X-Message-Number: 25080
Date: Wed, 17 Nov 2004 23:45:55 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Survival of Soul as Information

Richard, #25026, writes in part

>Even if you believe in 'pattern-soul' (which I think is absurd, for
>reasons noted above), the pattern will be different, even if subtly,
>  so you cannot expect to come back (it is arbitrary to say a match
>of X% fidelity brings me back, but (X-delta)% doesn't).

To briefly summarize my view: what you could call the person is a process 
that, we might say, is expressed in information rather than in a specific 
chunk of matter or specific chunks, or localized processes. These multiple 
processes with participating parts have something in common that would make 
them what I call instantiations of the one person. (I imagine, of course, 
that different instantiations could exist in the whole of reality even 
though we see only one from our limited vantage point.) The soul is 
captured in information; it is a pattern-soul. I realize there are many 
questions about this point of view, but I hope it is clear enough so I can 
go on without having to address them all in this one posting, where I am 
trying to be brief and focus on one rather limited issue.

The information or pattern that is involved in the soul, as I view it, will 
change over time. It will, however, contain a record of the person's past 
life: memories, dispositions, and such. As time passes and if all goes 
well, the main changes to this record will take the form of additions, 
corresponding to new experiences remembered, along with some, but limited, 
forgetting. This is the sort of thing that takes place as we normally grow 
older anyway, and we are used to it. We feel we remain ourselves 
regardless, in a reasonable sense, and this holds for people who base their 
notions of identity on memories and other personal details stored in their 
brains, rather than other ideas not requiring such retention of 
information. There will, inevitably, be distortions or corruptions of 
memories too, but I am assuming these are relatively minor.

To feel we are the same is not necessarily to be the same, of course. The 
fact that our pattern changes, even by the smallest amount, could be 
construed as implying that the individual, defined as a pattern-soul, is 
continually dying and being replaced by a new individual, as Richard would 
have it. But again, we don't normally feel we have died just because a 
change is noticed, particularly if the change is simply that we have grown 
older and have more remembered experiences.

So, do we take the position that our feeling of being the same person, 
based on informational criteria, is simply a delusion, or is there an 
alternative? An alternative, if one can be found, must accommodate the fact 
that changes occur, yet still must provide for something that can be said 
to persist in some enduring form. For me the "enduring form" means we must 
at least provide the possibility that the soul or person is immortal. 
(Immortal survival, in some reasonable, information-based form, is really 
the only kind of survival I am interested in.) My approach to this is 
basically mathematical, but can be described informally as follows.

We imagine that, even though the pattern-soul changes with time, in the 
limit of time it approaches an entity that is unchanging with time (and 
also is infinite, that is, has infinite information content). This limiting 
entity, your ultimate self, is what "you" are in the end and what you are 
now is an approximation of it, which over time gets better and better. This 
betterment would not have to be linear, of course; considerable 
back-sliding or other excursions could occur, so long as eventually you get 
back on track and move forward. "Moving forward" means you are progressing 
to a higher, more developed version of yourself, thus undergoing a growth 
process, much as a child would do in growing up. After adulthood is 
reached, we also grow in important psychological ways--if not 
physically--if things go well, and we hope that more opportunities for this 
sort of thing will occur as civilization progresses. As cryonicists, of 
course, we hope to be transported to a future in which unlimited personal 
growth and self-betterment can occur.

For the mathematically inclined, it is not hard to imagine a simple 
formalization of the sort of thing I am talking about. At each instant in 
time, starting with "birth" or t=0, we imagine the person is described by a 
finite string of bits. (This description, could, for instance, specify the 
position of the atoms in the brain, so as to capture all important details 
that might be present at an instant--these details should be inferable from 
the description if not noted explicitly. It would, of course, be a very 
large description involving many bits, even though finite.) We assume the 
instants of time are discrete, though the interval between successive 
instants may be very small (and possibly variable too) to allow for all 
important changes to be recorded. So f(t,m) will represent the mth bit 
position of the description of the person at time t, for integer m greater 
than or equal to zero. To make f a bit-map we make it take on values 0 and 
1 with the convention that, for fixed t, f (t,m) = 0 for all but finitely 
many m to indicate that all bit strings are finite. We also assume that the 
descriptive format has a certain uniformity which I think could be 
enforced, even though the details would be hard to fully specify. 
Basically, we assume the person is in the same orientation, as far as 
possible, or is described from the same vantage point, on successive 
instants of time, so the changes that occur in our description with time 
will be substantive ones and not just the result of "facing the camera" 
differently. Convergence, then, means that, for a fixed bit position m, 
f(t,m) approaches a fixed value, whether 0 or 1, as t goes to infinity. 
More formally, for all m there exists integer T such that, for all t>T, 
f(t,m)=f(T,m). That's all there is to it. The end result will be a single 
bit string or function F with value 0 or 1 at each bit position m, defined 
by F(m) = limit, as t goes to infinity, of f(t,m). For F to contain an 
infinite amount of information--which I feel would be a requirement for a 
reasonable immortality--it is necessary that F(m) be nonzero for infinitely 
many m, something which could follow for suitable f.

The converging pattern is still a time-varying pattern, and will not 
satisfy everyone's wish for an unchanging soul. There is a certain 
fuzziness that must be accepted, yet a certain definiteness too. I have 
dealt with the problems at greater length in my book, *Forever for All*. In 
any case the approach seems adequate to me. I hope I *will* change with 
time, in constructive ways, yet still retain information of who I was, so I 
can identify with a definite entity, and keep this identification 
indefinitely. In this way I successively become a *continuer* of the 
previous versions of myself, to a reasonable approximation, but do not 
simply stagnate and refuse to change, and that is as it should be.

Mike Perry

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