X-Message-Number: 15049
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2000 22:01:30 -0800
From: Lee Corbin <>
Subject: Seven Positions on Personal Identity

In over thirty years of lively disputes about identity, I have found
that, along one particular scale, people fall into seven categories:

1.  Will travel by space warp, but won't permit disassembly of atoms.

    He or she objects to disintegration and reassembly of the atoms
    constituting his or her own person (given, of course, that this
    has become technologically reliable).  This is the most skeptical
    position of the seven.

2.  Will permit teleportation, but only if the same atoms are used.

    Subject agrees (as always, for suitable reward) to be disintegrated
    here and later reassembled at a remote location .  However the
    subject forbids disassembly here and reconstitution at a distant
    location using different atoms.

3.  Will teleport, unless there is a delay.

    Suppose the original at the the point of departure is scanned and the
    information is used to construct the remote duplicate, but then there
    is a delay before the original is destroyed.  This is not acceptable.
    The subject anticipates that he or she will experience seeing his or
    her duplicate emerge from the distant teleporter station, and that
    this will void the transferral of identity to the remote.  The local
    will then experience disintegration, and that this will mark the
    actual death of the subject.

4.  Will teleport, but finds backups to be useless.

    Subject finds it a waste of money to get "scanned" for the purpose
    of getting himself or herself restored in the event of catastrophe.
    Not long after the scan is complete, the subject exclaims, "That
    information is me the way I used to be!  Were I to die, and that
    person brought back to life, it wouldn't really be me."

5.  Finds backups acceptable, provided that they've had no run time.

    Subject finds it desirable to keep frozen physical duplicates in
    storage (in case anything happens to him or her), but only provided
    that the duplicate, whether physically instantiated or merely kept
    safe as information, is completely identical to him or her at a
    particular past instant.  In this case, he or she expects to survive
    physical destruction of the present body, but not if that body has
    already been reanimated and is having experiences elsewhere.

6.  Anticipates future experiences of duplicates, but only one in 

    This is the nearly incoherant "closest continuer" theory.  If you
    must die, but N duplicates of you were made at several points in
    the past, then you "really are" whichever one of them survives
    and is the most similar to you.  Your soul, or identity, is
    transferred by hidden celestial machinery into this particular
    one, but somehow not into any of the others.

7.  Logically, but not necessarily emotionally, anticipates all
    experiences of all duplicates past or future, near or far.

    By subscribing to "the faith of a physicist", the subject believes
    that any physical object at any coordinates whatsoever is the same
    person that he or she is, provided only that the physical process
    running in the object closely enough resembles him or her.

The extreme difficulty of sitting across a table and watching your
physical duplicate and honestly being able to exclaim, "There goes I,
by the grace of God", or of being able to say with a straight face,
"Logically, I anticipate the dinner that I had last night as much as
I anticipate tonight's repast", prevents almost everyone from going
to level seven.  My own belief is that nonetheless, countless thought
experiments lead one inexorably to level seven, and to a recognition
that the other concepts of personal identity are outmoded legacies
of evolution which do not sustain careful scrutiny.

Lee Corbin

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