X-Message-Number: 2694
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 94 14:10:03 EDT
Subject: CRYONICS philosophy

April 21, 1994

Heather Johnson

via Cryonet 

> Subject: CRYONICS philosophy

To Heather Johnson and anyone else who may be interested in an attempt to
capsulize my current views on identity and related matters:

In THE PROSPECT OF IMMORTALITY (1962 et seq) I made a flawed beginning on
this topic, coming to no firm conclusion and omitting important aspects I
thought of later, but clarifying some of the issues. In the intervening
years I have thought about it further and, I think, made important advances,
but still with no firm conclusion. I'll try here to summarize.
Some of the details are available in past issues of THE IMMORTALIST, and
there is much more in the draft of a new book I may finish if I live long
enough before freezing,


First, to clear away some deadwood--nonsense notions that retain considerable
support. I omit here most of the details.

1. The "information paradigm" is definitely wrong. The map is not the
   territory; isomorphism is not necessarily enough. Being (or
   life-as-we-know-it, LAWKI) is not characterized by the ability to
   converse (Turing), or by an input-output correlation. These can
   exist in a machine or system that has no subjectivity. Intelligence
   does not imply feeling, nor vice versa. 

2. Memory/personality is not an acceptable criterion of identity, although
   it is extremely important. Memory and personality can and do change,
   and must. The degree of acceptable change over time is an unresolved
   question, and relates to further questions mentioned below. 

3. A few writers have said that we are defined by our values. This is
   patently absurd, primarily because it is arbitrary; but also (a weaker
   reason) because it implies that people disjunct in space or time are
   the "same" if they have the same values, and you are a different
   person when your values change. (Of course you are indeed different
   when you change--in any respect--but we are looking for fundamental
   criteria, if such exist.)

Over the years I have reached three main conclusions that I think will be

1. Every feeling organism (one that has LAWKI) contains a subsystem (maybe
   localized, more likely distributed) that permits or creates feeling,
   hence constitutes the ground of being. (Non-feeling systems, however
   intelligent, are not beings or persons.) 

   I call this subsystem the "self circuit," and it defines personhood.
   It may be a matter of degree and exist in some degree in all or many
   life forms; or it may be an all-or-nothing phenomenon, arising suddenly
   in relatively recent evolution. It may exist only in brains, or it may
   exist (in some rudimentary form) even in cells. In any event, it is a
   biological problem requiring biological investigation. The concept
   could be useful if it tends to focus investigation toward central
   rather than peripheral issues. The central issue is subjectivity.

2. The central question of personal life concerns values, which underlie
   goals or life plans.  Values derive from wants. Wants are basically
   biological; certain events in the self circuit, or certain
   configurations, constitute satisfaction or its increase, or decrease
   of dissatisfaction. In other words, the goal of individual existence
   is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain; this of course was the
   starting point of the hedonists, epicureans, and utilitarians.
   But they quickly lost their way, because they lacked the necessary
   scientific tools. They did not know how to reconcile the many
   different kinds and degrees of satisfaction and dissatisfaction,
   or how to project probabilities over time. 

   We don't either--but we are making progress. We can certainly say--
   tentatively, at least--that the goal of an individual is to try to
   maximize personal satisfaction over future time. This will almost
   always set continued existence (survival) as the highest immediate value.

3. OPEN QUESTIONS: Certain crucial questions are simply unanswerable on
   present information. One concerns the nature of objective and
   subjective time; advances in both physics and biology are needed here.
   Another, already mentioned, concerns the nature of the self circuit
   and the number and types of fundamental satisfactions/dissatisfactions,
   and whether they are mutually compatible. Another concerns the complex,
   feedback relations between fundamental satisfactions and derivative ones.
   There are many important practical questions, such as how to distinguish
   true values from mere habits. There are the persistent continuity
   questions--whether disjunctions in time and space affect identity;
   theories in physics, such as what may underlie quantum theory, could
   be pertinent here. And over all we must keep in mind the difference
   between what we want and what we OUGHT to want. 

The primary problem of philosophy is to discover what we ought to want--on a
rigorous, physical/biological basis. We aren't there yet, but the road ahead
is reasonably clear.

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