RE: FIN insanity

From: Jesse Mazer <>
Date: Thu, 06 Sep 2001 15:20:53 -0400

>From: "Charles Goodwin" <>
>To: <>
>Subject: RE: FIN insanity
>Date: Fri, 31 Aug 2001 12:26:24 +1200

>On the other hand I can't see how FIN is supposed to work, either. I
>*think* the argument runs something like this...
>Even if you have just had, say, an atom bomb dropped on you, there's still
>SOME outcomes of the schrodinger wave equation which just
>happen to lead to you suriviving the explosion. Although these are VERY
>unlikely - less likely than, say, my computer turning into a
>bowl of petunias - they do exist, and (given the MWI) they occur somewhere
>in the multiverse. For some reason I can't work out, all
>the copies who are killed by the bomb don't count. Only the very very very
>(etc) small proportion who miraculously survive do, and
>these are the only ones you personally experience.
>Is that a reasonable description of FIN? Ignoring statistical arguments,
>what is wrong with it?

What does FIN stand for, anyway? Is it just another version of the quantum
theory of immortality? Anyway, the idea behind the QTI is not just that we
arbitrarily decide copies who die "don't count," rather it has to do with
some supplemental assumptions about the "laws" governing first-person
experience, namely:

1. Continuity of consciousness is real (see my recent post on this)

2. Continuity of consciousness does not depend on spatial or temporal
continuity, only on some kind of "pattern continuity" between different
observer moments.

I won't try to explain #1 any more for now, but I'll try explaining #2
(Bruno Marchal is much better at this sort of thing). Basically, you want to
imagine something like a star trek transporter, which disassembles me at one
location and reassembles me at another. Will this mean that the original
version of me "died" and that a doppelganger with false memories was created
in his place? If computationalism/functionalism is true, it would seem the
answer is no--who "I" am is a function of my pattern, not the particular
particles I'm made of, so as long as the pattern is preserved my continuity
of consciousness will be too (and after all, the molecules of my body all
end up being totally replaced by new ones every few years anyway). But if
this is true, the spatial/temporal separation of the two transporter
chambers shouldn't matter--the imaging chamber could be on 21st century
earth and the replication chamber in the Andromeda Galaxy in the year 5000,
and I would still have a continuous experience of stepping into the imaging
chamber and instantaneously finding myself in the replication chamber,
wherever/whenever that may be.

A naturally corrolary of this is that my stream of consciousness can be
"split"--if there are two replication chambers which create copies of me
just as I was when I stepped into the imaging chamber, then "I" before the
experiment could experience becoming either of the two copies. All other
things being equal, it seems reasonable to assume the chances of
experiencing becoming one copy vs. the other are 50/50. But now suppose we
do a similar duplication experiment, except we forget to plug in the second
replication chamber, so only one "copy" is created. Should I assume that I
have a 50% chance of becoming the real copy and a 50% chance of "finding
myself" in an empty chamber, and thus being "dead?" That doesn't seem to
make sense--after all, a duplication experiment where one chamber fails to
create a copy is just like a standard Star-Trek-style transporter, and I
assume that in that case I have a 100% chance of finding myself as the
single "copy." But it's easy to imagine extending this--suppose instead of
failing to replicate anything, the second chamber replicates a copy of my
body with the brain totally scrambled, so that the body dies pretty rapidly.
Do I have a 50% chance of dying in this experiment because I become the copy
with the scrambled brain? If only "pattern continuity" is important, the
fact that this copy has a body which resembles mine shouldn't matter, its
brain-pattern doesn't resemble mine in any way so there's no reason I should
become that copy.

It's not too hard to see how all this would be analogous to what would be
happening all the time in a MWI-style multiverse. Why should I "become"
those copies of me who experience death in various possible histories? There
shouldn't be any more danger of that than there is of me suddenly "becoming"
the dead body of a complete stranger, or of finding myself in a universe
where I was never born in the first place and being "dead" for that reason.
So, that's the basic argument for "quantum immortality." The catch is in
defining exactly what "pattern continuity" here means--what if a copy is
replicated that's basically the same as me but with a few neurons scrambled,
for example? Something like that happens every time I have a new experience,
so it shouldn't make too much of a difference. But it's possible to imagine
a continuum of cases where the pattern is more and more altered, until
eventually the guy who comes out the other side is a totally different
person from me, so presumably I don't have a significant chance of
"becoming" him (although the probability of this might not be zero, either).
I think questions like these show the need for some kind of "theory of
consciousness" to quantify this stuff and give a specific conditional
probability distribution for transitions from one observer-moment to
another. I am sure others on this list would have very different opinions
about what these thought-experiments show, though--some, like Jaques Mallah,
might consider them a reductio ad absurdum of the whole concept of
"continuity of consciousness."


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Received on Thu Sep 06 2001 - 12:22:12 PDT

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