[extropy-chat] Will we all choose to become one mind only?

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Sun Apr 29 08:38:34 UTC 2007

On 4/28/07, Jef Allbright <jef at jefallbright.net > wrote:

> > I see "group minds" emerging due to the adaptive benefits of
> > > increasing degrees of freedom enabled by a more complexly effective
> > > organizational structure operating within an increasingly complex
> > > environment.  The subjective experience of the composite would be a
> > > high level expression of salient features of its internal state over
> > > time, fundamentally unavailable to its members. The subjective
> > > experience of each member, while subjectively "complete", would
> > > reflect a necessarily lower-level description of interactions with the
> > > greater "reality."
> >
> >  I don't see how you could distinguish the experiences of each member
> from
> > the experiences of the composite, or each other, if they were truly
> joined.
> > It would be like separating the part of you that likes chocolate from
> the
> > part that doesn't want to put on weight. I don't envision the composite
> as
> > someone with multiple personality disorder (which probably doesn't
> exist,
> > BTW) but as a completely integrated single person.
> I don't think multiple personality order exists as popularly conceived
> as essentially discrete personalities inhabiting one physical body.
> I do think multiple personality order makes sense in the sense of
> multiple systems of behavior (with associated differences in accessing
> subjective "resources") emerging at various times to dominate the
> observed behavior of the larger system, like multiple attractors
> within a chaotic system.

OK, but the important difference between this and MPD or separate
individuals is that neither the systems of behaviour dominant at different
times nor the larger system consider the parts as "other", mainly because
thoughts and feelings are shared.

It seems that our difference comes down to our difference in
> understanding the nature of subjective experience.  You seem to
> believe that subjective experience is fundamental or primary in some
> important way (it is, but to apply it to "objective" descriptions of
> the world entails a category error), while I see "subjective
> experience" very simply as a description of the perceived internal
> state of any system, as perceived by that system.

I'm not sure how to respond to this, because I don't see the disagreement.
That there is some subjective experience associated with certain physical
processes is surely undeniable. For all I know, there may also be a some
tiny subjective experience when a thermostat responds to a temperature
change, or even when the thermostat just sits there. The "perceived internal
state of any system as perceived by the system" is as good a description of
this as any, and captures the fact that there is no separate consciousness
juice at work here. As to whether the subjective experience is part of an
objective description of the world, that might just boil down to be a matter
of linguistic taste. Did I just write that sentence because I wanted to, or
did I *really* write that sentence because the matter in my brain, a slave
to the laws of physics, made me do so?

The recursive
> nature of this model tends to throw people off.  [Any progress yet on

I'm only about a third of the way through. The first few chapters do deal
with the notions of reductionist versus higher order explanation, and of a
hierarchy of conscious experience depending on the system's complexity. It
all makes perfect sense so far.

> > It's not completely clear here, but it appears that you're claiming
> > > that each of the parts would experience what the whole experiences.
> > > >From a systems theoretical point of view, that claim is clearly
> > > unsupportable.  It seems to be another example of your assumption of
> > > subjective experience as primary.
> >
> >  Would you say that the two hemispheres of the brain have separate
> > experiences, despite the thick cable connecting them?
> No doubt you're aware of very famous split-brain experiments showing
> that if the corpus callosum is cut, then the existence of separate
> experiences is clearly shown.  With the corpus callosum intact and
> feedback loops in effect, then the "subjective reality" of various
> functional modules of the brain is driven in the direction of a
> coherent whole, but (if one could interrogate individual brain modules
> individually), one would observe that each module necessarily reports
> its own internal state ("subjective experience") in terms relevant to
> its own functioning.

But the crucial point is that all the functional subsystems in the brain are
normally in communication, creating an integrated whole, or the illusion of
an integrated whole if you prefer that qualifier. If I am linked to another
person so that I experience his thoughts, feelings, memories and he mine,
then the he/me distinction will vanish even though in reality there are
still two distinct brains and bodies. The original "me" will not have a
preference that the other "me" experiences pain because the original "me"
will experience that pain as well. The original "me" will not be able to
even consider himself as separate as mental exercise, because the other "me"
will inevitably have the same thought. It would be like trying to think of
your left hand as alien even though you are neurologically intact.

It might be informative to consider the distinction between
> "subjective reality" and "subjective experience" above.


> > > The collective decisions of the joined mind would, over time, resemble
> > the
> > > > collective decisions of the individuals making up the collective.
> > >
> > > It seems clear to me that the behavior of the collective would display
> > > characteristics *not* present in any of its parts.  This is
> > > fundamental complexity theory.
> >
> >  Yes, I suppose that's true and the fact that the parts are in
> communication
> > would alter the behaviour of the collective. However, even the
> disconnected
> > parts would display emergent behaviour in their interactions.
> Stathis, I repeatedly detect either unfamiliarity or discomfort with
> systems thinking in your world view.  What could it possibly mean to
> say that "...disconnected parts would display emergent behavior..."?
> Emergent behavior is meaningless in regard to parts, it can refer only
> to systems of parts.

I like to think of reductionism as the "true" theory explaining the world. A
hydrogen atom behaves differently from a proton and electron, but really, it
is *no more* than a proton and electron; it's just that we're not smart
enough for the behaviour of a hydrogen atom to be immediately and
intuitively obvious when we contemplate its components, so we call it
emergent behaviour. To give another example, we normally don't consider that
two marbles sitting next to each other are any more than, well, two marbles
sitting next to each other; and yet it is possible to assert that they
actually form a system, namely a pair of marbles, which is somehow different
to, or greater than, either marble individually. It would be crazy to go
around thinking of every object and interaction in the world in terms of
subatomic particles, but that's what it actually is.

With regard to my point, I originally asserted that multiple individuals who
are joined might end up making similar decisions to the same collection of
separate individuals voting or trying to arrive at a consensus. This is
probably an unwarranted assumption, as being joined is a new factor which
might change the net behaviour. In other words, there are more subatomic
particles in the joined than in the individualist collective, namely those
particles forming connections between individuals, so the two collections
would be expected to behave differently.

When I said that disconnected parts would also display emergent behaviour, I
meant that the disconnected parts when interacting would display emergent
behaviour as compared to disconnected parts on their own. This is by analogy
with the hydrogen atom: the proton and electron together will display
emergent behaviour in that it was not evident when they were widely
separated. However, with both people and subatomic particles, the
foundations for the emergent behaviour were already clearly present in the
parts, it's just that we weren't knowledgeable and bright enough to
immediately see it.

> > > The
> > > > equivalent of killing each other might be a decision to edit out
> some
> > > > undesirable aspect of the collective personality, which has the
> > advantage
> > > > that no-one actually gets hurt.
> > >
> > > This sounds nice, but it's not clear to me what model it describes.
> >
> >  In a society with multiple individuals, the Cristians might decide to
> > persecute the Muslims. But if a single individual is struggling with the
> > idea of whether to follow Christianity or Islam, he is hardly in a
> position
> > to persecute one or other aspect of himself. The internal conflict may
> lead
> > to distress, but that isn't the same thing.
> As I see it, clearly one of those conflicting systems of thought is
> going to lose representation, corresponding to "dying" within the mind
> of the person hosting the struggle.
> Maybe here again we see the same fundamental difference in our views.
> In your view (I'm guessing) the difference is that no one died, no
> unique personal consciousness was extinguished.

Yes; the part that "loses" the battle lives on in the consciousness of the
whole, and might even reassert itself at some future point. It's a matter of
who gets hurt or upset, and how complete and irreversible the process is.

In my view, a person
> exists to the extent that they have an observable effect (no matter
> how indirect); there is no additional ontological entity representing
> the unique core of their being, or subjective experience, or whatever
> it is called by various peoples for the thousands of years since
> people became aware of their awareness.

I would agree that a person cannot exist without having an observable
effect, and that this observable effect is necessary and sufficient for the
existence of that person. However, the observable effect is only important
to the person themselves insofar as it does give rise to this feeling of
personhood or consciousness. That is, if the same effect could be reproduced
using computer hardware, or by God in heaven, or whatever, that would be
fine with me.

You will of course recognize the implication of an unfounded belief in
> a soul in the above, and most likely reject it out of hand since you
> are a modern man, well-read and trained in science and most certainly
> do not believe in a soul.  Obviously Jef doesn't really know who he's
> dealing with (thus this paragraph.)
> But my point is that despite any amount of evidence or debate, even
> with belief in the heuristic power of Occam's Razor, the subjective
> experience of subjective experience tends to hold sway.  As I
> mentioned above, it has the advantage of being (subjectively)
> complete.

Computationalism contains the idea of multiple realizability, which means
that the mind can survive destruction of the substrate on which it is being
run. This has striking similarities with the concept of an immaterial soul
and the possibility of resurrection after the death of the body. The modern
advance over dualism is that the need for a separate soul-substance is

Stathis Papaioannou
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