RE: Belief Statements

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2005 17:59:31 +1100

On 15/1/05 Brent Meeker wrote:

(quoting my post)
>It's easy to get confused over the meaning of terms like "different person"
>here. The basic idea I am trying to get across is that if a person or other
>conscious entity is destroyed and after a certain time period is (to an
>arbitrary level of fidelity) reconstructed, perhaps fom a different source
>of matter, then in general there is no way for that person to know that he
>hasn't just had a period of unconsciousness whilst still remaining the
>"same" person.
>Many would be shocked at the prospect of going through the above process,
>fearing that it would actually amount to being killed and then replaced by
>deluded imposter. Literally, I suppose this is true. We could also argue
>about whether we should say that the original person has "survived" the
>process, or whether the pre- and post-reconstruction versions are
>"identical". This is just semantics. The important point is that the normal
>flow of conscious experience is indistinguishable from / equivalent to
>and being replaced by a deluded imposter every moment.
>--Stathis Papaioannou
>I see some problems with the above view. First, the idea that the same
>person can have different physical realizations is based on the
>view of thought and consciousness. Thought is some physical process. But
>then it seems this physical basis is ignored and "a person" is idealized as
>just the information processing. But there is no information without
>representation. Just because it is possible to realize a person in
>different physical media doesn't mean that the physical medium can be
>dispensed with.

We can restrict ourselves to the one thing we know for certain about thought
and consciousness (leaving aside the Problem of Other Minds), which is that
it is associated with complex electrochemical processes in human brains. It
doesn't change my argument.

>Second, there seems to be an assumption that a person is only a sequence of
>conscious thoughts. All conscious thought is associated with brains - and
>also with a lot of unconscious 'thought' or information processing. It is
>not at all clear that one could recreate the conscious stream of thought
>without the unconscious part.

Again, let's agree that only the wet squishy thing inside our skulls is
capable of thought. We certainly don't have any direct evidence to the

>Third, related to the second above, thought is a process that is
>in both space, throughout the brain, as well as time. Hence relativity
>implies that there is no unique sequence of events corresponding to a
>state of consciousness.

Can you explain this third point?

I've never understood why critics of computationalism think the brain is so
fundamentally different from electronic computers. Whatever mysterious, as
yet undiscovered of processes may be behind conscious thought, it all has to
be done with at most a couple of dozen different elements taking part in
chemical reactions. What else beyond this could there possibly be?

--Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Sun Jan 16 2005 - 02:04:48 PST

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