X-Message-Number: 27561
Date: Thu,  2 Feb 2006 10:57:56 -0500
Subject: Identity & Uploading
From: <>

A few comments about the recent discussions of identity & uploading.

Myth #1: That in the future, our notion of identity will undergo 
radical revision with the advent of uploading and similar 

Identity has a well-defined meaning, which I will put forth now 

Let P(R, T) be the predicate, 'The volume of matter enclosed in the 
region of space R at time T belongs to the category X' (by which it 
is meant that it possesses all properties that a thing must have in 
order to be grouped into the category X).

Then the volume of matter enclosed in a region of space R1 at time 
T1 has the same identity as the volume of matter enclosed in a 
region of space R2 at time T2 if the following hold true: 

1. P(R1, T1);

2. P(R2, T2); and,

3. There exists an infinitely continuous function R(T) defining a 
time-dependent region for which R(T1) = R1, R(T2) = R2.

This IS the definition of identity in a material world such as 
ours. Not just identity for things such as 'neural circuits giving 
rise to subjective experience' but also for 'coffee cups' and 

What the patternist should instead say, is 'I'm going to have to 
create a special definition of "identity" if I'm going to 
successfully convince myself that I will be alive even when the 
hunk of grey matter in my skull has been obliterated.' That much, 
would at least be true.

Myth #2: That in the future, people will be pressured to 'merge' 
their selves together to create more powerful entities in order to 
compete with others doing the same.

This one is so common, I am going to give it a name. 'The Myth of 
the Human Calculator'. It is the idea that entities evolved solely 
to make copies of themselves (humans) will be spectacularly 
successful at some other task (ANY other task), when compared to 
machines that are engineered to do that task, in a future of vast 
technological advance.

A machine designed by an extremely advanced society to develop new 
mathematical truths is going to be orders of magnitude better at it 
than an organism that just 'happens' to be able to do a little math 
by means of its capacity for abstract reasoning (which capacity 
exists, of course, only to further that organism's reproductive 
success). The same goes for every other area of production.

A special purpose machine will always beat a general purpose 
machine, and virtually any kind of machine designed by an advanced 
society for even general purpose tasks is going to be better at 
those tasks than an organism designed exclusively for self-

At this point, some people envious of calculators are going to come 
out and say, 'That may be true today, but with the technology of 
tomorrow, I'll be able to transform myself into a calculator!!' You 
can't transform yourself into a calculator and yet retain what 
makes you human (or, for that matter, what makes you able to feel, 
subjectively, and to be sentient and self-aware). You stop existing 
at some point, and a calculator comes into existence. Even if you 
were to augment (instead of 'replace') your brain with a special 
purpose machine, you still would not be able to compete with that 
machine: since that machine serves a single function, while you 
have both your human side and a huge bulbous device attached to you 
to perform the function of a calculator. The former is more 
competitive than the latter.

The future has no human calculators. Smarter humans, for sure, but 
no human calculators. There will be no competitive pressures on 
humans because humans will not be competitive.

In any case, there can be no 'merging' of identity. The whole thing 
notion nonsensical science fiction (if you disagree, then please 
define exactly what you mean by this conglomeration of phonemes 
slapped together).

Myth #3: That all of humanity will take a single path.

When people discuss the future, they seem to invariably become 
collectivists. They assume that whatever one does, everyone else 
will do. I predict that 1000 years from now, there will still exist 
people who are mostly genetically unmodified, who are almost 
identical to us---and yet I also predict there will exist 'humans' 
whose DNA is vastly different than modern humans (and everything in 
between, and beyond).

There is no single future, but a multitude of futures, and, barring 
any catastrophe, it seems likely that those who live long enough to 
reach the logical end of technology will be able to choose their 
own future.

Myth #4: That the human brain can be simulated on X number of FPGA.

This is insane. Each neuron is a quantum and molecular computer, 
consisting of quatrillions of atoms (10^11). It may not be ever 
possible (practical?) to accurately simulate a single neuron, let 
alone trillions of them. 

You can't treat neurons as black boxes and expect to get the same 
result. I personally doubt that any 'model' of a neuron can be used 
in constructing a virtual brain with human-level intelligence; 
rather, I expect the greatest strides in the development of AI to 
come from completely different (non-biological) approaches.

Myth #5: That even given the ability to simulate brains, we could 
escape our physical bodies and live a new life in a virtual world.

We are a brain. You can't point to the switching of electrical 
states on a silicon substrate and say that because it represents a 
brain in your mind, it somehow IS a brain. It's no more of a brain 
than the atoms randomly moving around in your toilet. You cannot 
'interpret' things into existing. Anything requiring interpretation 
does not exist in the interpreted form. The only thing that 
possesses a factual existence is matter and energy. Not virtual 
brains or virtual anything else.

A virtual brain being simulated on a computer is no more self-aware 
and capable of subjective feeling than the hunk of plastic I'm 
typing this message on now.

This patternist nonsense must be abandoned before it causes real 
harm. Even if you are a patternist and disagree with me, consider 
this: if you  stop advocating patternism, leading to cryonics 
organizations taking a stance against patternism, then even if I am 
wrong, you will survive. On the other hand, if you continue to 
advocate patternism, leading to the growing lovefest between 
cryonics and patternism, then if I am right you will likely not 
survive. What makes more sense, from the point of view of your own 

I see Jordan Sparks wants to start a new cryonics organization. I 
urge him to consider the official policy of his cryonics 
organization with respect to patternism (which includes uploading, 
Ralph Merkle-style brain reconstruction, etc.).

Richard B. R.

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