[ExI] Next moment, everything around you will probably change

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Thu Jun 21 07:36:17 UTC 2007

Jef writes

> [Lee wrote]
>> So, Jef, could there be some observer who saw me and George
>> Washington as having the same personality, and this viewpoint
>> would be just as legitimate as any other?
> It's funny in a sad way when people are confronted with something that
> appears mysterious so they try framing it in mysterious terms such as
> quantum theory, probability theory, or relativity theory.

Well, I'm not framing it as relativity theory or probability theory
or what-not.  I was asking a question that didn't look too hard.
Later, I kicked myself for not seeing a particularly simple answer.
Namely, that if a particular observer were "primitive" enough,
e.g. a small rodent living in a house, he might very well see George
Washington and me as the same person.  That is, whichever of
us entered the room, the mouse might flee because out of fear of
the extremely large creature what had just come in. The mouse
could be entirely unaware of whether it was me that came into
the room every so often, or G.W. hisself.

> To respond to your extreme example, an observer with very little
> knowledge of humans might see no difference between you and George
> Washington.  Would that view be "legitimate"?  Hardly, at least in our
> terms.  Better to ask whether it would be meaningful.

Hmm.  Okay.  Well, thanks for answering  :-)

>> What about at t = 0.0001 seconds?  What difference could one
>> ten-thousandth of a second make?
> I said it works at t = 0. I didn't say it doesn't work at t = 0.0001
> seconds.  This is another example of your straw-man argumentation. You
> may mean it quite sincerely, but it's still a straw-man since it has
> no weight.

I have to just start ignoring all your accusations here. Okay, so, good,
so similarity is a pretty good criterion for t = 0.0001 seconds post
duplication. Well, my point is clear now.  I just don't see any problem
coming up with the similarity criterion for any t, just so long as there
is a *high* degree of similarity.  In short, two entities are the same
person if they are similar enough on the microscopic level.

> The point here, and we've been around this loop before, is that you
> say physical/functional similarity tends to diminish with time and
> that beyond some point one is no longer the same person, but your
> theory of similarity-based personal identity doesn't say anything
> about how much similarity or how it diminishes. Your theory is
> incomplete, it only accounts for a special case.

Yes, good.  I agree.  It's a very rough idea.  But maybe it's not the
fault of the "similarity theory" because we could make the same
criticism of any kind of lumping into categories that mammals do.
The universe itself can perhaps be blamed, for so easily giving
rise to categories.

>> I go with similarity on many, many other
>> things.  Leibniz even elevated to a principle "Identity of Indiscernables"
>> in a somewhat related context.  Hot days are like other hot days,
>> dependent on similarity of structure (along one dimension). Two
>> rabbits are considered to be of the same species not because their
>> DNA is exactly equivalent, but because of close similarity.  In such
>> ways we categorize almost *everything*, so similarity is pretty
>> universal and powerful (judging by the success of Darwinian creatures
>> who employ it, e.g., a gazelle that lumps all lions into a single deadly
>> category).
> Similarity is not the problem.  The point is that with regard to
> personal identity, similarity in terms of agency is more coherent and
> extensible than similarity in physical/function terms.
> ...
> I already gave you the example of the two near-identical duplicates in conflict.

But as I said, the similarity metric says that they're the same person,
and a wife of one wouldn't tell the difference between the two, and
so on. In other words, they seem in all ways to be the same person.
They just hate each other is all.  (And that's hardly novel:  we often
wonder if a given individual "hates himself" in some way.)

>> > I offered you a simple scenario showing an internal contradiction
>> > resulting from your view, and you have yet to respond directly,
> ...
>> If you would be so kind as to cut and paste it, and ask for a
>> "yes", "no", "right", "wrong", be assured that I will directly
>> answer.  Please accept that my dodging of the issue was
>> unintentional, and not due to any personality defect.   I hate
>> it when people won't answer directly, and I will be very
>> happy to opine in a completely unambiguous way!
> Okay, once again:
> As a corollary, a physical instantiation could be extremely similar to
> Lee, even more similar than, say, Lee of one year ago, but be
> considered by anyone, including Lee, to be for **all* practical
> purposes a different person.  As an example, imagine that Lee is by
> nature a greedy bastard (this is so patently false, I hope, as to be
> inoffensive.) Lee makes a perfect duplicate of himself to go off and
> work at programming so Lee (original) can spend his time playing
> chess.  At this point they are each Lee by virtue of each being a full
> agent of the abstract entity we all know as Lee.  But software
> engineering can be a hellish life, and eventually the duplicate, being
> a bit unstable and a greedy bastard to boot, realizes that he could
> empty the common bank account (belonging to Lee-the entity, rather
> than to either Lee-the-agent) and assume a life of leisure.  If Lee
> (the original) gives him any trouble, he can simply kill him and take
> his place.  Of course Lee (the original) is inclined to similar
> thoughts with regard to his duplicate.  We can easily see here that
> despite extremely high similarity, for all practical
> moral/social/legal purposes, anyone (including the duplicates
> themselves) would see these as two separate individuals.

Okay, since you have been so kind to cut and paste it again, I
will try to answer it as directly as I can.  I *don't* see those 
as two separate individuals at all.  Neither would the people
who know them.  I admit that you have one good point here:
namely, that as they fought, they'd see themselves as separate
people.  But I say that they are simply mistaken:  it's as though
each has been programmed by nature to regard anything 
outside its own skin as "the other" or as "alien".  I mean, we
could have to *totally* identical instances of the Tit-For-Tat
program playing each other (or rather a minor variation of
Tit-For-Tat that tried a random defection now and then),
and they naturally behave as though they are going up against
"the other", "the alien", the "other player".  Yet they are truly
identical, right down to the last statement of code.

> The point here is to show that despite extreme similarity, a pair of
> duplicates can easily fall into conflict with each other. This
> conflict can be over property, relationships, legal responsibility; in
> essence these are conflicts over rightful identity -- a paradox if, as
> you claim, they are necessarily the same identity due to their
> physical/functional similarity.
> Or maybe simpler for you, consider the two duplicates, each with
> identical intent to prevent the existence of the other. If, as you
> say, physical/functional similarity determines personal identity, then
> do you see the paradox entailed in a person trying to destroy himself
> so he can enjoy being himself?

That's a fair question, and thanks. (Those little funny marks "?" make
it easier to be non-evasive  :-)

I admit that there is irony in the situation of a person or program trying
to destroy instances that are identical to itself, even though it has been
programmed to safeguard "its own existence".  But I consider the
programs or persons acting in such a fashion to simply be deeply mistaken.
All *outside* observers who are much less biased see them as 
identical.  Why aren't they identical?  Why should we view them as
separate *people* or separate *programs* just because they're at
each other's throats?

> Or back to the biological organism manifesting Disassociative Identity
> Disorder.  I said this supported my point, and you said "thanks"
> without further comment.  In such a case we can agree that the
> physical/functional similarity is total since it's only a single
> organism, but we also agree that that any observer (including the
> observers manifested by that particular organism) will see different
> persons to the extent that they are perceived to act on behalf of
> different entities.

Hmm, well, we seem to have a hard disagreement here. Yes, let's
consider just the case we/I have been discussing:  indeed there
are many people who would hate their duplicates.  So let's suppose
that A and A' are identical, and so---just as you say---they are
what you call "different persons" because they are perceived as
acting on behalf of different entities.  Clearly here, they are acting
on behalf of different *instances* of a what was a single person.
You and I each beg the question in a different way.  You beg the
question by saying that they are clearly different entities, and so
are different people, and I say that (because of similarity) they
are clearly the same person (or program).  How may we resolve

Well, as above, I suggest that we consult outside authorities of
higher reputation. If we send them into different rooms, can
someone who knows them well tell them apart?  (I say no.)
What if we administer the best personality tests that have been
so far devised?  Will they show a difference? (Clearly no.) So
isn't it up to you to say *why* they are different people?  How
can you avoid my insistence that in order for them to be different
people they must be different in some *way*?  (I.e., sneaking in
a similarity criterion.)

> Personal identity is about agency.  Physical/functional similarity is
> only a special case.

I still don't agree.  Are there other examples that can be offered?
How about some other examples where *agency* is clearly key?
Perhaps in daily life?


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