X-Message-Number: 14121
Date: Wed, 19 Jul 2000 08:46:25 -0700 (PDT)
From: Scott Badger <>
Subject: Preserving the Self

Greetings all,

I, also, have been thinking about the nature of
identity lately and the whole "is it me or is it a
copy" problem presented by uploading and other future
possibilities. I'd appreciate any comments,
corrections, or criticisms to my argument below.  Here
goes ...


1. I want to save my brain because I strongly suspect
that my mind "is" what my brain "does", and what my
brain does is a function of it's architecture.
Structure "is" identity. (remember, this is a premise,
not a statement of fact)

2. From moment to moment, my brain structure undergoes
physical changes. Dendrites from some neurons are
reaching out, seeking connections ... while others are
withdrawing and disconnecting. Some cells are dying.
New evidence suggests that some new neurons may be
forming. Point being, "I" change from moment to
moment. "I" am not a product, "I" am a dynamic
process. Therefore, it can be argued that successive
versions of myself are continually being generated.
Though each successive version is a close
approximation to the last, they are not the same.

3. I am unable to consciously discriminate between
these successive versions of myself. As a result, I
experience a distinct sense of continuity of self. It
is this sense of continuity that gives me the
impression that my self/identity is a static thing
despite the evidence to the contrary.

Consider the transporter beam (ala star trek). One can
argue that the original has been destroyed at point A
and a copy created at point B. But isn't Entity B just
another version of Entity A? Suppose that Entity B is
not reconstituted right away and instead, the
information for reconstituting Entity A at point B is
held in a buffer for a period of time. Whether it be
10 seconds or 10 years, Entity B would be a closer
approximation to Entity A than Entity A would have
been to itself had it not been transported.

So at what point am "I" not "me" anymore? Exactly how
much structural change does it require between the
"then me" and the "now me" for me to "feel" like a
different person? Is that subjective evaluation
sufficiently discriminating? What if I developed
enhanced discriminatory abilities? Instead of feeling
different when a 1% structural change had occurred in
my brain, I would notice a .01% change. Of course, to
protect our sense of continuity and thus our sense of
self, limits to how much change we can detect may be
necessary. Actually being able to feel the changes in
one's self from moment to moment might completely
disrupt one's sense of identity.

The critical factor appears to be that a sense of
continuity is what matters, regardless of the
substrate within which your consciousness resides.
Whether you're beamed to the other side of the planet,
have your brain place in someone else's body, or even
if your uploaded into a computer, it's just another
version of you ... and new versions of you are being
generated all the time anyway. If a sense of
continuity remains, then self is preserved.

For me, then, it seems the argument that uploads are
"just" copies is a moot one. I'm already just an
approximate copy of who I was a moment ago. So what? I
know I'm different, but I feel the same. 


Now, a brief counter-point.

What if, due to brain damage, I am uploaded but a
large number of memories can not be retrieved? Or what
if other's memories are introduced into my psyche? And
yet I still feel fine?  In other words, it seems
possible that one may wake up with a sense of
continuity despite the fact that significant
alterations to the self have taken place.  That is, a
sense of continuity would not necessarily be dependent
on very close approximations of the previous version
of the self.

Part of the solution may lie in being able to
empirically validate one's sense of self with
historical records.  If I'm reanimated and I have a
portfolio of information regarding who I was, and that
matches to a large extent with what I recall about
myself, then I can be reasonably confident that my
identity has been preserved to a great degree. Of
course, it's possible that a fake portfolio might have
been created for some sinister purpose, but this seems
excessively paranoid. Why would anyone bother?

Best regards,

Scott Badger (I think)

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