RE: A calculus of personal identity

From: Lee Corbin <>
Date: Tue, 4 Jul 2006 14:37:56 -0700

Bruno had written

> [Lee wrote]
> 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))

and then Bruno said: "Interesting question. I am interested in your
own answer. I let Stathis answer (to see if he will give the comp one).
Note that the comp answer here is not needed in the UDA argument where
overlapping reconstitution (like in duplications) are never followed by
somethings which looks (at least) like a murder."

Well, in the first place, I assume that when a question is asked of
anyone on this list, EVERYONE is invited to answer. Certainly when
I ask any question, it is for everyone, even if it's true that at
the moment I seem more interested in some particular person's answer.

Stathis now answers my question:

> 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.

Well, I am sure that "probability=one" is as close to being a "correct"
answer as there can be. So I'm glad to see that several people agree
with me (Bruno didn't actually say yet, nor did anyone else).

For the record, it is still curious to me that you persist in using
non-normative terms, even though they invite confusion. (Honestly,
I am not sure that I do not sometimes do the same :-)

> While you may agree that the answer to your question above is "one",
> we may differ in another thought experiment.

Now you're talking! The terms we use, phooey. The philosophical
ramblings we emit, phooey. True philosophy should be about prescriptions
for action!

> 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 would choose the two copies, because I will get over my headache
when I am in the 2nd location. (The 2nd location conceivably could
be 10^10^20 light years from here, and it really is a case of whether
I want to execute in some volume of spacetime, or if instead I would
prefer to be dead there. You clearly prefer to be dead almost everywhere,
or at least to not care much.)

> 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,

Actually, it's not only irrational, but in my opinion it is inconsistent.
Because in the above experiment that I formulated, you readily agree that
you survive no matter which duplicate is destroyed. Therefore, it is
logical and necessary that you survive (a) in the headachey duplicate
and (b) in the ordinary duplicate. Mathematical symmetry grabs to by
the throat and FORCES you to admit it! (To borrow a phrase from Lewis

> 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.

Yes, that is right. You have a point there.

> 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.

But you as a free being :-) do not have to actually *believe*
what your evolutionary programming suggests. You *can* simply
practice saying "I know that the objective truth is that I will
be in two places at the same time. I know that I will have a
headache and I know that I will not have a headache.

I suggest that if you practice it then it will actually be easier
to believe than "the photon is both a wave and particle". Hah!
What I suggest is child's play compared to that!

> 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.

Of course. Here is another analogy. "Stathis!", says the fireman,
"if you stay here you will probably die. But if you take a running
leap through that wall of fire, you will be pulled to safety on the
other side." Now, who do you *believe*? Your evolutionary programming,
which says to always run away from fire, or the fireman, who has
attained a higher level? When the chips are down, you just have to
force yourself to believe the truth.

> 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,

Okay, so sometimes our feelings are wrong!

> 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;

Yeah, right!

> 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,

Well, I have a strong feeling that I should not jump out of a plane
at high altitude. But I also have a homo sapiens level brain that
says that the parachute *will* open and I will live.

> that I don't want to die, and that I can only feel that I am one
> person at a time.

Yes. Now the *easy* part is announcing that you (a) will be the person
with the headache and that equally truly (b) you will be the person without
the headache. That's because it's about the future.

What is vastly harder is to look across the room at your recent duplicate,
and say, "There by the grace of God goes I."

But that's true too!


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Received on Tue Jul 04 2006 - 17:32:47 PDT

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