RE: A calculus of personal identity

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 16:28:17 +1000

Hal Finney writes:
> 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.
OK, this is the old ASSA versus RSSA distinction. But leaving this argument aside, I don't see how teleportation could be analogous to a risky, measure reducing activity if it seemed to be a reliable process from a third person perspective. If someone plays Russian Roulette, we both agree that from a third person perspective, we are likely to observe a dead body eventually. But with teleportation (destructive, to one place) there is a 1:1 ratio between pre-experiment subjects and post-experiment subjects from a third person perspective. Are you suggesting that the predicted drop in measure will have no third person observable effect?
> 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.
Assuming it could be done seamlessly, how would it make any difference? If you believe the important aspect of our consciousness resides in the activity at neural synapses, this is exactly what is happening. They are constantly falling apart and being repaired in an energy-requiring process, such that the matter comprising our synapses completely turns over in a matter of minutes. It's just the basic brain template that is maintained over time, and even that changes as we change. If you could somehow gold plate your neurones so that the normal turnover of matter due to wear and tear stops, and only the turnover due to thinking different thoughts occurs, do you think it would make any subjective difference? What if the turnover increased, or it happened all at once in bursts rather than gradually, all the while maintaining the same basic structure as occurs normally?
 Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Thu Jun 29 2006 - 02:29:19 PDT

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