[extropy-chat] The Anticipation Dilemma (Personal Identity Paradox)

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Wed Apr 11 11:28:12 UTC 2007

On 4/11/07, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:

Yet just because your present memories are to be tampered
> with, future delights are not any the less appealing. Recall
> that by agreeing to commit suicide so that your duplicate
> frozen yesterday gets $10M, you are nonetheless looking
> forward to all the great things you (as your duplicate)
> will do with the money.
> What we have reached is the uncomfortable conclusion that
> what happens to you (or happened to you) in the past is
> every bit as worthy of anticipation as events that are
> scheduled to happen in your future. This demolishes any
> rational or consistent use of *anticipation* that I have
> ever been able to formulate. This is most unfortunate,
> because feelings of anticipation are hardwired at a very
> fundamental level into our selves and our motivations.

We could try to patch things up by saying that both memory loss and dying
some time after you have been duplicated, which I agree are equivalent,
constitute absolute death and are to be avoided at all costs. However, this
sounds wrong, because most people wouldn't worry that much about a few
minutes or a few hours of memory loss (ignoring the fear that they might
have done something important during the forgotten interval). Alternatively,
we could say that, indeed, we should anticipate the past as much as the
future, but as you point out this runs counter to all our programming.
Either solution would allow a consistent theory of personal identity, but it
wouldn't feel right.

I think the paradox comes from trying to reconcile our psychology with
logic. There really is no *logical* reason why an entity should have one
type of concern for past versions of itself and another type of concern for
future versions of itself. That is why I think of every observer moment as a
separate entity, related to its fellows not due to any absolute rules but by
virtue of certain contingent facts about the evolution of our brains. Other
entities may have quite different views about personal identity. If worker
bees regard their queen more as self than they do themselves, are they
wrong? An intelligent bee might acknowledge that alien life might exists
which did not think this way, and even come up with a theory of personal
identity in which the building blocks were individual observer moments, but
ultimately end up declaring, "Well, I'm a bee, and this is just the way
bees' brains are wired to think". Moreover, the bee would be no more
inclined to rewire its brain for individuality given an understanding of the
concept than you would be to rewire your brain to serve the collective.

In a similar fashion, if you can think of an evolutionary scenario where it
was adaptive to anticipate the past as much as the future, then this would
be incorporated into any psychological theory of personal identity in that
population. The only objective and unambiguous constant in all this would be
that a scientist could still look at the individual instances / observer
moments and describe how they associate.

Stathis Papaioannou
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