[extropy-chat] Probability of identity (resend)
jef at jefallbright.net
Tue Oct 10 17:11:07 UTC 2006
Russell Wallace wrote on the perennial topic of personal identity:
I saw this when rummaging through the archives, and didn't see a
reply, and it's been gnawing at me as the one such paradox I don't have
a satisfactory answer for. I'm going to rephrase it in more vivid terms
that I find help make it clearer:
So, here are your options:
A: I turn you into a frog.
B: I run off a copy of you. In case you're a threadist, I'll do
it atom by atom, neuron by neuron, symmetrically, with thread of
consciousness unbroken throughout, such that there will be two of you at
the end and neither objectively nor subjectively will it be possible to
tell which is the original and which is the copy (and in case you're a
substratist, all copies will continue to be made of carbon compounds in
water just like before, no uploading into silicon chips), so you should
equally expect to be either. Then I will let one copy go free, but
similarly multiply the other into 999. And then I will take all 999 to
hell and make them write essays on postmodernist literature! Muhahaha!
(Option A is ruled out since being a frog doesn't do much for one's
"But," you continue to muse, "let's look at the situation
tomorrow in that event. There will be 1 copy of me free, and 999
undergoing horrible torture. There will be no objective fact of the
matter as to what the copying sequence was. The only objective fact will
be that 0.1% of my instances will be free and 99.9% will be tortured.
Therefore I should estimate a 99.9% probability that I'll be tortured.
Compared to that, being turned into a frog doesn't sound so bad after
Here's where the confusion becomes apparent. It's the usual confusion
between objective and subjective points of view, reinforced by culture,
language, and personal experience. It's Descartes'' error in not so
subtle disguise, the assumption within "cogito, ergo sum" that *I* am
experiencing, rather than the more defensible assertion that *some
process* seems to be reporting on an experience.
I'm assuming for the sake of the thought experiment that you're
Homo economicus, only concerned about what you personally will
What is this "you" that is spoken of, Human? The "Self" which is held so
dearly is only a conceptual locus, not an intrinsic property of matter.
that you don't value maximizing copies for its own sake etc; the
question is whether in case B you should estimate the probability that
you will be forced to write essays on postmodernist literature versus
being allowed to go free at 50/50 or 99.9/0.1.
Now to a threadist the first line of reasoning seems correct,
the thread of consciousness splits 50/50 and after that who cares what
happens to the other thread that isn't you? So I'll understand perfectly
if threadists reply "fetchez la vache!".
Thread of consciousness is a useful concept, but it's misused here.
Earlier it was clearly stated that there would be no way to distinguish
among the copies, so the (often useful) concept of Self can't apply
here. Or if it were to apply, it would have to apply equally to all
copies and therefore be equally meaningless. Self is not something
intrinsic, it is only the point of view of an agent, and since an agent,
by definition, must be able to intentionally affect its environment, the
concept of agent (and by extension, Self) does not apply to independent
So, the logically consistent way to look at the above situation must be
from the third party point of view: That the future scenario would
contain one individual indistinguishable from you, and 99 new
individuals being tortured.
So the question (which must remain in the third person POV)is whether
you would prefer a future with (A) your agency contained within the body
of a frog, or (B) the creation of 99 individuals (who happen to be very
similar to you) who are being tortured.
Paradox is always a matter of insufficient context. In the bigger
picture, all the pieces must fit.
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