X-Message-Number: 14848
Date: Sat, 04 Nov 2000 18:22:26 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Mathematics and Personhood

Dave Pizer, #14837:

"... mathematics is not a good way to have direct knowledge about the
universe and conscious beings in it.  Mathematics may or may not be a good
way for people to have indirect knowledge and to determine *relations*
between objects and how these relations *appear* to them (the perceivers),
but does not give anyone direct knowledge of any physical (let alone
conscious) thing.  I believe trying to understand consciousness in
mathematical terms is what is giving the mathematicians their incorrect
understanding.  If we want to really understand living consciousness and
individualism we are going to have to do it in another way besides in
non-living mathematics."

Science is pretty much based on mathematics, so to say we will need
something other than mathematics is pretty much saying it will have to be
non-scientific, i.e. mystical. I don't go that far, but think that the world
is comprehensible in non-mystical, scientific, and rational terms. But
actually I think that mathematics could be developed to support Dave's views
on personhood, just that most mathematically inclined people to date who
have devoted serious thought to the issue have had different points of view
(like myself) and haven't pursued this line of development. As I see it, the
issue is not one of mathematics versus non-mathematics, but of what choice
you prefer among different theories that more or less equally fit the facts
and cannot be refuted on that basis. Consider the following, mutually
contradictory propositions.

1. The "self" exists for only an instant of time; after that it dies and is
replaced by a different person, however similar.

2. The self persists during a period of consciousness but dies with the loss
of consciousness, so that what awakens is a different person.

3. The self may survive loss of consciousness, so long as the biological
body continues to function. But if you halted this functioning, as with
cryopreservation, the self-process is terminated and the person is dead. A
reanimation, though successful from a biological and neurological point of
view, could never be the same person, but only another, similar person.

4. The self may survive cryopreservation, so long as the frozen body remains
intact. But if it is disrupted, you cannot get the original person back even
if you put all the same atoms back in their original places.

5. As long as you put the same atoms in the same places, the self can
survive. But if you use different though similar atoms, it is not the same

6. Whether it is the same person or not depends only on what is going on at
the informational level, not on specific pieces of matter or the past
history of one sort of "process" or another.

All of these points of view can be made to "fit the facts," I think, though
doing so will pose challenges of one sort or another, some of them
difficult. And probably all these points of view can be defended through
appropriate mathematical theories, though again I won't say it would be
easy. But clearly we are talking about a choice among different candidate
definitions here--you can "name your poison"--or antidote, as the case may
be. I especially like 6--it is my choice, and it conforms to the notion of
"playing the CD" that was ably presented by Stasys Adiklis (#14836). It
imposes the weakest requirements, and therein lies its strength and appeal,
though defending it does pose some fascinating challenges and does lead to
some startling conclusions. (One is that one person can fission into two or
more separate individuals--I have no problem with that however. Something
like it happens already with twins that start from one embryo that breaks in
two at an early stage of development.) One additional reason I prefer 6 is
that it opens the possibility of raising the dead, even those who were not
frozen, by creating replica processes, something that may be possible in the
far future. I think there are good reasons meanwhile to pursue cryonics--a
chapter is devoted to this in my book. 

Mike Perry

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=14848