I agree with the comments made by Jesse Mazer and Saibal Mitra, and
would go further to suggest that there *necessarily* exists a continuous
series of intermediates between any two minds, if you allow that
essentially a mind is a mathematical structure - an algorithm or a
computer program. You are not then restricted to constructing only those
minds which could in theory be implemented on a human brain, or by
making sequential changes in one person's brain to arrive at another
person's brain. Using your PC/ Mac example, this would be like saying
that although it might not be possible to convert one into the other by
means of wirecutters and soldering iron, there are a large number of
possible operating systems between OS X and Windows XP, all running on a
general purpose computer, which would provide the required gradual

Having said that, I still think it misses the point. The fact that
Parfit's thought experiments sometimes seem to have a degree of
scientific plausibility is just a bonus that makes his writing more
entertaining. Parfit's ideas on personal identity are squarely in the
tradition of John Locke, who wrote about transfer of "consciousness"
from one person to another, suggesting that it is this consciousness
(which importantly includes the donor's memories) which determines
identity rather than the physical body in which it happens to reside.
Clearly, this kind of mind transfer was a completely ridiculous notion
in the 17th century, and probably still is. But technical feasibility
(or indeed physical possibility) was not part of Locke's argument, nor
was it used as ammunition against him by his philosophical opponents.
His argument was that IF it were possible to transfer memory etc. from
one person to another, THEN the recipient would feel himself to be the
donor, even though he would notice that he had a completely different
body. Opponents of this view argue that it is NOT the case that transfer
of memories etc. from one body to another - WERE it possible - would
result in transfer of personal identity (see R. & P. chap 10.82 for
Bernard Williams' thought experiment, for example).

Stathis Papaioannou

> -----Original Message-----
> From: everything-list@googlegroups.com [mailto:everything-
> [EMAIL PROTECTED] On Behalf Of Russell Standish
> Sent: Monday, 29 May 2006 8:22 PM
> To: everything-list@googlegroups.com
> Subject: Re: Reasons and Persons
> On Mon, May 29, 2006 at 07:15:33PM +1000, Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> >
> > I don't see why you are so sure about the necessity of passing
> > non-functional brain structures going from you to Napoleon. After
> > there is a continuous sequence of intermediates between you and a
> > fertilized ovum, and on the face of it you have much more in common
> > mentally and physically with Napoleon than with a fertilized ovum.
> > However, technical feasibility is not the point. The point is that
> > (let's say magically) your mind were gradually transformed, so that
> We need to be a bit more precise than "magically". In Parfit's book he
> talks about swapping out my neurons for the equivalent neurons in
> Napoleon's brain. Sure this is not exactly technically feasible at
> present, but for thought experiment purposes it is adequate, and
> suffices for doing the teleporting experiment.
> The trouble I have is that Napoleon's brain will be wired completely
> differently to my own. Substituting enough of his neurons and
> connections will eventually just disrupt the functioning of my brain.
> Perhaps there is some other way of passing through functioning brain
> states, but not in the way Parfit describes it. Perhaps there is a way
> going through a sequence of brains states to when I was an embryo,
> then reversing the process via developing Napoleon's brain. But would
> each stage be conscious? It is still debatable whether children under
> the age of 12 months are conscious (eg in the sense of being
> self-aware), let alone the mind of a foetus.
> All I can say is that things are definitely more subtle than Parfit
> implying.
> --
> --
> A/Prof Russell Standish                  Phone 8308 3119 (mobile)
> Mathematics                                  0425 253119 (")
> UNSW SYDNEY 2052                       [EMAIL PROTECTED]
> Australia
> http://parallel.hpc.unsw.edu.au/rks
>             International prefix  +612, Interstate prefix 02
> --

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