You can find out the exact date & time (but not place) of your death. Do you do it?

Time for another pointless Rhymer hypothetical This one, as some of you will gather, is suggested by Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “Life-Line.”

Though whatever sci-fi implausibilities you care to postulate, a device is invented that can infallibly predict the date & time of the future death of a person who enters it. Let’s call it the Thanatos Prognosticator. Now, before you ask, the Prognosticator does NOT kill you itself; it is a genuine reading of the future using polarized nutated tachyon tunneling through hyperspace, or some other such technobabble.

Anyway…the Thanatos Prognosticator itself is pretty huge, but the part of it that the user sees is the size and shape of an old-style phone booth–the sort Clark Kent would’ve used to change into Superman. The interior of the booth is opaque to the outside. Before entering the booth, the user inputs a code on a console on the door. He or she must remain in the booth for 60 seconds during the tachyon scanning sequence. The Prognosticator then prints out one and only one copy of the person’s date of death (precise to the hour & minute) and deposits it in a small compartment outside the booth. After emerging from the booth, the user can choose to either retrieve the print-out or destroy it without looking it at. To do the former, the user must re-enter the code specified at the start of the process. If this is not done within 1 minute of emerging, the print-out is automatically destroyed and all history of it is lost.

There is, of course, a catch. Actually four catches. First is that the Prognosticator will not work if more than one person is inside. Second is that it that it can only be used once on a given person; if you use one, elect to destroy your readout, and then try again either with that unit or any other, you’ll get a No response possible printout. Third is that, for theoretical reasons probably having to do with Heisenberg, the machine cannot forecast both the date and the location of a person’s death; it’s one or the other, and thus all models are set to give only the date (which is precise down to the hour and minute). Finally, the TP’s prediction is rather like opening the box with Schrödinger’s cat inside. The user’s death-date is not set until the prediction is not merely printed out, but read, whether by the the user or someone else. Before that moment, other possible futures exist; as of that moment, the other possibilities collapse.

Would you be willing to use the Thanatos Prognosticator? Why or why not?

Nope, not me! Not that I’m afraid of dying at all, but I do want it to be a surprise. I’m afraid that knowing that next Thursday at 10:03AM is IT would cause me too many sleepless nights.

From the size and shape you describe, it sounds like a good place for a knee-trembler or maybe a dump.

I would regret doing it. I would also regret not doing it. The latter would probably win out.

Sure I would. I’d then set aside some money and schedule to be at a beach house on Aruba at that time. I’d die with a drink in hand after a few days or weeks of tawdry sex. :).

I’d do it. It would make the rest of my retirement so much easier if I knew how much longer my money had to last.

No, not if the exact date wouldn’t be set until I read it. I’d rather keep my different options on the table instead of closing the door to other possibilities.

Yes. I’d know when to get my affairs in order, buy a buttload of life insurance, etc.

This. I value free will, or at least the most robust illusion of it the Universe permits.

No way would I get in that thing. It’s bad enough knowing that I have to die at some ambiguously-defined future time. :eek:

No friggin way! It’s one thing if it says I’m going to live to a ripe old age. However, I think I’ll go crazy if it says I’m going to have a premature demise. There are some things that I just don’t need to know.

I would have to say no to the OP as worded.

If I could know the cause of death, in detail, I would have to consider options then.

Date and time alone doesn’t do it for me.

Of course, if the machine were really one hundred percent reliable, you’d have a sort of freedom - one could take up vigilante crime-fighting, for example, without fear of death prior to your expiration date. (Though I guess you could still get crippled or end up in a coma).

Exactly the line that lead to my hedge above yours.

I wouldn’t use it.

A question further to the OP, if you used it and found out your time of death was the 22nd June 2010 at 13:23 and you then went out of your way to ensure that you were on an airliner with 500 other passengers at the time, would that count as mass murder suicide? (The presumption being that the likely cause of death was a plane crash.)

Another question, you decide to take the slip of paper, you then compare it with other people who’ve taken it, everone’s time of death is exactly the same. You compare them with people from around the world, same time of death. What would you make of that? What would you do? Would you try and warn others of what seems to be an imminent mass extinction event?

I only want to know if it’s reasonably good news, and since there’s no way to orchestrate this (there was a recent thread about that), I think the answer is no, for me. I kinda like the idea of leaving the possibilities uncollapsed, even if it makes no logical difference.

I don’t really see the relevance of the fouth catch. Whether the date is set or not it will still happen at some time or other, and without foreknowledge I can’t mess with it anyway. If the machine just picked a random date that would be one thing, but if it calculates it based on real-world variables then the date will be what it will be, note or no note.

I would read the note without hesitation. There’s a lot of useful applications for this knowledge, and I’m not going to let the fact that I might not like what I hear stand in the way.

Besides, I hate surprises.

I’d do it in a heartbeat. It would make planning my life incredibly easy. Seeing as I don’t have a family I could easily develop a mindset of wanting my last check to bounce and be able to time it perfectly. On the other hand life insurance would become an easy way to provide for any family I develop and I could minimize my premiums perfectly.

I wouldn’t necessarily risk my life more because of just shy of life threatening things that could happen but the ability to plan my last minuets perfectly really appeals to me. I could see if differently if I knew that my death date was likely soon before I stepped into the machine but since I’m not likely to die in the next couple of decades I only see an upside.

I see some people saying it would make things like lifer insurance easier…only, if in this established future these machines exist, there is no way ANY insurance company would insure someone who read their death date, unlesss thery also got as copy and can plan accordiongly (ie, they see it’s 40 years from now, so they just make sure to give you a rate and payout that will result in a profit for them.) Since there is obviously a database of who used the machine and read their date, the insurance companies will succesfully lobby that either they can flat out deny anyone who used one, or they have the right to see the date of anyone who used one if they ask for a policy…or at the very least they can get a policy, but only bhave it pay out if they die on some other date…which given the OP’s premise isn’t possible anyway. It’s akin to getting insurance then commiting suicide.