X-Message-Number: 15124
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2000 14:12:26 EST
Subject: Psychological Survival & Values

Criteria of identity and survival have never been agreed upon by 
philosophers, by cryonicists, or those few others who are interested.

Usually the suggested criteria center on intuition, on what the writer or 
speaker thinks would satisfy him. But while intuition--what "feels" 
right--may be a reasonable starting point, it is only that. A rigorous set of 
criteria for identity or for survival demands much more; and we must be 
ready, if necessary, to reject intuition. Intuition, after all, is mostly 
just habit, and habits are often wrong or ill founded and counterproductive. 
Habits were formed in the past, when conditions were different--and they 
could have been the wrong habits even then.

A number of philosophers fix on "psychological connectedness" as the 
criterion of survival. If the revived (or copied!) person has largely the 
same memories and values and inclinations, they say, then he is the "same" 

The main problem with this--as with the "all-is-information" stance of the 
uploaders--is that it is merely an assertion, with a certain amount of 
plausibility but nothing more. By no stretch of the imagination is it proven.

Some of the difficulties with the notion can be illuminated, as usual, by 
some simple thought experiments.


Suppose you are revived after cryonic suspension, but contemporary technology 
could improve you in the process. It could also revive you as you were and 
improve you later. "Improvement" in this context we understand to mean 
replacing some of your habits and attitudes with better ones. (Yes, this 
glosses over the large problem of changing a person in an integrated way, 
making the changes consistent with each other and with the remainder of the 
persona--but then, changes in ordinary life often fail the consistency 

It is difficult for me to imagine that I would not choose to be improved, if 
I were revived as my old self. But having said that, it is also difficult to 
see any strong reason for deferring the improvement; why not do it during the 


We start out shaped by a set of genes--which we did not choose. Our bodies 
and minds grow and change, partly in response to environmental 
influences--also initially imposed and not chosen. If the environment is 
suboptimal, the best potentialities of our genes cannot be realized. As an 
extreme example, someone raised by wolves will be an idiot; as a slightly 
less extreme example, someone abused or neglected as a child will be 
psychologically warped.

Suppose you had an unfortunate background--child abuse or neglect and all 
that, on top of genetically limited intelligence. (And don't all of us have 
both of those, in some degree?) You made a lot of bad choices. What is the 
"real" you? Is it the guilt-wracked wreck with the wretched memories and 
inferior capabilities? Is it the better and happier person you might have 
been, or could become after technological intervention? Even if you decide 
the "real" you is the historical one, is that the one you want revived and 

Some would say yes: I want the truth. I want to change and improve--but not 
retroactively, not unconsciously, not without my knowledge and consent, and 
not suddenly. I don't want to keep on licking my wounds, but I want to 
remember them, or be able to remember them--otherwise there is no validity.

Again, this has a plausible ring, but little if anything more than that. 
Personally, I would just as soon be rid of my bad memories and traits and 
habits instantly, and "know" the history only as an archive that I can look 
up if I wish.


The "connectedness" criterion is clearly related to poignant juvenile longing 
for the comfortable familiarity of early home and family. We want the comfort 
and security of habit and the memory of love and first awakenings. We don't 
want to be cast adrift. We may have trouble forming new habits, viewpoints, 
and values; subconsciously, we may even equate change with betrayal of the 
earlier self or selves. 

Disturbing questions suggest themselves. If you discard what you were--then 
were you worthless? If your past self was discarded, will that also be the 
fate of your present self? If "you" will be discarded by some future "self," 
what becomes of your present self's confidence and pride and orientation?

The "conservative" mindset may be reinforced by the common-sense and 
observational fact that change can be destructive if it is too extreme, too 
sudden, or too poorly planned. But you can't run, you can't hide, and you 
can't go home again. Life goes on, and the past is out of reach.


You can't go home--so long as "home" means something fixed or something in 
the past or outside yourself. There are only two main questions here: (1) 
what is the self? (2) How can it best be satisfied?

These questions are basically biological/physical. They do not necessarily 
have answers that we will like, or any unequivocal answers at all. The 
universe is not necessarily user-friendly. Time may separate successive 
"selves" as decisively (or indecisively) as space separates twins or 

But unless we opt for the cow or ostrich "solutions" (stupid contentment or 
refusal to face unpleasant facts), we can only push on. We must mostly ignore 
Level Two at first, e.g. the "philosophical" questions involving paradoxes of 
continuity and so on, relating to time and quantum reality and similar 
matters presently beyond our reach. On Level One we ignore some of the 
subtleties and take first things first.


(1) The central self is that part of the brain or its functions (not 
necessarily localized, but possibly distributed in space and even in time), 
that constitutes the seat of feeling and hence the ground of being. I call 
this the "self circuit," and assume its basis is some kind of semihomeostatic 
feedback mechanism.

The self circuit is the condition precedent for LAWKI, life-as-we-know-it. 
Without it, there is no subjective condition. Without subjectivity, without 
feeling, there can be intelligence and goal directedness, but only robots or 
zombies, not people.

(2) Certain unknown physical parameters in the self circuit determine or 
define the conditions or sensations of pleasure/satisfaction and 

The only motivation that is valid, or even physically possible, is to please 
the self, i.e., to maximize pleasure or satisfaction and to minimize pain or 
dissatisfaction. This is the basis of value.

(3) It seems to follow that most of "you" is inessential--including your 
memories, habits, and personality. You could lose all that and still exist. 
Some think they would rather die than lose their connections; but the 
question is not what we want, but what we ought to want in light of ultimate 
reality. Admittedly, Level One here is only a starting point; but we do have 
to start.


Can amateur philosophers help the experimentalists? To get the right answers, 
it helps to ask the right questions, and conceivably we can contribute a 
little here.

First, we are not likely to find localized brain regions identifiable with 
the self by any of the currently known experiments. For example, we know that 
stimulation of certain points in the brain produces sensations--but so does 
stimulation of points on the skin and elsewhere. Those known points in the 
brain may be way-stations or switching points rather than parts of the 
central self.

Second, once we have located and identified the self circuit or aspects of 
it, we have to learn what constitutes pleasure/satisfaction and the opposite. 
Is it a single condition, state, or sequence of events? Or is there more than 
one kind? Can more than one kind coexist? If more than one kind can coexist, 
with different strategies favoring each, then life becomes even more 


One of the most remarkable of all facts is the dominance of presumptively 
secondary or derivative satisfactions in practical motivation. Most of us, 
most of the time, would rather finish a game of tennis than go home early 
because of hunger. Much more bizarre, many of us will stake life itself on a 
fine point of politics or theology. Is this appropriate, or in some sense a 
tragic accident of development?

To hammer the point, it seems clear that the most primitive organisms with 
feeling and LAWKI had only "physical" pleasures and pains, not intellectual 
or "spiritual" ones. Intellectual satisfactions are of course ultimately just 
as physical as the primitive pleasures; but are they variations, 
intermediaries, or something new or different?

Not only can people choose "spiritual" values despite physical pain, but 
physical pain (or the signals that usually  cause that sensation) may even be 
unnoticed by people caught up in battle, sports, religious martyrdom, or even 
just intense intellectual concentration. This suggests that the self circuit 
is not a mere register for physical sensations, even though it may have 
evolved for that purpose.

If "spiritual" values (perhaps including such things as music appreciation) 
can be imprinted onto or attached to the basic self circuit, becoming a 
physical part of your (current) biological nature, that would seem to imply 
that you are basically infinitely malleable. Then values--even the most 
"basic" of biological imperatives--are not permanent givens.

If we can want whatever we choose to want--if what we ought to want is a 
complex feedback function of current wants and calculations of the future 
probabilities associated with various strategies--then almost all current 
worldviews are by the board. The philosophical and political implications are 
beyond present reckoning.

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

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