Help Me Imagine

For my book on em econ, I want to figure out something unusual about human psychology. It has to do with how creatures with a human psychology would react to a situation that humans have not yet encountered. So I ask for your help, dear readers. I’m going to describe a hypothetical situation, and I want you to imagine that you are in this situation, and then tell me how you’d feel about it. OK, here goes.

Imagine that you live and work in a tight-knit community. Imagine a commune, or a charity or firm where most everyone who works there also mostly socializes with others there. That is, your lovers, spouses, friends, co-workers, tennis partners, etc. are mostly all from the same group of fifty to a few hundred people. For concreteness you might imagine that this community provides maid and janitorial services. Or maybe instead it services and repairs a certain kind of equipment (like cars, computers, or washing machines).

Imagine that this community was very successful about five years ago. So successful in fact that one hundred exact copies of this community were made then and spread around the world. They copied all the same people, work and play roles and relationships, even all the workspaces and homes. Never mind how this was done, it was done. And with everyone’s permission. Each of these hundred copies of the community has a slightly different context in terms of its customer needs or geographic constraints on activities. But assume that these differences are small and minor.

OK, now the key question I want you to consider is your attitude toward the other copies of your group. On one hand, you might want distance. That is, you might want to have nothing to do with those other copies. You don’t want to see or hear about them, and you want everyone else in your group to do likewise. “Na na na, I can’t hear you,” to anyone who mentions them.

On the other hand, you might be eager to maximize your chances to share insights and learn from the other groups. Not only might you want to hear about workplace innovations, you might want to see stats on what happens between the other copies of you and your spouse. For example, you may want to know how many of them are still together, and what their fights have been about.

In fact, when it was cheap you might even go out of your way to synchronize with other groups. By making the groups more similar, you may increase the relevance of their actions for you. So you might try to coordinate changes to work organization, or to who lives with whom. You might even coordinate what movies you see when, or what you eat for dinner each day.

Of course it is possible to be too similar. You might not learn anything additional from an exact copy doing exactly the same things, except maybe that your actions aren’t random. But it also seems possible to be too different, at least for the purpose of learning useful things from other groups.

Notice that in tightly synchronized groups, personal relations would tend to become more like group relations. For example, if just a few copies of you did something crazy like run away, all the copies of your spouse might worry that their partners may soon also do that crazy thing. Or imagine that you stayed at a party late, and your spouse didn’t mind initially. But if your spouse then learned that most other copies of him or her were mad at copies of you for doing this, he or she might be tempted to get mad too. The group of all the copies of you would thus move in the direction of having a group relation with all of the copies of him or her.

Now clearly the scenario where all the other groups ignore each other is more like the world you live in now, a world you are comfortable with. So I ask you to imagine not so much what you now feel comfortable with, but how comfortable people would feel with if they grew up with this as normal. Imagine that people grew up in a culture where it was common to make copies of groups, and for each group to somewhat learn from and synchronize with the other groups.

In this case, just how much learning and synchronizing could people typically be comfortable with? What levels of synchronization would make for the most productive workers? The happiest people? How would this change with the number copies of the group? Or with years since the group copies were made? After all, right after the initial copying the groups would all be very synchronized. Would they immediately try hard to differentiate their group from others, or would they instead try to maintain synchronization for as long as possible?

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  • anonyxmousse

    This is already the effective situation in my industry (pharmaceuticals). Due to regulations and the fundamentals of the business, there are similar groups performing similar functions at every competing firm, doing very similar activities in similar ways. We have conferences to exchange ideas and employee turnover spreads ideas from one firm to another. in this respect we are comfortable with quite a bit of synchronization. However, having competition ensures that there is a “push” for innovation and not just sitting and copying all the time. But culture and place matters as well – people living in different countries will deal with the same issues differently based on their cultural tendencies. We find that, for example, people that move to work in a new country adopt the norms of their new workplace, so those aspects do not converge.

    • Handle

      This is most especially true in the military – which I think is the ultimate and obvious example of the attempt to scale and ‘copy and paste’ uniform, functional, tightly-cohesive human groupings in as many ways as realistically feasible. I’m kind of surprised Robin didn’t mention it.

      Consider a typical platoon or company. Exactly the same number of people who become like a large, extended family (if everything is going right) who are matched to their specific positions and tend to be of equal age, cognitive ability, rank, training, etc. of their counterparts in sister platoons or companies.

      And some special units, e.g. Army Rangers and SF, even go so far as to do a variety of personality tests (Myers-Briggs or DISC, though there’s something new now I’ve heard) and occasionally will do assignments in order recreate ‘ideal team mixes’ which have been shown to be particularly good personality combinations in the past.

      ‘Some Guy’ is correct too – the way sister squads, teams, and platoons feel about each other, especially their precise counterparts, is like ‘close siblings’ in that ‘band of brothers’ way. Two very similar squad leaders from different platoons will tend to get along like brothers, and they will tend to look at each other’s subordinates almost like ‘nephews’, and they will look at the other leader as ‘uncle’.

      The deepest psychological grooves are always kin-based, and so very-close social relations will tend to generate family-like feelings and perceptions.

      Now, what happens between platoons is usually a kind of friendly rivalry, and the higher echelon leadership usually encourages this, because it is beneficial to build internal team cohesion when they face very similar rival in a competition. It can’t get too tribal, because there is always going to be a lot of frequent personnel mixing reassignments and ‘cross-leveling’.

      Companies (80-160 people – Dunbar number equivalent) usually see each other in this ‘friendly rivalry’ way. But a company is too small for ‘regimental loyalty’ which is usually one or two levels up. After the regimental loyalty echelon, sister regiments – no matter how identically constituted – seem very foreign and alien.

      • Handle

        And, of course, because the military is a hierarchy of cloned teams, the ‘learning’ process is also centralized evolution instead of distributed. A hierarchy collects information from each subordinate unit (kind of like the mandatory-reporting version of crowdsourcing), reassessses the way it does business, revises ‘doctrine’ at the top, and then imposes the revised doctrine on all the subordinate units.

        Sometimes platoons learn from other platoon directly through the grapevine, or these days through online forums. But, again, that’s only in the space allowed by doctrine (or the custom of tolerated imperfect adherence to doctrine) for variation and discretion.

        Robin’s setup is different, because there is no chain of command over all the cloned groups, and they seem much freer to generate their own doctrine, do their own counterpart analysis, and run their own experiments.

        That seems like something that most people are very unlikely to be inclined to do. It seems much more natural that this would be someone’s ‘job’. That person could have that job officially, like a doctrine-rewriter in the military, or it would be a task – perhaps even a hobby – that would produce analytical content for which there would be a natural market or, at least, an eager audience. The Nate Silvers of the communities would have their little blog projects with ‘today’s interesting statistical truth about your counterparts’, and maybe even a customizable web-interface where you are able to do simple queries or get advice. Like when Tyler Cowen talks about those iPhone Apps that are real-time choice-consultants, “Kiss her now.” Just, instead of having generally good advice built it, those iPhone apps would be strongly data-driven by the experiences of your counterparts.

        And then, of course, there would be all kinds of privacy concerns.

        The worst concern for me would be that, if my counterparts in cloned-groups could know everything about what I was doing and feeling, why couldn’t my group-mates have access to the same information? A society without any privacy at all, even in terms of ‘inner thoughts and emotions’ not just within my group, but also among countless clone groups, is very difficult to imagine.

      • I didn’t mean to suggest that all the stat and analysis would be done redundantly by everyone. Yes it would make sense for a specialist to focus more on that. I’d think that sets of copies of the same original would trust each other enough to share info without much fear of one of them leaking it to outsiders.

      • Handle

        Do you think the specialist would be one of the clones, or a very different kind of person? It seems to me that most people wouldn’t be inclined (either able or motivated) to doing this, even with a lot of clones, but there would be different kinds of people who would be.

        Also, this SciFi fantasy is for someone to back in time and help their younger self (e.g. Biff in Back to the Future 2). The converse is that (especially filial and respectful) young people want to know what the (venerable) old-timers have learned, they want to understand the experience of successes and failures, the good techniques and mistakes.

        It seems to me there would be a market for ‘counterfactual simulations’ of your life choices – but if there’s an older group of which you are a younger clone, then there’s more learning possible from seeing what actually happened to them.

        Clones groups that had any control over processing cycles might want to slow themselves down, and have other groups take the risks, and observe what happens, and ‘do it correctly’ this time around, ‘putting right what once went wrong’ – like Quantum Leap.

        I think time-travel SciFi is probably a good vein to mine for these insights.

      • Doing such analysis requires special skills that most people wouldn’t have. So most would hire someone else to do it.

  • Ben Albert Pace

    I’ve always been eager to meet myself, and it think I would enjoy that *a lot*. My gut feel about hearing about how things are going between me and my spouse however, is a flinch away (I worry that many things could go wrong, e.g. The sort of self-fulfilling prophecies you describe, whereby one somewhat synchronised copy of me splits up, yet if we set things up well, I could see it being useful e.g. We all try a different event one night, and then the next night we can all do whichever one we enjoyed the most.

    However, you ask a different question at the end; not ‘how do I feel about it’, but ‘how would I feel about it if it had always been the norm’ in which instance I imagine I could be brought to accept anything as fine if it were the norm. Just like all of the hygienic, and social rituals that have become second nature, I’m sure I could be brought to routinely check and follow the prescriptions of the stats of my copies with no worries at all.

    I am a seventeen-year-old who very much doesn’t ‘know something about something’.

    • Ben Albert Pace

      I cannot edit for some reason. The bracket was supposed to say

      (I worry that many things could go wrong e.g. The sort of self-fulfilling prophecies you describe, whereby one somewhat-synchronised copy of me breaks up with spouse because of a certain problem, which my spouse didn’t think she’d have a serious problem with, but now splits up with me because she’s worried it’s going to get worse, when in fact things would’ve been fine otherwise.)

      However, that feels kinda like something in a film that real life, so I would discount that feeling.

    • Even if it had always been the norm, we might still not be that comfortable with it. We are still somewhat uncomfy with lots of things that are normal in our society.


    It seems to me people would work hard to differentiate themselves from their copies, because they want to feel unique, at the same time they would stay in contact with some of their copies because it’s very easy to relate to them so you can support each other when one of you is down and they will feel like family (ask people with identical twins to get more details I guess).

    • Robert Koslover

      Yes. My first thought was that the experiences of identical twins might provide some guidance in regard to at least some of these questions.


    So I don’t think people would try hard to copy the behavior of their copies, they would try to be unique. Also what’s the point of copying each other’s behavior all the time? How will you learn something new when after a while you have no original material to go on anymore (you won’t stay at that party late unless all of you agree to do so), there will be no one to leach original insights from because you are all synced.

  • Sam Dangremond

    On a scale of 1 to 10, if synchronization was the social norm… but I was one of the copies, and did not wish to engage in synchronization… how futile would my resistance be?

    • You’d have agreed to make the copy, and also agreed to some group expectation about how much synchronization to expect. Of course you might change your mind later, but yeah you should expect some peer pressure to stick with the original deal.

  • Alicorn

    I’d expect to want a mix of synchronization and divergence between different subsets of the set of groups. If there are 100 of me, maybe we form twenty clusters of five who check in with the rest of the cluster fifty times a day and stay on track, so we know roughly how predictive we are for each other in the maximally synchronized case for calibration/baseline/benchmark/whatever you call it; and the clusters check in with other clusters less often to trade ideas, resync if one cluster is doing better than another, propose a/b…/n testing of this or that, etc. The more of us there are, the more layers of clustering we can support.

    • You’d need to coordinate your clusters with the clusters of the other folks in your group. So it would make sense to have clusters of groups, with folks inside each group synchronizing similarly to other group members.

      • Alicorn

        Yes, ideally. That was what I meant.

  • some guy

    I think most people would be comfortable with optional asynchronous discussion, like blogs or subreddits or email. I’d certainly care which movies my copies enjoyed, but I’d watch only some of them in haphazard order based on my mood those days. Copies would be like close siblings.

    At work I wouldn’t be in charge of my synchronization. Once my employers figured out the best way to motivate one copy, they would immediately try the same things on my other copies. I would be extremely tempted to unionize with my copies or adopt super-rational strategies.

    With more copies, I’d probably get more useful information and have more reason to synchronize. As time goes on we would probably grow apart naturally.

    • I presume you care a lot about what movies you liked in the past. If you could see a movie you’d seen before and loved, but completely forgotten, I presume you’d want to. The tastes of your copies would be THAT close to your tastes.

      • ShardPhoenix

        Enjoyment of new things is strongly dependent on mood and context, so just because a perfect copy of me loved something on Wednesday doesn’t mean I’d enjoy it the same on Thursday. It would still be a better source of recommendations that any other I guess.

  • dazed

    I can’t even keep in sync with my brothers. But I would be interested to see how my clones were doing. I’ve recently conducted an awful experiment on myself and would warn any clones against it. Something like, whatever you’ve set up to be your identity, don’t go against it in the hardest way possible.

  • chepin

    Some copy with a bad experiences in a community can migrate or copied to a copy of the community before the bad event. He will know their past mistakes, maybe It will repeat it, maybe not.

  • Royce

    I’d be a little worried about some things that can’t be copied. For example my copy might steal any friends outside my group. I might have a hobby blog or a podcast that only one of us may continue to produce (how sad for the other to lose that!). If I’m a star performer in my field, perhaps my clone might surpass me which might make me jealous or may cause my own status to be reduced. Might my peers in my own group value me less?

    It would be harder to know who knows about your past because you don’t know what your copies have said. The more your copies diverge the less confident you can be about your own secrets being kept. It may be difficult to deny permission to copy the group due to peer pressure.

    In a world where copies are common I expect thee would be many forks of myself at various points in my life. I would probably keep up with this extended family like I do my own family.

    • You are focused on the decision to agree to copy. Yes there are tradeoffs there, but the question here is based on assuming that you have agreed. Part of the point of having a tight knit group is to reduce some of the costs you mention. The fewer outside friends you have, the less you have to worry about sharing them.

      • Royce

        Ok so assuming consent.

        In my line of work my group works on a software product that it attempts to sell to medium sized companies around the world. An opportunity to send a group of trained experts in our software to another market would be a boon. Software also lends itself well to collaboration if it is architected and managed well , so it might be viable for the groups to continue to build and improve the one product, tempering it with the new requirements of customers in the new environment. Customers in the old environment might benefit from new functionalities developed to support the new customers. If all the groups benefit from this I can see professional collaboration working very well.

        It sounds like the opportunity to be copied may have been due to the success of the original group. So I’m assuming copying is at least expensive enough that most individuals can’t afford it, but successful tight knit communities can. So groups might be eager to collaborate with their copies if they believe it will improve their continued success and their chances at producing more copies.

      • Royce

        I probably should say that given one copy of myself I’m likely to be conservative about exploring opportunities, but given many copies more willing to take risks as don and lump explore above.

      • IMASBA

        “but the question here is based on assuming that you have agreed.”

        The issue then becomes whether or not assuming the person has agreed to copying is a non-negligible case of selection bias (wrt. personality types).

    • lump1

      I think that the sort of considerations you raised would push us toward some sort inter-group collaboration. I mean, if I had a podcast with an audience that included group outsiders, I would naturally ask copy-me to be my collaborator, and copy-me would expect to be invited to do so. The show isn’t really mine-and-not-his, and we can’t just do multiple shows competing for the same audience. If I were a star in some research field, did I suddenly acquire a bunch of competitors? No, I probably got many potential collaborators who would have valuable brainstorming group sessions over Skype.

      If I were in a local band that plays local shows, I could see how duplicate-bands could exist, but if they did, I expect that we would want to collaborate on songs we compose, or at least swap songs.

      The collaboration might go so far as to deputize one of my copies to “really go for it” with trying to make it in music, because we’re all curious about whether we have it in us to succeed, but we’re too risk-averse to try it. Maybe we’d promise the copy that does try it some sort of support for undertaking the experiment on behalf of the group. Generally, copies might encourage each other to take risks with their fate, because doing those risky experiments could give valuable info to copies. You could learn, for example, that you probably don’t have it in you to be a very good mathematician or sculptor, without sacrificing a big chunk of your own life in an honest effort to give it a shot. I’m saying that you would want to encourage divergence. I think you would be proud of the successes of your copies, and ashamed of their shortcomings, even if you yourself displayed none of these.

      What I don’t see is a good reason to keep sync with the other groups by some sort of effort. Doing so would give up all the valuable opportunities to learn from deliberate divergence.

      But maybe, the most important thing that would change is that through the process of copying, you would suddenly create many new people about whom you care deeply, perhaps more deeply than anyone else in the universe. The empathy and solidarity that would exist between clones would almost certainly be stronger than those in a marriage. This would irreparably disrupt all the social equilibria in your hitherto functioning social group. Your former BFF would remain a friend, but not the friend in whom you confide most. I expect that many people would leave the group altogether to live near as especially trusted clone. Some people would probably feel best in clone-groups that work with a shared purpose. (Others might hate dealing with their clones, but if their former BFFs now have clones as their new BFFs, the clone haters would find the new social reality rather bleak.)

      • I see the seed of a great insight in your “really go for it” answer (along with Alicorn’s a/b/…/n testing below). Here’s the thought: Robin wants us to focus on how the groups collaborate, at the group level. Do the groups stay in sync, do they attempt to diverge.

        But it seems there will be enormous incentive, not for group loyalty, but for same-clone loyalty. Surely the 100 copies of “me” will want to form a team, and then diversify risk (much like a well-balanced financial portfolio). If you’re not sure whether to try to be a mathematician or a sculptor, then clones (on the same team, but in different groups of Robin’s) should draw straws as to which individual tries which approach.

        But rather than just be “proud” or “ashamed” of successes and failures of family-like relations, I bet the association would become much more formal. All your clones would enter contracts to pool their risk. One of you will go into math, and one into sculpting, but you’ll commit ahead of time to share the resulting future income (or other kinds of rewards) equally.

        Life choices from a team of clones should acquire the same benefits as portfolio diversification in financial investments. And I’d bet that would dominate whatever group coordination that Robin is hoping to explore.

      • Royce

        Interesting. I wonder about 101 communities filled with individuals with an increased appetite for risk. Even if your own copies coordinate, some communities may break down if too many clones decide to follow their dreams.

  • Trevor

    Does school offer useful analogies here? I wonder if you could find a few cliques that have all the same classes within-clique but different permutations between-clique. And everybody knows this. I imagine close to zero synchronization of notes between-cliques.

    This thought assumes that psychology among close friends extrapolates to psychology among exact copies. My imagination balks at giving any significance to an exact copy – I keep slipping straight to “Oh, he’s that guy who looks like me and laughs at my jokes. We go way back.” Perhaps because I don’t have super-strong family ties.

    So do close-knit families offer useful analogies, too? I wonder if you could find a few twins that stayed in the same town their entire lives. I imagine they split their time about 25% (+/-25%) sharing experiences, mostly sharing meals, and about 75% (-/+25%) doing individuating things.

    So, I think my imagination comes down to – what norms do we expect these group copies to establish re: food? If ems need to eat, in some loose sense, then I expect they’ll synchronize a good deal. If they don’t, then I expect they’ll largely avoid contact.

  • Brent Dill

    Are these people with normal human emotions and bonding instincts? Because if so, imagine the following situation:

    within the original group there is a pair who have a deep romantic attachment to each other, that everyone in the group sees as stable and long-term and healthy. The group forks into hundreds of copies, and it turns out that their relationship was highly environment-dependent – in 10 of the groups, the relationships stays stable, while in 87, they break up and A(n) winds up utterly despising B(n), while B(n) desperately pines for A(n). Let’s say A(n) has higher standing in the group than B(n), such that in 60 of these 67, most people shun B(n).

    Now, each of those B(n) desperately want to connect to one of the A(m), where m is in one of the 30 groups where the relationship is still stable (and therefore A(m) still likes B(m), and is hence very likely to see B(n) favorably – at least more favorably than anyone in {n} sees B(n)!) – what happens when each A(m) suddenly gets 3 to 4 B(n)’s pestering them for emotional support?

    • Most people don’t find desperation to be attractive, so it seems unlikely that A(m) would be attracted to those failures. More likely the failure of the other relations would make him or her wary of his or her own relation.

  • The overwhelming emotion for me is that I would love to learn from my copy, but I would be afraid to let others do so. There might be a status gain if my copy is impressive, but he might give too much insight into my thinking or reactions. A potential worst case scenario might be “he won’t actually follow through with that implied threat.” I don’t know if this is a confession or a generalizable emotional reaction.

    • Others would have more data about your tendencies, but this would also happen if you just lived one hundred times longer. Would also be worried about that scenario?

      • Paul K

        People generally try manage what other people know about them – who has access to important secrets. Living a hundred times longer, I would still be able to do that. But with copies, it would be harder – if my copies and I didn’t coordinate carefully, I could end up with a total stranger knowing me (via one of my copies) uncomfortably well.

      • Our tendencies are highly context-specific, but we are judged as though they are unconditional (attribution bias). With one long life, I can more accurately weigh the costs and benefits of responses. With many short lives, I must either act suboptimally in particular contexts or suffer undue reputational harm.

      • Yes, but not to the same degree. Many worry about skeletons in their closet haunting their later life. At least there’s some expectation that people might change over time. There’s less excuse if the clone was made yesterday.

  • Chris Hibbert

    I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of effort either maintaining fidelity, or striving to be different. Worrying about that seems superfluous. Currently, I’m enough of an odd duck that it would be interesting to keep in touch and find out occasionally what my doppelgangers are up to, or how they feel about issues that affect us. But starting out with 100 people who think the same ways I do about most issues, it would be the changes over time that would be most interesting, so touching base at intervals would be most of what would interest me.

    • OK, but then the question is how often to occasionally touch base, and about what? And how does your behavior change in response to expecting others to also touch base?

  • Alexei Sadeski

    Well this is something isn’t it.

    Given full information between groups, it would be hard to ignore patterns.

    Easy to imagine patterns becoming prophesy, a sort of religion. Surely faiths have been built upon less.

    If there were a way to manipulate the groups, I could see an attempt to steer relationships and happenings in such ways that the manipulator believes to increase productivity or happiness.

    Naturally there would be some who rebel against their prophesied fate.

    Net result is a wash?

  • Doug

    The films of Charles Kaufman frequently deal with similar situations. His closest film to your example is:,_New_York

  • Jason Haines

    You say there would be some things unique to each group – geographical reach for example. I wonder about the effects of the Narcissism of small differences.

  • Dermot Harnett

    I am strongly inclined to think that I, and others, would feel the need to differentiate ourselves from all of these other copies, and to not think about their existence very much. So isolation and differentiation seems the most psychologically appealing thing. On the other hand, the obvious practical benefits to knowing about all the other groups would lead me to try and covertly gather info on them.
    However, I suspect people’s attitudes would differ by their status as well. The high status people would feel reinforced by their high status copies, the low status people would feel shamed, and unable to maintain the self protective delusions they’d constructed to shore up their own self esteem in the face of all that evidence. So a lot might depend on how egalitarian the communities copied are. You might then get a strong selection for communities which were autocratic enough to ignore common people’s aversion to the replication of their failure, and harvest the benefits of synchronization.

    • If your status were mainly due to events that happened before the copy split, it seems you could explain away your status failure nearly as easily as can anyone today.

      • Dermot Harnett

        True, but as time went on, each of your failures would become a well replicated experiment. Last weeks project tanks – “I got a bad project” is a difficult case to make if 82/100 copies of you also failed..

  • Dep

    Just the people-having-copies-of-themselves would be a massive deal, never mind the rest of the scenario. Everyone would be able to communicate with their doubles, right? Then there’d be a lot of interesting behaviour based around that. I’m guessing some people would hate spending time with their copies, while others would love partaking of their own company to the point where they’d start withdrawing from everyone else. Having a bunch of yous to play with would make A/B testing of stuff about your own psychology and physiology a lot easier (“Let’s see what works best for losing weight: you go running, you do upperbody work, I’ll go dancing and he’ll be the control group. Check back in two weeks!”), but if you talk philosophy with your doubles then you’d risk getting caught in an echo chamber (even cult members don’t start out believing the same thing about EVERYTHING).

    Love would get very weird very quickly. It’s hard enough to convince yourself your connection is special and unique in a world of 7 billion, but when twenty carbon-copies of you and your spouse are feeling the same things elsewhere, the fantasy becomes unsustainable. And then there’s the fact that your spouse has access to an arbitrary number of people (their doubles) who at least start out knowing them more intimately than you do, who can be CERTAIN they know all their secrets . . .

    Which is ANOTHER big deal, now I think about it. Every copy of you knows all the dirty secrets you had at the point of divergence. I think this wouldn’t be a problem to start out, but if one of you gets (for example) addicted to drugs then he can (for example) blackmail all his doubles for drug money . . .

    Which is ANOTHER concept that’s interesting. I’m assuming you don’t meet your copies face-to-face, but you can freely exchange resources, yes? In that case, you have a much larger network of people who will want you helping them out of debt and/or be willing to help pay your hospital bills.

    Oh and there would be a lot of semi-arbitrary social (and possibly legal) norms springing up around this because semi-arbitrary social norms tend to do that. “Thou Shalt Not Talk To Any Double But Thy Own” sounds like a plausible one, partly for blackmail-avoidance reasons and partly for protectionism reasons.

    There are just too many complications here. You might want to read through the existing literature about identical twins, identical triplets, identical twins marrying identical twins (it happens!) . . . but most of this just has too many moving parts to work out analytically.

    If I were you, and if I were serious about wanting to know the answer to this, I’d set up some kind of simulation where there are N instances of the same M-player game operating in parallel, where the players of a given game have different starting conditions but the overall starting conditions are the same across all games, and where everyone can communicate.

    (Example: game based on WWII. Each of the ten parallel games has someone playing Russia, someone playing Germany, someone playing the UK, someone playing the US, and someone playing Japan. Everyone can communicate with each other and can give or trade certain kinds of resources, but can’t actually move troops between games.)

    • If there are twenty copies of you and your spouse, and they all remain as a pair, I don’t see why it would be hard to maintain the fiction that you two were meant for each other. No harder than today at least.

      • IMASBA

        1) it might make you think why you’re not with one of the copies of your spouse or if your spouse is cheating on you with one of your copies

        2) if many of your copies are with someone else (and happy) than your spouse or a copy of your spouse this might be difficult to cope with for people who believe in “the one”, “true love”, “soulmates”, etc…


    A thought experiment: given the choice would most people prefer to create new individuals that are semi-random combinations of the traits of two (more than two is also technically possible) “parents” (so equialent to making babies, with genetic screening), or to create copies of themselves? An EM-society could choose to reproduce in such a semi-random fashion if it wanted to, couldn’t it and it might spur more innovative thinking?

  • Joshua Fox

    I seek out people like me to interact with, so why not a group like me? So, yes, I’d seek them out. Besides, it would be interesting talking to a copy of myself.

    • OK, but the question here is about synchronization and tracking, not talking.

  • Lord

    I can see areas of cooperation and areas of competition. People would be interested in whatever their doubles learned that might be applicable and important while being reserved about disclosing issues that might put them at disadvantage. I see no interest in synchronizing though I think much would occur as more successful approaches spread throughout the communities. The amount of interaction may diminish over time as the novelty wears off and there is less to be learned and less is applicable to unique circumstances and where the actions of others can be internalized and predicted without need of interaction. Their focus would not be differentiation but adaptation to their specific circumstances to be most successful. Fashions would be highly synchronized but each would continue to explore on their own. Twins will often mimic but frequently avoid direct competition and instead seek complementation.

  • Trevor Blake, Failed Egoist

    That synchronization of cells of people sounds like what was attempted in China’s cultural revolution, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and today’s North Korea. My feeling about it is I prefer the failings of individuality over the successes of collectivism. Why, I even wrote a book about the good and bad of individuality taken as far as possible.

  • lump1

    If five years ago a small well-functioning community got cloned 100 times, that community and its copies have by now been completely destroyed. This is because intimacy is scarce, and the cloning would create 100 new kindred spirits for each person in the community. Within the first week, the world would reconfigure itself so that these clone-groups of 100 would become their own communities – a sort of familial clan, but many times tighter. How might you feel if your wife got sucked into such a sisterhood clan? Fine, probably, if you had your own superbrothers to be close with. (Neglected, if you didn’t.) We already sometimes bemoan that our SO’s are too hung up on their own families to pay attention to us. In this scenario, where they magically get 100 new supersiblings, who empathize with them like no-one else can, we – their spouses and tennis partners – would notice an immediate drop in our ranking of relative importance to them. The survival of such communities when contact/relocation is a possibility would require that its members have a psychology which is radically different from human. I think they would be unrecognizable within weeks. Or so it seems to me.

    • While some people would prefer to interact mainly with their own copies, I think most would not. Work groups composed all of copies of the same original wouldn’t have enough different temperaments to fill out all the different job roles well. Healthy social groups also need a diversity of temperaments.

  • Paul

    (I’m deliberately posting this before I read the other comments.)

    I assume that we each get a new cell phone number / email / facebook / bank account / whatever, from-the or including-the ‘original’. We even have new names even if they aren’t meaningful, like Chicago:Paul and Moscow:Paul.

    My first instinct is to establish the option to contact my alternate selves, so that we can conspire to solve problems, experiment against the group (I assume that each group has an internal status ranking, and that I want to climb to the top and stay there forever), and possibly even cooperate for greater influence outside of the group (running for president, robbing a bank, making a career change/self-insurance, self-orchestra, etc). So I would try to find their email/cell and establish some kind of secure communications channel. I could even quickly coordinate immediately after the copy using a shared-secret I memorized before being copied.

    My second thought is that other people are also going to do this, so I can’t betray them, or keep secrets from them, as easily. If I betray, I have to betray everyone at once. Of course, I may expect everyone to betray all of myselves at once, and therefore become more paranoid.

    Third, psychologically I feel very uncomfortable talking directly to anyone else from another clan. This would seem extremely disloyal, as I could talk to the version of that person here in my own clan, and “people should be loyal to their own clan above other clans”. I would more likely ask an alternate self to talk to that person on “””my””” behalf.

    I don’t care about what happens at work, in my or the other clans, unless I can use it to increase my status. Working is for losers, particularly when I can work for “””myself””” by conspiring with the “””person””” I trust the most.

    So I would lean toward specialization, but with my selves trying to keep each of the other clansmen synchronized. If everyone did this the groups would probably be quite different, but permanent individual personality-features of others would still be observable and useful to my selves.

  • Paul Ralley

    I think that the various groups would become very competitive (inter group) – our biggest rivals seem to be close by (eg. local sports teams, envy of a co-workers rise vs. a CEO rise, discord between [very similar] local communities). A red vs blue them vs us would emerge, so there would be a lot of observing other groups (maybe some doing down negative-sum competition), covert copying (we thought of this first). So the various groups would move to differentiate (perhaps united if there later came an external threat.

    Regarding observing behaviour (leaving ones spouse) – I think many excuses about why that Paul Ralley is totally different from our Paul Ralley would become the norm (well, of course the weather is different there…)

  • Peter St. Onge

    I think you have many natural experiments along these lines from
    existing groups of people with similar jobs. When comedians get together from drinks, they have strong fellowship. Ditto for salespeople (even though they are direct competitors), telecom engineers, etc. The more specialized the closer, even though specialization implies direct competition. In my experience (international business, in telecoms infrastructure & consumer products), this camaraderie even transcends age, gender, nationality.

    So my sense is that the communes would become very close, even friends. They’d feel “in this together” and be intensely curious about each others’ social conflicts. Again, consider the natural experiment that soap operas seem less cross-cultural than, say, action movies.

    • PSO

      Sorry, meant to claim that soaps are /more/ cross-cultural. You get the picture.

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