I'm no guiltier than all of your collective parallel selves."

Of course, this argument is rendered moot by the fact that every outcome of the trial will exist in parallel universes; and so this excuse must work in some universes, but not in others.   The criminal would just have to hope that his was a universe which not only made him evil but also made his excuse acceptable.  I suspect there's a smaller infinity of those particular universes. 🙂

^ Quinxy

(One final note, I was reminded of a more practical moral dilemma nations face, a situation in which people are "excused" for something because they are in a "fated" situation.  The government, for the good of the people, attempts to control the economy by taking actions to control inflation and unemployment: varying lending rates, controlling the money supply, etc.  Contrary to what you might expect, the "optimal" rate of unemployment is not 0% but something in the nature of 5%.  The government will modify policy to target that number, creating more unemployment if the number is too low, and trying to create jobs if the number is too high.  It's my belief that this artificial manipulation of the unemployment rate, this requirement that citizens be unemployed, morally obligates the government to support those who have been "artificially" made unemployed.  Of course identifying those who are "artificially" unemployed and those who are "naturally" unemployed is tricky, and in a sense meaningless.  It is, therefore, better to support all who are unemployed for a period long enough to mean their continued unemployment is squarely the fault of the individual and not the economy.  And that's pretty much what we do, as a nation, with the unemployment benefits we provide, though I would guess few (if any) would explain its necessity as the fulfillment of a moral obligation created by forced unemployment; but I like this argument because far from it suggesting some sort of creeping socialism, it is merely doing what is morally obligated by the government's own actions.)

12Jul/110

The Fundamental Flaw in our Legal System

The surprising verdict in the recent Casey Anthony trial got me thinking about what specifically frustrates me about our legal system.  I only had a hazy sense of dissatisfaction at first, but after reading an op ed in the Wall Street Journal by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, I knew exactly what my core complaint was.  In Dershowitz's piece entitled Casey Anthony: The System Worked, he essentially argues that like it or not the system would rather see ten guilty men go free than one innocent person be jailed, and since evidence was weak, the jury did its job by resisting public pressure and producing a verdict they felt was legally right.  He goes on to say that, "[A] criminal trial is not a search for truth. Scientists search for truth."  And there it was, my greatest complaint about our legal system.  The legal system is not scientific, it is wholly satisfied arriving at erroneous judgments, so long as the flawed conclusions reached involved everyone playing by the court's rules.  And that's just not right.  Why can't we have a legal system that has as its primary mission the discovery of the truth, and the assignment of punishment based on that truth?  To my mind this fundamental flaw in the legal system is exactly why the system (the courts on every level up through the Supreme Court) allowed grievous injustices like slavery and segregatio­n to remain "constitut­ional" for so very long.  The courts had no interest in ascertaining whether or not black people were equal to white people and thus deserved equal protection, they were satisfied merely enforcing and interpreting the rules (legal precedents as well as social constructs) they inherited.

A scientific court system which seeks truth above all would presumably operate very differently from a traditional court system.  Whereas under the current system Casey Anthony was found "not guilty" and cannot be tried again should new evidence be found (see the law regarding double jeopardy), a court system whose goal was truth would retain the ability to try her again, should significant new evidence be found (or significant new scientific interpretations of old evidence be available).  Further, a scientific court system would likely not be restricted to binary verdicts of guilty or not guilty, and likely would allow verdicts that reflect the far more complicated and ambiguous realities of the world.  Perhaps in the Casey Anthony trial the jury would have been able to recognize the probability of her guilt while acknowledging the inability to feel entirely satisfied that she was guilty, giving a verdict which simultaneously allowed her to go free while placing serious restrictions on those liberties (such as preventing her from having more kids or being around children).

We experience a world full of the riches that the scientific method has allowed, the ubiquitous Internet, the computer, the various medical miracles that save incalculable lives every day, why do we deny ourselves the application of its wisdom when it comes to the law, and instead accept the capricious fates it offers, full of deception, contradiction, and injustice?

^ Quinxy