Russell Standish wrote:

>
>
>On Wed, May 31, 2006 at 07:53:35PM -0400, Jesse Mazer wrote:
> >
> > Anyway, I agree with your basic point--although practical possibility is 
>not
> > important to philosophical thought-experiments, *logical* possibility
> > certainly is, and if there were no smooth path between me and Napoleon 
>(or
> > Bruno or anyone else) in the phase space of all possible minds/brains, 
>such
> > that every intermediate point on the path was a single integrated mind, 
>then
> > Parfit's thought-experiment wouldn't work. I don't think this "island" 
>idea
> > is very plausible given the hugeness of the space of all possible
> > minds/brains, but it can't be ruled out.
> >
> > Jesse
> >
>
>Huge it is, but implementation space is even huger. We don't have an
>adequate theory of what arrangements of things can be conscious, but
>if we limit ourselves to brains we have a problem. There are vastly
>more nonconscious arrangements of neurons than conscious ones.

True, but the same is true of gene-space--there are vastly more sequences of 
A,T,C,G that would fail to produce anything like a viable multicellular 
organism (or even a viable single-celled organism) than there are sequences 
that would. But the theory of evolution implies that any two organisms that 
have ever existed in the history of earth can be connected by a smooth 
series of small modifications, with each intermediate being a viable 
life-form.

Likewise, the space of all coherent novel-length english texts is tiny 
compared to the space of all novel-length combinations of letters in the 
Library of Babel, but I think God could probably find a continuous path 
between any two novels--say, War and Peace and Huck Finn--with each one 
differing from the last by a one-word substitution, and each one being a 
coherent novel with no obvious absurdities. The key is that the midpoint 
wouldn't have to be a weird amalgam of the plots of the two novels, you 
could go through a long series of distinct plots which are quite different 
from either of the two endpoints.

>And the
>conscious states we know of are not fully contiguous either.

What do you mean? The strength of the synaptic connections between different 
neurons or groups of neurons does change in a fairly continuous way, no? Of 
course even if we specify all the synaptic connections and strengths, one's 
conscious state can change in the short term as different neurons become 
active, but I don't think this is important to Parfit's thought-experiment, 
you can imagine a gradual change in the strength and arrangement of synapses 
even while over the short term there may be more variation in mood and 
thought processes.

Jesse



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