X-Message-Number: 606
From: more% (Max More)
Subject: Re: cryonics: #603 - Identity and destiny
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 92 13:35:21 PST

> All the viewpoints here seem to assume 
> an ongoing "I" like a soul, an unchanging identity which, if changed 
> beyond some possibly arguable point, is no longer itself.  My life 
> experience does not support that belief, nor does my reading of Buddhist 
> psychology.  To me the Diamond Sutra supports a poem I once wrote in 
> which I peel an onion, at first frightened that there would be Something 
> at the center of it.  I peel off layer after layer, at last coming to a 
> void, a space, a Nothing in the center of the onion--with great relief. 

Arel seems to be talking about two different things here: (a) Diachronic
identity, i.e., continuity or lack of it over time, and (b) synchronic
identity, i.e., identity at a time. The metaphor of peeling layers off
an onion to find nothing inside is relevant to synchronic identity and
is reminiscent of David's Hume declaration that he could find no impression
of self among the contents of his thoughts. His mistake was to expect to find
something perceptible like a sense-impression, rather than a distributed
entity recognizable only by conceptualization and theory.
	However, the main issue for us, I think, is *diachronic* identity,
at least if we are considering questions such as "Will it be me who is
revived from suspension" or "Will I still be me if I live for extremely
long periods of time?" On this question Arel says that all the viewpoints in

the discussion suppose an unchanging identity, like a soul, which if changed 
beyond a point is no longer itself. However, as one of the people in the 
discussion, I do not see that as my point of view at all. 
	Since I don't believe in a soul, nor in Ettinger's "self-circuit",
I take a reductionist view: My continued existence consists in psychological
connectedness and continuity over time. This doesn't mean that my later
selves must be psychologically just like me. I don't even think my later
selves must remember my earlier selves (a point on which I differ from Mike 
Perry). What matters is that later stages of me continue from earlier stages in
the rights way. Some kinds of change are disruptive of personal continuity (a 
term I prefer over "identity") and others are transformative changes that in
no way subtract from my persistence.
	Just which kinds of changes are disruptive and which merely
transformative of identity? That's a question with a long answer which
I won't go into much now: It's the topic of much of my Ph.D dissertation
work in progress, so if you are especially interested, let me know. However,
it will be fairly obvious that lobotomy and tumor-induced radical behavior
changes (such as when a normally peaceable person develops a brain tumor and
becomes extremely violent) are disruptive changes whereas the normal changes
in personality resulting from learning from experience are transformative but 
not disruptive. Other cases are more difficult: Sudden religious or political
conversions, uploading into vastly superior cognitive hardware, direct
connection between brain and computer (where function is integrated)...
	On this view (so briefly sketched here), identity is not destiny. 
Indeed, some selves may *require* change if they are to be true to themselves.
I would not be who I am if my personality were petrified. Part of what makes
me who I am are the values and beliefs that encourage me to continually grow,
learn, and improve myself physically, psychologically, morally and cognitively
(hence my choice of surname).

Max More		
Editor, EXTROPY: The Journal of Transhumanist Thought

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