X-Message-Number: 14890
Date: Fri, 10 Nov 2000 23:52:06 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Re: Identity, replying to #14882 (trnsoniq)

>One final frustrating point: occasionally someone here will accuse
>someone who hasn't accepted the new "information paradigm" as being
>someone who thinks there's something mystical or magic going on in a
>human being. I don't know about the rest of them, but I'm about as
>concrete-bound as you can get. To me it seems like you've taken this
>abstract thing, information, given it all the attributes of what used to
>be called a "soul" and given it a new, flashy package.

A lot like that. And I think it's great! And it has a mathematical, rational
basis that was lacking before. Tremendous!

> What's the
>difference? There is no soul.  There is no pattern. There isn't even
>a mind. What there is is a brain and another one "just like it" isn't
>it. This goes for bricks just as much as it goes for brains.

Us information paradigmers feel pretty strongly that "we ain't bricks." We
are not objects, but information processes (there *is* a pattern!), and
subject to different rules.

>[None of this is meant to have anything to do with the piecemeal
>replacement of a brain - which is different in kind from "pattern is

Suppose I replace your brain piecemeal when you are conscious. Is it still
you? Suppose I do it while you are unconscious. Is it you? Oliver Sacks in
*Awakenings* describes cases where patients were in a state of virtual coma
for decades, then made fully conscious and alert with dopamine
(unfortunately, the good effects didn't last, but were most impressive for
awhile). Now, during this long interval, nearly all the brain matter was
exchanged, replaced with similar atoms, a consequence of normal metabolism.
The awakened subjects retained their memories, and, though (presumably)
surprised by their new setting, how much time had elapsed, etc., still
seemed much the same persons as before. Were they? 

This suggests some interesting questions. A murder is committed, say, in
1970, but the case goes unsolved until just this year, when the perpetrator
is finally tracked down and brought to trial. He does not deny the evidence
but argues that, inasmuch as so much time has elapsed, he at best is only a
replica of his former self, who must have been the "real" killer. He in turn
is innocent. Is he right? Finally, let's suppose that the reason this
perpetrator escaped capture so long is that he had a disorder like that in
the Sacks cases above, and was in a coma over 20 years, totally out of it
(and registered under a pseudonym, with help from a confederate, who let's
say is now deceased). So, he argues, "I'm just as much a different person as
if you'd made a copy of the real guy who did it and *not* destroyed the
original--I had no awareness at all while the replacement was going on."
Again, is he right, thus innocent?

By the information paradigm, of course, the man is guilty. The courts today
would probably agree, even in the case of coma. Certainly a jury would not
be impressed by the "replica" argument if there was no period of coma,
something that happens frequently. (Think of former Nazis brought to trial
decades after WWII ended.) On the other hand, if in the future you actually
created a copy of someone, and one of the two was brought to trial for a
crime, the courts would have an interesting problem. By the information
paradigm, again, both would be guilty--or innocent--equally. The information
paradigm allows the possibility of fissioning of persons, or two or more
separate individuals that have a common past up to a point. That is weird,
and not an issue yet, but the copying of persons seems a real possibility
for the future. 

More generally, differing ideas about personal identity will have profoundly
different consequences in certain cases. With the information paradigm as
compared with, say, an object-based criterion you have to accept certain
things that seem weird and counterintuitive, such as the possibility of
persons fissioning. But for such concessions there are tremendous gains,
including the realization of something like the traditional soul that can
survive the dissolution of the body. For me the concessions seem, even in
the worst cases, relatively minor, and the gains more than offset the cost.

Mike Perry

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