RE: A calculus of personal identity

From: Hal Finney <>
Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2006 15:29:52 -0700 (PDT)

Lee Corbin writes:
> Stathis writes
> > Hal Finney in his recent thread on teleportation thought
> > experiments disagrees with the above view. He suggests
> > that it is possible for a subject to apparently undergo
> > successful teleportation, in that the individual walking
> > out of the receiving station has all the appropriate
> > mental and physical attributes in common with the individual
> > entering the transmitting station, but in reality not survive
> > the procedure. I have difficulty understanding this, as it
> > seems to me that the subject has survived by definition.
> Well, if you've characterized his views correctly, then he's
> not in agreement with you, me, and Derek Parfit. What might
> be fun to explore is how desperate some people would have to
> be in order to teleport (or perhaps how lucrative the
> opportunity?). Also, I suppose that if you confided to them
> that this was happening to them all the time thousands of
> times per second, they'd still have some unfathomable reason
> not to go near a teleporter.

Sorry, I have been reading the list somewhat lightly recently and
have missed some threads.

What I argued was that it would be easier to find the trace of a person's
thoughts in a universe where he had a physically continuous record than
where there were discontinuities (easier in the sense that a smaller
program would suffice). In my framework, this means that the universe
would contribute more measure to people who had continuous lives than
people who teleported. Someone whose life ended at the moment of
teleportation would have a higher measure than someone who survived
the event. Therefore, I would view teleportation as reducing measure
similarly to doing something that had a risk of dying. I would try to
avoid it, unless there were compensating benefits (as indeed might be
the case, just as people willingly accept the risk of dying by driving
to work, because of the compensating benefits).

You can say that "by definition" the person survives, but then, you
can say anything by definition. I guess the question is, what is the
reasoning behind the definition.

As far as Lee's suggestion that people could be dying thousands of
times a second, my framework does not allow for arbitrary statements
like that. Given a physical circumstance, we can calculate what happens.
It's not just arbitrary what we choose to say about life and death.
We can calculate the measure of different subjective life experiences,
based on the physical record.

If we wanted to create a physical record where this framework would
be compatible with saying that people die often, it would be necessary
to physically teleport people thousands of times a second. Or perhaps
the same thing could be done by freezing people for a substantial time,
reviving them for a thousandth of a second, then re-freezing them again
for a while, etc.

If we consider the practical implications of such experiments I don't
think it is so implausible to view them as being worse than living a
single, connected, subjective life. It would be quite difficult to
interact in a meaningful way with the world under such circumstances.

However, if one were so unfortunate as to be put into such a situation,
then it would no longer be particularly bad to teleport. You're being
broken into pieces all the time anyway, so the event of teleportation
would presumably not make things any worse. Particularly if you were
somehow being teleported thousands of times a second, then adding a
teleportation would basically be meaningless since you're teleporting
anyway at every instant. So I don't agree with Lee's conclusion that
in this situation people would still resist teleportation.

Hal Finney

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Received on Wed Jun 28 2006 - 19:32:56 PDT

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