X-Message-Number: 27572
References: <>
From: Peter Merel <>
Subject: Mythconceptions
Date: Sun, 5 Feb 2006 00:18:20 +1100

RBR writes,

> 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.

I agree with you, but I'm having trouble convincing others. Perhaps  
you can help me through my difficulties:

a) I fell in love with a nordic beauty, and as tribute to her I  
carved her likeness in ice. My carving was so accomplished that a  
collector offered me $50,000 for it. I shipped it to his beachhouse  
in equatorial guinea. Unfortunately on the way it melted and all the  
water spilled into the atlantic. I used your definition to explain to  
him he need only look out at the breakers to admire my statue.  
Strangely, he's still suing me.

b) The nordic beauty was so appalled at my selling her statue that  
she drowned herself in the bathtub and I was compelled to bury her in  
the backyard. When the police turned up I used your definition to  
explain to them that she's quite alive and I showed them the  
wriggling earthworms in the dirt as proof. Strangely, I'm still in jail.

c) Being in jail I found myself with time on my hands so I studied  
physics and discovered there are no infinitely continuous functions  
observable by humans. So I took my physics book and burned it.  
Relying on your definition I intend to read it tonight to find out  
where it has gone wrong. I will then publish the results of my  
research on cryonet.

d) Also from my prison cell I watched the city workers paint black  
paint on the zebra crossing outside my jail. On my release I will  
walk happily across the road, secure in the knowledge that your  
definition will prevent the cars from hitting me.

> 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).

I would like to disagree, but doing so would involve you reading my  
words and comprehending them. Since your doing this would obviously  
merge our identities, only one of two cases follow:

a) you fail to do that, rendering my communication and therefore my  
argument without purpose, or
b) you succeed in doing so, thereby replicating my identity, which I  
do not mean to popularize as I enjoy a certain smug elitism.

So I hope you will pardon me if I agree with you as a form of  

> 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.

Similarly any gas may be regarded as a quantum and molecular  
computer, consisting of quatrillions of atoms, impracticable to  
simulate. And yet Avogadro's Hypothesis enables us to simulate gases  
in calculations with a pencil and a piece of paper. This is also  
insane. Let us commit all chemistry practitioners to the asylum post- 

Then again, consider: although a jumbo jet has not a single feather  
in its construction, it flies faster than any bird. Since we know  
less about what makes neurons intelligent than about what makes  
feathers fly, perhaps we should reserve judgement until we can  
empirically validate those properties of a neuron, and of aggregates  
of neurons, that are essential to human intelligence. In which case  
the chemists need not be committed quite yet either.

>  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 convincing argument against the existence of phenomes. Plainly  
neither you nor I exist; "we" require the interpretation of genome  
and proteome, and interpolation of that interpretation across  
billions of interacting cells. The machines that supercede "us" need  
merely preserve a representative sample of our genetic material and  
feed the rest of "us" happily into the biomass converter.

> 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.

To revisit the old Moravec spiel:

A neuron has the function of mapping signals received biochemically  
from its dendrites onto biochemical signals, via the axon, to the  
dendrites of other cells. Neurons may have a few other functions too.

Since nature took a mere couple billion years to produce your neurons  
though the vagaries of stochastic evolution, it does not appear  
farfetched to suggest that, with a lot less engineering effort, by  
intelligent design we could successfully model one of your neurons to  
such a fine tolerance that its behaviour is for all human purposes  
identical to the original.

If you accept that, let's go ahead and replace one of your neurons  
with our model. Are you still yourself? By recent empiricism we know  
your brain is not static, and in fact destroys and replaces neurons  
on a regular basis. Doing so with our model will make no observable  
difference in your behavior. This is not your "infinitely continuous  
function" But it seems to yourself and to others like you're still you.

Accepted? Good, now let's replace a second neuron. And let's continue  
the process, one by one, until we've replaced every last neuron with  
a silicon model, all wired as per the original, and varying their  
wiring per the original as well.

At what point in this process do you cease to be capable of  
subjective feeling?

Peter Merel.

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