Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> [Working my way slowly up the list of many excellent posts from the past few 
> days, excuse me if
> someone else has already answered this...]
> 
> Lee Corbin writes (quoting SP):
> 
> 
>>> If [a] species believed that 2+2=5, or that their kidneys were the organs 
>>> of respiration, 
>>> they would be wrong. But if they believe that they wake up a different 
>>> person every day, and
>>> live their lives based on this belief, they would *not* be wrong; they 
>>> could hold this belief
>>> quite consistently even if they knew all there was to know about their 
>>> biology.
>> 
>> I claim that there is an important sense in which they *would* be wrong, 
>> that is, nature
>> endowed us with a strong prejudice that we are the same creature from moment 
>> to moment for a
>> reason. A creature exhibits a great deal of fear if a threat arises not to 
>> "it" itself in the
>> sense of the creature this moment, but "it" in the extended sense. It acts 
>> consistently to
>> ensure that itself of a few moments hence does not come to harm, and we, of 
>> course, understand
>> quite well why nature did this.
>> 
>> Creatures who do not identify with themselves a few moments hence are 
>> "punished". They undergo
>> pain or discomfort that is linked by their intelligence to what the other 
>> creature (i.e. its
>> self of a few moments ago) actually did.  Again, in this way they become 
>> fearful of future 
>> pain, and, on the other hand, eager to ravish future gain.
> 
> 
> There is an important difference between normative statements and descriptive 
> or empirical
> statements. Quoting from Wikipedia:
> 
> "Descriptive (or constative) statements are falsifiable statements that 
> attempt to describe
> reality. Normative statements, on the other hand, affirm how things should or 
> ought to be, how to
> value them, which things are good or bad, which actions are right or wrong."
> 
> Suppose some powerful being sets up an experiment whereby organisms who 
> believe they are the same
> individual day after day are selectively culled, while those who believe that 
> they are born anew
> each morning and die when they fall asleep each night, but still make 
> provision for their
> successors just as we make provision for our children, are left alone or 
> rewarded. After several
> generations, everyone would believe that they only lived for a day, and their 
> culture, language
> and so on would reflect this belief. Philosophers would point out that the 
> day-person belief,
> though universally accepted and understood, is nevertheless contingent on the 
> particular
> environment in which the species evolved. That is, it is not a fact "out 
> there in the world",
> independent of culture and psychology, like the belief that "2+2=4" or that 
> "the most common
> isotope of the element with six protons found in our planet's crust has six 
> neutrons". Everyone
> capable of understanding the language would agree that these two statements 
> are true, or at least
> that they have a definite true or false answer. The question of the truth or 
> otherwise of the
> day-person  belief is not straightforward in the same way. In order to make, 
> "a person lives for
> a day, then dies, and another person is born the next day inheriting most of 
> his memories" a
> true-or-false statement, one would have to add, "according to the concept of 
> personhood and death
> that we have evolved to believe". If this latter clause is understood as 
> implicit, then your
> treatment of the idea of continuity of identity over time is valid. You would 
> then have to grant
> the day-people that their belief is just as good as ours, the difference 
> between us just being an
> accident of evolution. What's more, to be consistent you would have to grant 
> that a duplicate is
> not a self, on the grounds that the great majority of people do not believe 
> this and our very
> language is designed to deny that such a thing is possible (only the British 
> monarch uses "we" to
> mean what commoners refer to as "I").
> 
> 
>> Suppose on the other hand that this is incorrect. Suppose that identity does 
>> not extend in time
>> past one Planck constant (whatever that is). Then no object or person 
>> "survives". But then the
>> term "survival" is also lost.
> 
> 
> Survival and continuity of identity consist solely in the fact that we 
> *believe* we survive from
> moment to moment. There is no "objective fact" beyond this that can be 
> invoked to decide whether
> we do or do not survive in ambiguous cases. Superficially it may seem that 
> that this last
> statement is false, because we can, for example, do a DNA test, or specify 
> that there must be
> physical and/or mental continuity between two instantiations of the same 
> person. However, we can
> always come up with a counterexample that would fool any such test.
> 
> 
>> (Words don't have absolute meanings; only meanings that convey relative 
>> utility and which
>> correspond to actual structure in the world. An object and even a person 
>> *does* persist in time
>> as is revealed by a close examination of structure. It simply isn't very 
>> different from moment 
>> to moment, and if it is, then the entity has not survived. For example, a 
>> rock that is crushed
>> into dust no longer exists as a rock.)
> 
> 
> You could have an argument there: someone could say that the rock still does 
> exist, but in
> powdered form. The definition of "rock" becomes the issue, and this is not in 
> itself a scientific
> question. That there is a uniform lump of several minerals at time t1, then a 
> collection of the
> same mass of the same minerals in finely divided form at time t2, is 
> something we could both
> agree on yet still disagree about whether the rock exists at t2. We could 
> say, "given that an
> object is said no longer to exist as such if it loses its structural 
> integrity..." or something
> like that, and then the question of whether the rock exists at t2 does become 
> an empirically
> verifiable statement once again. In a similar fashion, if we say as above 
> "given the notion of
> personhood and death that we have evolved to believe..." we could perhaps 
> reach agreement on some
> questions of personal identity. But then, what do we say when the rock is 
> half-crushed, the
> evolved beliefs very different from our own, or the situation never 
> previously encountered in
> evolution, as in the case of duplication experiments?
> 
> 
>> Each person reading this would act in the following way if he suddenly heard 
>> a loud animal roar
>> behind him. If he then looked around a saw a large tiger, all thoughts about 
>> the futility of
>> survival past one Planck constant would vanish. If the person takes a flying 
>> leap, and just
>> manages to get on the other side of a door, and is able to slam it shut in 
>> the tiger's face,
>> the person will rightfully be relieved. Why shouldn't we say that the person 
>> has survived, at
>> least for the nonce until the tiger figures out that it may be able to burst 
>> through the closed
>> door?
> 
> 
> You're right, of course. The belief that we are the same person from moment 
> to moment has a
> certain utility, otherwise it would never have evolved. But do you think 
> there is more to the
> idea than evolutionary expediency? Also, if a particular belief or behaviour 
> has evolved, does
> that necessarily makes it true and/or good?
> 
> Stathis Papaioannou 

I would say that what makes a statement like "we're the same person from moment 
to moment" true is
that it's an inference from, or a part of, a model of the world that is "true" 
in the provisional
sense of scientific theories, i.e. it subsumes and predicts many emprically 
verified observations
(e.g. if I wake you up in the middle of the night and ask you your name you'll 
reply 'Stathis') and
it has not made any falsified predictions.  So in this sense we could say that 
our model of
personhood is better than that of the day-people - not in the sense that we can 
show theirs is
false, but in the sense that ours has greater predictive power and scope.

Brent Meeker
The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to  interpret, they 
mainly make models. By 
a model is meant a  mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain 
verbal 
interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of  such a 
mathematical construct 
is solely and precisely that it is  expected to work.
        --—John von Neumann


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