On 15/1/05 Brent Meeker wrote:
(quoting my post)
It's easy to get confused over the meaning of terms like "different person" here. The basic idea I am trying to get across is that if a person or other conscious entity is destroyed and after a certain time period is (to an arbitrary level of fidelity) reconstructed, perhaps fom a different source of matter, then in general there is no way for that person to know that he hasn't just had a period of unconsciousness whilst still remaining the "same" person.
Many would be shocked at the prospect of going through the above process,
fearing that it would actually amount to being killed and then replaced by a
deluded imposter. Literally, I suppose this is true. We could also argue
about whether we should say that the original person has "survived" the
process, or whether the pre- and post-reconstruction versions are
"identical". This is just semantics. The important point is that the normal
flow of conscious experience is indistinguishable from / equivalent to dying
and being replaced by a deluded imposter every moment.
I see some problems with the above view. First, the idea that the same
person can have different physical realizations is based on the naturalistic
view of thought and consciousness. Thought is some physical process. But
then it seems this physical basis is ignored and "a person" is idealized as
just the information processing. But there is no information without
representation. Just because it is possible to realize a person in
different physical media doesn't mean that the physical medium can be
We can restrict ourselves to the one thing we know for certain about thought and consciousness (leaving aside the Problem of Other Minds), which is that it is associated with complex electrochemical processes in human brains. It doesn't change my argument.
Second, there seems to be an assumption that a person is only a sequence of conscious thoughts. All conscious thought is associated with brains - and also with a lot of unconscious 'thought' or information processing. It is not at all clear that one could recreate the conscious stream of thought without the unconscious part.
Again, let's agree that only the wet squishy thing inside our skulls is capable of thought. We certainly don't have any direct evidence to the contrary.
Third, related to the second above, thought is a process that is distributed
in both space, throughout the brain, as well as time. Hence relativity
implies that there is no unique sequence of events corresponding to a single
state of consciousness.
Can you explain this third point?
I've never understood why critics of computationalism think the brain is so fundamentally different from electronic computers. Whatever mysterious, as yet undiscovered of processes may be behind conscious thought, it all has to be done with at most a couple of dozen different elements taking part in chemical reactions. What else beyond this could there possibly be?
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