[extropy-chat] Personal Identity Bis

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Wed Apr 11 07:24:02 UTC 2007

On 4/11/07, Heartland <velvethum at hotmail.com> wrote:
> Stathis:
> > Your "life is an instance" view comes up against serious problems when
> you
> > look at personal identity at anything other than than the most
> superficial,
> > familiar level. For example, if it were revealed to you that yesterday,
> > advanced aliens caused you to disintegrate and be replaced with a
> > functionally identical copy once every second, you would presumably be
> > outraged, and accuse the aliens of committing murder 86,400 times. But
> here
> > you are today, and what have you lost?
> You are correct that every copy of Heartland's type would accuse aliens of
> mass
> murder. However, the error you're making in describing my position is that
> you're
> using "you" for every copy. In my view, all 86401 *instances* are separate
> people
> who only happen to share the same *type* of mind. The fact that they all
> share the
> same type of mind says nothing about whether all these instances are the
> same
> person. The "serious problem" or inconsistency you point to vanishes once
> I start
> referring to first Heartland as Heartland1 and the last as Heartland86401.
> So no,
> Heartland86401 is not the Heartland1 today. And what would Heartland1
> lose? Well,
> he would lose his life.
> You think of "you" as a type while I think of "you" as an instance, that's
> all.

Well, I partly agree with you. I consider that ordinary life (without the
interfering aliens) is exactly equivalent to dying not just every second,
but every moment. The Stathis-type persists while the Stathis-instance lives
only transiently: the observer moments. (Bernard Williams' "token" as
discussed in Derek Parfit's "Reasons and Persons" is roughly equivalent to
what you are calling an instance.) Each instance is defined by a particular
collection of matter in space-time, the next instance in sequence having at
least different space-time coordinates and usually different matter in a
different configuration. Two instances are related insofar as they are close
to each other in spacetime coordinates and configuration, but they cannot by
definition be the *same* instance, unless they are one and the same. The
further apart two instances are in time, the less similar they are, even
though they might still have enough in common to count as the same type;
however, there can be no strict rule for defining what is the same type,
whereas instances can be defined completely unambiguously.

I think what you are calling an instance is really a set of instances, which
would qualify as a type. You are suggesting that even though none of the
matter in my brain today is the same matter as a year ago, nor in the same
configuration, and certainly not sharing the same space-time coordinates,
nevertheless I am "the same" person, whereas if I were disintegrated and
recreated a nanosecond later out of the same atoms, in the same
configuration, I would not be "the same" person.

> > Neither you nor anyone who knows you
> > noticed anything unusual happening yesterday, and today you feel just
> the
> > same as you have always felt. For all you know, the aliens might still
> be at
> > it, and they might have been at it for thousands of years with every
> living
> > creature on the planet. What is the point in calling it murder if it
> can't
> > make any possible difference?
> Just because nobody could prove murder happened doesn't imply murder
> didn't happen.
> It happened. It's just that we can't prove it.
> The difference is huge. Heartland1-Heartland86400 have all lost the
> ability to
> experience life. They're as dead as, say, John Lennon.

They are also as dead and gone as your yesterday self. True, you possess
some of his matter in a configuration similar enough that you have his
memories and sense of identity, but you have already said that isn't enough
for survival.

Stathis Papaioannou
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