X-Message-Number: 14284
Date: Wed, 09 Aug 2000 22:18:34 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Awareness and Memories

Dave Pizer's posting, #14271, and Thomas Donaldson's that he quotes from,
call for some response though I am still trying to avoid excessive postings
on identity/survival issues.

>Thanks for the ideas, Thomas.  But still a couple of lingering questions.
>>From: Thomas Donaldson <>
>>Subject: why memories are important to identity
>>Hi everyone!
>>My reason for believing that memories are important is simple: if you
>>lose all your memories, but somehow retain your awareness (something
>>that in the end we MAY discover is impossible) then what remains may
>>be a living human being, but to say that it is YOU extends that notion
>>for more than it can be extended. 
>>After all, self-awareness without memories, in a human body, could
>>basically be ANYONE.

That's the way I see it too, Thomas.

>This all started with a discussion from Mike Perry implying that memories
>are the main part of selfhood: That just does not sound right to me.  

To state it that way requires some explanation. I generalize the concept of
"memories" to include information that affects one's states of consciousness
that might not be the usual episodic memories, such as other types of
learning, or possibly even genetic information. Also, memories all by
themselves do not constitute a conscious being. But the rest is arguably
easy to reinstate.

>I think this is something that we should know before future doctors start
>reanimation techniques that may destroy the original awareness part of the
>brain to save (or make a duplicate of) the memory part of the brain.
>There is also the question of uploading techniques that may destroy the
>original stuff.  All of these can have dire consequences if awareness is
>the key or *just equal* to memories in defining selfhood.

Watch that word *is*. Whether something "is" one way or another can be a
matter of taste. Does a person die each time consciousness is temporarily
lost, so that a similar but different person takes his/her place? A theory
to that effect is not contradicted by any empirical evidence. You can't
disprove it. Is that then the way it "is"? But for something like this I
feel free to choose an alternate theory--that you can and do survive loss of
consciousness--because it too can be made to fit the facts, *and because I
like it better that way--it makes me feel better*. But that is not the same
as simply saying it "is" that way, period.

>I am not trying to say that awareness is *all* there is to *mature*
>selfhood, but rather that Awareness (including self-awareness) is at least
>as important as memories.

But again, awareness should be no problem reinstating if you have the full
set of (generalized) memories, meaning all information pertinent to states
of consciousness. A well-frozen patient would have this information, but
computer file could have it too, if sufficiently large and detailed.

>After all, a person is born with self-awareness and then acquires memories.

At that birth though, they are not much of a person--or, if they are, it is
because they incorporate information that is relevant to states of
consciousness, i.e. "memories" in my generalized sense.

> It is hard to think of a being that is not aware that can acquire memories
>the way people do.  In other words (at least as an infant) you can have
>awareness without memories and still have a (very young) person. I realize
>that infants are born with some instincts that are probably similar in
>structure to memories.
>HOWEVER: I do not know of any example where you can have memories, without
>awareness, and still have a person.
Well, "there are no persons that are never conscious"--to quote from my
book. (By "conscious" I include states of semi-consciousness or dim or
partial awareness. But with no awareness at all, you have no person, i.e. I
agree with Dave here.) 

Once again, though, save the information, and you can reinstate the
awareness and restore what I would consider to be the original person. But
if you lose the information, retaining some very limited awareness or very
altered awareness, that is not the original person even if you still manage
to keep the original atoms and/or the transformation was very gradual.

Mike Perry

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