X-Message-Number: 23818
Date: Mon, 05 Apr 2004 22:50:55 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Postings on Memories

There have been some postings on memories lately, that started with someone 
who wanted to discount cryonics. His ground appeared to be that the very 
memories we seek to preserve are unstable and unreliable anyway, so why 
bother? The responses to this varied. Some argued that memories are not 
that important in making you "you" (David Pizer, for instance). Thomas 
Donaldson, on  the other hand, noted that important memories *do* tend to 
be well-preserved longterm in living brains, but also, that one doesn't 
want to preserve every possible memory--far from it.

My feeling is that memories *and other information* (or "memories" 
understood in a broad sense as information having an effect on subsequent 
states of consciousness) are important as components of one's self or 
identity. Still (agreeing with Thomas), one would not one would not want to 
save every possible, preservable bit of information. Some considerable 
forgetting or loss of uninteresting detail is desirable too.

Anyway, the issue is raised once again of what constitutes one's essence or 
identity, in particular, whether it is basically informational or 
artifactual (bodily) in nature, that is to say, whether it's bits or atoms. 
I think a logically consistent position can be maintained either way, and 
neither point of view can be confirmed or refuted scientifically. But then, 
one can say the same thing about such other theories as the day person 
hypothesis that holds that a new person replaces the old every time there 
is temporary loss of consciousness. One must look to other properties, 
then, to reasonably decide what viewpoint seems "right."

The informational viewpoint in some ways is more difficult to defend than 
the artifactual/bodily one, but I favor it, in part because it is a far 
more hopeful position in terms of the future of each individual. The bodily 
criterion, assuming there is no mystical soul, implies that persons are 
gone forever once the physical brain structure is lost, as normally happens 
after clinical death, in the absence of cryonics. The thought that persons 
up to now, other than cryonicists, have lived their lives in vain and only 
ourselves and others to come later may have a chance at immortality, is 
something I find repulsive and insulting. But with the informational 
criterion a person could, in principle, be restored or resurrected from a 
description with a high enough level of detail, which in turn could be 
recreated by guesswork as a last resort.

In my book there is an extended discussion of these issues, with the upshot 
that, while cryonics is very much worth pursuing, there is also a serious 
prospect of ultimately restoring all who have ever lived. Again, though, 
this depends on the idea that an "original" person could be recreated from 
information alone; having the original body or brain is not essential. This 
point of view is not something one could prove or disprove, but as far as I 
can see rests simply on what definition of "self" one chooses. Again, I 
think it is the better choice.

Mike Perry

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