RE: A calculus of personal identity

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Tue, 4 Jul 2006 12:53:47 +1000

Lee Corbin writes:
> > which is why in symmetrical duplication experiments I anticipate> > that I will become one of the duplicates with equal probability.> > What do you think of your survival chances if you happen to know> that after you fall asleep tonight, you will be disintegrated,> but the information will be used to create two exact duplicates,> and then one of the duplicates is vaporized and the other > returned to your bed completely unaware?> > Zero? (I.e., you don't survive the "teleportation" aspect at all.)> > One-half? (I.e., your soul goes into one at random, and if that's> the one that dies, then your number is up.)> > One? (I.e., Stathis will wake up in bed for sure tomorrow, and> resume his life just as he has done everyday (since our> fiendish experiments began when he was five years old))
One. That's how it will *seem* and that is what is important to me. As discussed previously, I like to say that the actual objective reality is that I die in any case every moment, and that the appearance/sensation of continuity is just that. This is a non-normative use of the terms "I" and "die", I know, but what I want to capture is that there is in fact no soul that flies from one instantiation to another instantiation of me, making sure that it really is me and not just some guy who thinks he is me. It certainly *feels* that there is such a persisting soul, occupying only one body at any one time, but there isn't.
While you may agree that the answer to your question above is "one", we may differ in another thought experiment. Suppose you were offered two choices for tomorrow: you will be disintegrated tonight and a single copy made tomorrow, or you would be disintegrated tonight and one copy as per usual made tomorrow plus an extra copy made with a mild headache. I feel that if I choose the two copies, my soul might end up in the one with a headache, whereas if I choose the single copy, my soul is guaranteed to end up in the headache-free copy. So I would choose the single copy option, even though I would much rather have a mild headache than be dead. I know that you might call this irrational, and it is irrational if we are talking about the objective reality. But wanting to be alive at all is not rational or irrational: it is not inconsistent to imagine an intelligent being completely indifferent to its continuing survival, or even actively suicidal on a faint whim. It is just my evolutionary programming which makes me want to survive, and it is that same evolutionary programming which tells me my soul can only occupy one body at a time. I *know* that there is no such thing as a soul, that I die every moment, was dead before birth, will be dead for most of eternity, am dead almost everywhere, death doesn't necessarily hurt, but I still don't want to die. Similarly, I *know* that each of the copies tomorrow has equal claim to being me, but I still feel that only one of them is going to me, and I worry about which one it's going to be. There is, on the one hand, logic and empirical truth, and on the other hand the way I feel, and the two do not necessarily coincide. I would be *wrong* if I made an empirical claim about the world on the basis of a feeling; for example, that I must have an immaterial soul which persists in a single version of my body throughout life. But I am *not* wrong if I simply report that I have the strong feeling of a persistent soul, that I don't want to die, and that I can only feel that I am one person at a time.
Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Mon Jul 03 2006 - 22:54:52 PDT

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