Monday, February 21, 2005

A comment about "Annihilationism and Eternal Conscious Suffering"

In an article titled "Annihilationism and Eternal Conscious Suffering", Parableman uses an example based upon relativistic physics to demonstrate that the doctrines of Annihilationism and Eternal Conscious Suffering (the destruction of the soul in Hell versus the eternal torment of the soul in Hell) are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The argument is to suppose that observer Bob has piloted his starship sufficiently close to a black hole to suffer an extreme amount of time dilation from the point of view of observer Alice, who remains at rest a large distance away from the black hole. Bob would therefore experience some finite period of suffering (presumably due to radiation orbiting the hole or tidal forces due to the extreme curvature of spacetime there) followed by destruction at some point inside the event horizon of the black hole. On the other hand, Alice could observe that this finite period of suffering for Bob has been dilated to an infinite amount of time in her reference frame.

My comment is that Bob's consciousness of suffering will at some point not have any kind of meaningful counterpart for Alice. As far as Alice is concerned, Bob will eventually be time-dilated to the extent that even the motions of his constituent molecules will essentially cease. Insofar as consciousness is based upon the motion of molecules such as neurotransmitters within the human body, Bob's consciousness will have ceased according to Alice's observations.

To be specific (and what follows assumes that I haven't made some terrible error in black hole physics), we could observe that it would take a finite amount of Alice's time for Bob to reach an arbitrarily choosen distance x (as measured by Alice) from the event horizon and an infinite amount of time to cross that distance x. In Bob's reference frame, it would take him a finite time t to cross his measurement of the distance to the event horizon. The smaller we choose x, the smaller t will be. I would argue that t could be choosen sufficiently small to preclude Bob having any type of conscious awareness of suffering over the interval t. If Bob is not suffering over the interval t, then from Alice's frame of reference, he cannot be suffering over the infinite amount of time it takes him to cross the distance x.

Since Parableman's adopted definition of the doctrine of Eternal Conscious Suffering for his argument does not apply if Alice only observes Bob to be conscious for a finite duration of time, Bob cannot be both Enternally Conscious and Annihilated in this case.


Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

It's actually Wink's post, not mine.

One thing to keep in mind here is that this isn't a proposal that annihilation and eternal suffering would both be exactly like black hole physics. It's a just-so story to explain how there might be a compatibility between the two. If it were something like this in the right ways, then it might get that result. So my question is this. Is your criticism of this based on contingent features of black holes, or is it based on features necessary to any relativistic account of the compatibility between the two?

6:04 AM  
Blogger Joseph said...


Thank you for the correction and for the comments.

To answer your question, it seems to me that the most important feature of my criticism is that the black hole geometry can dilate a finite time interval measured in some reference frames into an infinite time interval as measured in other reference frames. It may be that some other geometry of spacetime possesses that same property with time dilating in a way that avoids my criticism.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous wink said...

Joseph - Regarding your point, it seems that you think that suffering/consiousness is quantized/digital as opposed to continuous/analogue.

If suffering/consciousness is continuous/analogue, then it does not fall prey to your critique.

If suffering/consciousness is quantized/digital, then your critique is valid for even the traditional view of eternal conscious suffering. For if you are correct, then the accurate way of speaking about suffering is that a person in pain is actually experiencing closely spaced succesive bouts of suffering; which is to say that the person's peace is punctuated by a series of sufferings. If the sufferings are suffiently close together, then the gaps between them might not be noticed.

According to your criticsm, with time dilation, those gaps become obvious. But those gaps still exist for the traditional view too, they just aren't noticed. Thus, given a small enough time of measurement, at any given moment a person in hell might not be experiencing suffering even without time lilation.

So your criticsm may prove too much. However you choose to defend the traditional view should prove to defend the time-dilation view as well.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Joseph said...

You're absolutely right Wink.

3:28 PM  

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