Re: A calculus of personal identity

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2006 22:52:43 +1000


I have cut out some of your detailed response to my post where I think we basically agree. There remain some differences, and some failings on my part to understand more technical aspects of your work.

> > Memories of our past are generally more vivid and hold more
> > information than writing, film etc., but there may come a time when
> > people directly share memories with each other as easily as they now
> > share mp3 files.
> Selling, buying, sharing memories belongs to the future of applied
> bio-information science, I guess. But still, despite infinite possible
> progress in that matter, what will always really be shared will be
> numbers and partially similar decoding and interpreting procedures. For
> example, the mp3 files contains binary digits, and people share indeed
> the same first level decoding machinery (a Mac, a PC, an ipod, etc.).
> They does not share the personal experience (ex: for one the music will
> makes him/she recall nice memories, for someone else: only bad
> memories). Now you make one step further and share the good/bad
> memories. This can only partially be done, and then it will be similar
> to number-mp3 sharing. To share the first person experience completely
> you will have to erase memories for maintaining enough (self-)
> consistency, and you will actually fuse the persons. The quantum analog
> is quantum erasure of information which allows interference effects
> (and thus history-fusion) to (re)appear.
> The first person itself is not first person-self-definable (I will come
> back on this, but those following the diagonalization post can already
> smell this phenomenon: the collection of all computable functions from
> N to N cannot be enumerated by a computable function).

Yes, sharing the memory is *not* the same as having the original experience, but this applies to recalling one's own past as well. You may argue that recalling our past is different because we have just the right brain structure, other associated memories and so on to put it all in context, but in principle all of these might be lacking due to illness or the passage of time, or might be duplicated in a very good simulation made for someone else to experience. The only way to unambiguously define a first person experience is to make it once only; perfect recollection would be indistinguishable from the original experience, and it would be impossible for the experiencer to either know that he was recalling a memory or to know how close to the original the recollection was. The postulate of a first person entity persisting through time violates the 1st person/ 3rd person distinction, since it assumes that I-now can have 1st person knowledge of I-yesterday or I-tomorrow, when in fact such knowledge is impossible except in a 3rd person way. I believe it is this confusion which leads to the apparent anomaly of 1st person indeterminacy in the face of 3rd person determinacy in duplication experiments. Let us assume as little as possible and make our theories as simple as possible. I *have* to accept that there is something special about my experiences at the moment which distinguish them from everyone else's experiences: this is the difference between the 1st person POV and the 3rd person POV. It is tempting to say that my 1st person POV extends into the future and the past as well, explaining why I think of myself as a person persisting through time. However, this latter hypothesis is unnecessary. It is enough to say that the 1st person POV is valid only in the present, and when I consider my future and past that is only 3rd person extrapolation. What I consider myself to be as a person is then explained as the set of 1st person experiences related in a particular way, such as believing themselves to be moments in the life of a single individual, having memories or quasi-memories in common, and so on. If I split into two that presents no problem for the 3rd person POV (there are two instantiations of Stathis extant where before there was one) nor for the 1st person POV (each instantiation knows it is experiencing what it is experiencing as it is experiencing it). A problem does arise when I anticipate the split (which one will I become?) or look back at the split (*I* was the original!); there is no correct answer in these cases because it is based on 3rd person extrapolation of the 1st person POV, which in addition to its other failings assumes only a single entity can be extant at any one time (only a single 1st person exists by definition, but multiple 3rd persons can exist at the one time). This is not to say that my mind can or should overcome [Lee Corbin disagrees on the "should"] the deeply ingrained belief or illusion that I am a unique, one-track individual living my life from start to finish, which is why in symmetrical duplication experiments I anticipate that I will become one of the duplicates with equal probability. In asymmetrical duplication experiments with partial memory loss or merging, it becomes very difficult to know what to expect.

> > It can only be made unambiguous by introducing the third person POV
> > because the "I" refers to different tokens/instantiations depending on
> > the stage of the teleportation process: the idea that there is a
> > single "I" persisting through time is an illusion, involving looking
> > at one's future or past as if from the 1st person POV when in fact the
> > 1st person POV is necessarily tied to a single token/instantiation.
> All right then. Except that I am not sure I really agree with the idea
> that the persisting "I" is an illusion. Here, it is hard for me not
> taking account of the main UDA conclusion: the reversal
> physics/bio/compscience/theology/numbers. So let me tell you what I
> believe, accepting comp and the UDA reasoning: The persisting "I" is
> not an illusion, or is less an illusion than its body or time itself.
> What could also be an illusion is the feeling that "I" and "you" are
> absolutely different, when the difference is only relative.

See above. Perhaps "illusion" is not the right word. Is a motion picture an illusion? It is a series of still pictures presented in a particular way giving the effect of motion from the POV of a human observer; better to be descriptive than use words like illusion and delusion.

> > This is why I say that "I" live only transiently when I am interested
> > in being rigorous, while in everyday life I use the pronoun "I" to
> > mean what most people mean by it, and what my human-standard
> > psychological makeup tells me it means.
> This is hard matter and I don't expect we will settle this in few
> posts. I think I see what you mean, and at the same time I believe comp
> forces us to believe in the contrary (but I know this is strongly
> counter-intuitive for those who thinks a lot on personal identity and
> does keep some form of naturalism). The reason is that eventually the
> first persons will appear to be the time and space constructors, and
> that the first person "I" does not even exists transiently (it needs at
> least two instants!). So here, comp could come back toward common
> sense: "you" are really defining partially and locally a past and a
> future (or many possible futures) like everyday life suggests. Identity
> is attached (partially) to connected memories, and all what matters
> consists in keeping that connection through the construction of time
> for consistency purpose. We are not allow to get others' experiences
> for the same consistency reason, so "I" remains invariant to "my"
> continuous or computable changes, and actually this is what allows us
> to be teleported or duplicated through comp, with giving the right for
> all my doppelgangers to say consistently that they are all "me",
> persisting through those experience/experiments, and being just
> accidentally and relatively (in W or M for example) disconnected. I
> think that people, like Lee Corbin, who insists that the W and M
> doppelgangers are really himself, should accept the possibility, at
> least, that all of us are already the same self, produced by many many
> duplications and multiplications made through our biological history.
> We are unable to recognize ourself as our selves due to other
> evolutionary factors which apparently did bet on some competition among
> us. Another is some hidden part of oneself, in this setting. It is
> known that hiding information can be a key to learning behavior.

Some of the above is very much tied up with the way we use language, like the difference between saying there is motion on the screen or there is only the illusion of motion on the screen.
> Hope I am enough clear. Many things I want to make clearer here rely on
> many points in the UDA. It could perhaps help us to tell if you follow
> the UDA reasoning until its conclusion (?) or where would you stop? We
> could try to isolate possible misunderstandings.

I falter at step 7 of the UDA as given in your 2004 SANE paper, especially from the point after "We are almost done..."

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Wed Jun 28 2006 - 08:53:45 PDT

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