Re: Quantum accident survivor

From: Pete Carlton <>
Date: Wed, 5 Nov 2003 11:27:47 -0800

> But I guess the problems in this discussion is the lack of precise
> definition of the terms and of the philosophical framework.

This is where I most often feel like speaking up on this amazing list.
I don't have enough math to really understand things like the Speed
Prior, etc., but I do think
that there are hidden philosophical assumptions (about consciousness,
especially) behind many of the approaches here.

> First, in this discussion I am always assuming MWI.
> In a materialistic framework - with nothing external to the
> physical world - it is hard to define personal identity if we
> take the MWI in account.

I agree; and in fact it is hard no matter what our favorite
metaphysical theory says, MWI or otherwise. "I" is a very tough
philosophical problem.

> But in this case there is clearly
> no 'soul' or anything other than the configuration of atoms
> to describe what we call 'ourselves'. In any branching of
> the multiverse there are multiple copies of my body being
> produced. Nevertheless, I only experience one of those
> states. Therefore, I guess the best I could say is that ' I '
> is one of the instances of this configuration.

When it becomes difficult to say things about "I", I find it helps to
attempt to cast the entire situation into 3rd-person terms. I would
say here that under MWI (and UD, and the rest..) there is a ensemble of
entities more or less similar to Eric. Some of these are different
enough that they could be considered different people (such as the Eric
who inherited a billion dollars when he was 12 years old), some of them
quite similar (such as the Eric who lives where the ambient room
temperature is 2 degrees colder) and some of them are so similar
(different only temporarily or unnoticeably, or at the quantum level)
that they can't be told apart. "Individual Eric"s within the ensemble
can be seen to actually each consist in a fuzzy set of
indistinguishable Erics. The "boundaries" between sets demarcate where
differences at the finest-grained levels start to make a difference at
levels that an Eric can notice, given the kinds of observations he's
making. The boundaries being "fuzzy" means just that there is no fact
of the matter which other copies are really "you" and which are not.
This is not a problem! Well, it is a problem if you insist on some
definition of "I", like that of Descartes, that rules this out; then
you must argue for that definition.

> Let me stress this point: *I am, for all practical purposes,
> one and only one specific configuration of atoms in a
> specific universe. I could never say that ' I ' is ALL the
> copies, since I NEVER experience what the other copies
> experience.
Here I think you're making an assumption. You are certainly not ALL the
copies, but then it doesn't follow that you are only 1. "You" could be
a fuzzy set of copies that have experiences so similar that they cannot
be told apart. That is, they cannot be told apart >yet<. Unnoticeable
differences eventually can percolate up and make a noticeable
difference, or they can be made noticeable by making more sensitive
> In some of these branching universes, this configuration
> of atoms that I call 'me' will not show signs of what we
> call life anymore. Notice that death is no different from
> any other branching in the multiverse in a materialistic
> point of view. There is no 'soul' being detached from the
> body or anything else. So there is no reason to suppose
> that my personal experiences will not be, as before, one
> of any of the future configurations of these atoms that I
> call 'me', including those where this configuration is a
> 'dead' state.
> In particular, after a severe car crash, most of these will
> be dead. Notice again that 'dead' has, in this paradigm,
> no supernatural meaning, it means nothing more than 'that
> body does not show vital functions anymore'. In particular,
> that body has no sensorial experiences anymore. But there
> is yet no reason to suppose that I cannot be one of those
> bodies. Therefore, in this framework, in the case of a severe
> car crash, the probability that I have no more future sensorial
> experiences - i.e., that I am dead for good (or bad?) - is
> simply the measure of universes where my body is dead.

> When some people suppose that our next experience is
> necessarily one of the alive ones, they are tacitly assuming
> a dualistic position.
I think they are indeed making an assumption, but not necessarily a
dualistic one. They are making the assumption that there is always a
"way out" - that in every set of "I"'s who encounter a dangerous
situation, there is always at least one that has a continuation. There
is no need to postulate some "soul" leaping from one body-copy to

If a large set of Eric-equivalents encounter a really dangerous
situation, most will not continue, but as long as this assumption holds:

        "(The set of reasonably similar Eric-equivalents) contains
        (The set of Erics who are unnoticeably different from you) which
        (The set of Erics who have a living continuation after event X)
                which has at least one member."

then you will not experience yourself dying. I think this is how
materialism can accomodate QTI. I do think a better attack on QTI is
that the final part of the above assumption (the last set has at least
one member) isn't well-argued for. Even if these Eric-sets are
infinite there may not be an Eric who survives, say, the sun exploding;
just as the infinite set of composite numbers doesn't contain any

> But if we decide to accept a dualistic framework QTI would
> probably be the least probable scenario. We could as well say
> that the next experience would be of many other kinds: in other
> bodies, reincarnation, or any transcedental experience like
> going to heaven - there is no reason to decide between these.
  I think this reduces to the white rabbit problem again. The next
experience could *always* be of many other kinds, whether we've just
had a dangerous event or not. I think it is an interesting question
though, for surviving a fall from a cliff, say, certainly seems like a
"white rabbit" event. Perhaps one would conjecture that under QTI,
"white rabbit" events that allow incredible survival must still be as
mediocre as possible.

> For instance, QTI poses a difficulty for the dualist: at each
> moment, if QTI and is true, an infinity of 'souls' is merging into
> one single body, since this body is dying at an infinity of other
> universes. How does this square with the common definition
> of a 'soul' as an immaterial *individuality*?
I think this is the least of dualism's problems..=)

Best regards,
Pete Carlton, Ph. D.
Life Sciences Division
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Berkeley, CA USA
Received on Wed Nov 05 2003 - 14:29:51 PST

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