Re: A calculus of personal identity

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 21:01:07 +1000

Brent Meeker writes (quoting SP):
> > 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. > > Well said! I agree completely.
> >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. > > > But what can that "related in a particular way" be? It is certainly not the case that I, at every> moment am experiencing a belief that I'm a single individual. I cannot think of any 1st person> experience that is connecting my 1st person moments. Rather it is something unconscious which I> "experience" only on reflection, i.e. in a 3rd person way.
> I think this poses a difficulty for a world model consisting only of "observer moments". There's> nothing to connect them. A model in which there is an external substrate, either the physical world> or a computer simulation, avoids this problem by providing the unexperienced connection. Julian> Barbour proposes a similar model in which the world consists of "time capsules"; each capsule is a> moment in time. But these capsules contain much more than a conscious thought; they contain> something like a state of the world and so they provide enough information to be well ordered.
I think it is one of the most profound things about consciousness that observer moments don't *need* anything to connect them other than their content. They are linked like the novels in a series, not like the carriages of a train. It is not necessary that the individual novels be lined up specially on a shelf: as long as they have each been written and exist somewhere in the world, the series exists. The carriages of a train, on the other hand, not only have to be the right sort of physical structures, they also have to be specially linked in order to make up the train. You might argue that as a matter of technical necessity, the moments in an individual stream of consciousness can only be generated by the activity of a single human brain, but that would just be like saying that only a particular author would have the technical ability to write a particular series of novels. It's tempting to think that within the cranium there is a special glue connecting our thoughts together so that they seem to belong to the one person, but, as Laplace said about God, there is no need for such a hypothesis.
> >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,> > It's only an illusion if you assume the "observer moment" model is reality. In a sense all models> are "illusions", but some are better than others and at any given time we might as well tentatively> take our best model as a representation of reality.
I don't mean anything by "observer moment" beyond the fact that a stream of consciousness can be divided up into moments of arbitrary length. This doesn't mean the moments have some separate physical reality, like elementary particles do in physics. Even if as I said above the moments in an individual stream of consciousness can only be generated by a single brain, that would only be a technical limitation. It would still make sense to say that *if* they could be generated a moment here, another there, just as if by a single brain, then the resulting stream of conscious experience would be indistinguishable from that which would have been generated in the usual way. Some people would just flatly deny this, but I think this makes them dualists almost by definition.
Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Thu Jun 29 2006 - 07:02:12 PDT

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