Hal Finney writes:

> The problem is that there seems to be no basis for judging the validity
> of this kind of analysis.  Do we die every instant?  Do we survive sleep
> but not being frozen?  Do we live on in our copies?  Does our identity
> extend to all conscious entities?  There are so many questions like
> this, but they seem unanswerable.  And behind all of them lurks our
> evolutionary conditioning forcing us to act as though we have certain
> beliefs, and tricking us into coming up with logical rationalizations
> for false but survival-promoting beliefs.

There is a way around some of these questions. When I ask whether my copy 
produced as a result of teleportation, or whatever, will "really be me", what I 
want to know is whether that copy will subjectively stand in the same 
relationship to me as I stand now in relationship to my self of a moment ago. 
It doesn't really matter to me what process I go through (provided that the 
process does not have other unpleasant side-effects, of course) as long as this 
is the end result. In fact, I am quite happy with the notion that I live only 
transiently, because it does away with all the paradoxes of personal identity. 
"Normal life" then consists in the relationship between these transient selves: 
that they have certain thoughts in a certain temporal sequence, memories of 
previous selves, a sense of identity persisting through time, and so on. While 
it is true that in the world with which we are all familiar this sequence of 
selves is implemented in a single organism living its life from birth to death, 
there is no logical reason why this has to be so; and if you consider that 
there may not be a single atom in your body today that was there a year ago, 
physical continuity over time is just an illusion anyway.  
 
> > Even if it were possible to imagine another way of living my life which
> > did not entail dying every moment, for example if certain significant
> > components in my brain did not turn over, I would not expend any effort
> > to bring this state of affairs about, because if it made no subjective
> > or objective difference, what would be the point? Moreover, there would
> > be no reason for evolution to favour this kind of neurophysiology unless
> > it conferred some other advantage, such as greater metabolic efficiency.
> 
> Right, so there are two questions here.  One is whether there could be
> reasons to prefer a circumstance which seemingly makes no objective or
> subjective difference.  I'll say more about this later, but for now I'll
> just note that it is often impossible to know whether some change would
> make a subjective difference.

Yes, it does present difficulties, not least because we haven't managed to 
duplicate a person yet and there is no experimental data! But it wouldn't be 
fair to insist, if we did do the experiment, that we can't really know the 
subject's first person experience, because the same criticism could be made of 
any situation with a human subject. For example, we could say that we can't be 
sure someone who has had transient loss of consciousness is the same person 
afterwards, despite their insistence that they feel the same, because it is 
impossible to know what they are actually feeling, and even if we relied on 
their verbal account, we could not be sure that they have an accurate memory of 
what they were like before the incident.
 
> The other question is whether we could or should even try to overcome
> our evolutionary programming.  If evolution doesn't care if we die
> once we have reproduced, should we?  If evolution tells us to sacrifice
> ourselves to save two children, eight cousins, or 16 great-great uncles,
> should we?  In the long run, we might be forced to obey the instincts
> built into us by genes.  But it still is interesting to consider the
> deeper philosophical issues, and how we might hypothetically behave if
> we were free of evolutionary constraints.

I was actually trying to make a different point. If the subject undergoing 
teleportation does not have his identity preserved, as opposed to what would 
have happened if he had continued living life normally, then this means that - 
despite his behaviour being the same and despite his insistence that he feels 
the same - some subtle change or error was introduced as a result of the 
teleportation. Since the matter in a person's body is turning over all the 
time, there is a constant risk of introducing copying errors as the various 
cellular components (including neuronal components) are replaced. Those errors 
that would have a negative impact on the organism's survival chances are weeded 
out by evolution, while those that make no difference at all remain. The 
putative errors introduced by teleportation are of a type which, at the very 
least, do not change the subjects external behaviour, even though they result 
in the non-preservation of personal identity (whatever that might mean). Now, 
even though it might be argued that teleportation-induced copying errors might 
be of a sort that would never or rarely occur naturally, the mere fact that 
they are possible suggests that there may be other, less unnatural ways to 
damage a person's identity; after all, there are many more ways to build 
something wrong than there are to build it right. But since evolution can only 
act on behaviour, these errors must be accumulating all the time. Therefore, 
either it is impossible to affect a person's identity while leaving the 
person's behaviour (and subjective state, manifesting as behaviour) unchanged, 
or else it is possible and is happening to us all the time. In either case, 
undergoing teleportation would not be anything to worry about.

Stathis Papaioannou
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