X-Message-Number: 21035
Date: Sat, 01 Feb 2003 20:43:52 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: "Sameness" and Graph Theory, Relevance and Language

Thomas Donaldson suggests that my notion of "sameness" via continuers can 
be described in terms of mathematical graph theory--a good suggestion with 
which I agree. He further suggests that the appropriate graph in this case 
is a tree, in which descendants or "continuers" are accessible from 
earlier, "ancestor" nodes but not vice versa. Actually (and this is 
elaborated in my book, though without the mathematical jargon) the most 
general structure that I allow (ignoring certain issues such as 
forgetting), is not a tree but a (rooted) directed, acyclic graph. The 
different branches need not remain separate but can join back, though one 
branch cannot loop back and join itself at an earlier point.

Thus I allow that different persons could actually fuse into one; the one 
individual would feel it was the "same" as (= a continuer of) two or more, 
originally separate individuals. (For reasons I discuss in the book, 
though, I don't think such fusions will dominate in the future when we have 
ascended beyond the human level, but fissioning will be more common.) So, 
if you have nodes A and B, you may have a (directed) path from A to B. If 
you do, then you do not also have a path from B to A, except in the trivial 
case of A=B. So you say that B is a continuer of A but not vice 
versa--continuer is not continuee. Once again, the relation of "sameness" 
(continuer *or* continuee) satisfies two of the three properties of 
equivalence: A is the same as A (reflexivity); if A is the same as B then B 
is the same as A (symmetry). But the third, transitivity, can still fail: 
if A is the same as B and B is the same as C then it is not necessarily 
true that A is the same as C. (Another point, fairly minor, is that the 
graph is "rooted" in the sense that I allow a "null being" with no 
consciousness, that every node can be considered to be a continuer of; this 
occasionally has uses.)

All this seems reasonable to me. I would say I am the "same" person as ten 
years ago, though not identical in all respects, and the lack of being 
identical is not simply reducible to an equivalence relation. If a copy of 
me had been created ten years ago, but then had lived a separate life, I 
would not want to say I am the "same" person as that presently existing, 
onetime copy, even though we once were the same. One of us is not a more 
developed version of the other but each would have things the other lacks. 
It is conceivable, however, that we could agree to pool our memories and 
form one individual again, that is to say, fuse. Then (because, in this 
case, A is the same as A) we *would* be once again the same individual. I 
can see a lot of difficulties with the "pooling" of memories so that an 
individual would feel that he/she had been simultaneously doing different 
things in different places with full, parallel consciousnesses. But I think 
it could probably be handled, for any who might be interested, through a 
notion similar to the "record fields" concept where one record in a 
database contains several "fields" each with a different snippet of 
information. Still the idea of fusion doesn't have much appeal--I certainly 
don't hope for or advocate all becoming one consciousness. A flower garden 
is best if you have a variety of different flowers and not just one, even 
if big and fancy.

To restate and add to previous comments about the relevance of this to 
cryonics: the notion of continuer is important, I feel, because it offers a 
possible concept of reanimation that is not dependent on conserving the 
original material. This includes the case of some but not all the original 
material being retained. It could be important if, in the future, there is 
a tradeoff between a protocol that would better conserve the matter but put 
the information more at risk, versus the other way around. And already we 
see at least a limited form of such a tradeoff, in the neuro (head only) 
versus whole body option. Proponents of neuro in particular argue that at 
least neuros are easier to maintain and can be relocated more easily in 
case of emergency, which could be important in the possibly turbulent times 
ahead of us. (Another argument, and more controversial, is that neuro 
protocols can and do give the brain a better treatment.)

Some comments seem in order on the issue of language when we are talking 
about "sameness." The notion of continuer denies that persons who are 
considered the "same" must be the same physically, as chunks of matter. But 
then persons are not like rare coins or antiques, where the original 
material is all-important and copies, however exact, just won't do. They 
are, instead, more like books, which are reasonably regarded as bodies of 
information rather than specific copies. The analogy can be sharpened if we 
think of a person as like a written history that is being kept up-to-date 
through successive editions. A new edition might be formed either by adding 
material at the end of an existing volume, or by issuing a new volume from 
time to time, as in a set of encyclopedia yearbooks. A particular edition 
of the history may exist in many physical copies. The copies are not 
identical but, unless you are a book collector, the nature of the 
differences is unimportant. The whole history may have a title, such as 
"Joe Schmoe's Events Digest" or JSED. Different editions will be distinct 
from one another, though only in a certain, restricted way; all will still 
be JSED. If copyright policies are lenient, it is even possible that 
different companies will start issuing their own updated editions, so you 
will have the fissioning of JSED into more than one entity, or in other 
words, more definitely different JSEDs. Later, if the companies decide to 
join forces, you could have (re)fusion--and so on.

Are you a specific chunk of matter or an ongoing, information-based 
process? Are you your bits or your atoms (or maybe something in-between or 
something else entirely)? These are points worth pondering, and the answers 
arrived at do have a bearing on our attempts at extending our lives. I 
think too that there is an important sense in which the answers *cannot* be 
decided by scientific experiment, since they depend on preferences or taste 
or what one considers important. Still it seems likely that one or more of 
the various theories will prove far more workable and rewarding, at least 
for the long haul, than others equally consistent and not disprovable. I'm 
betting on the informational approach, and less concerned with alternatives 
that depend on specific collections of particles.

Mike Perry

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