[ExI] Fw: Uploading and selfhood

Michael Miller ain_ani at yahoo.com
Sun Apr 6 23:19:11 UTC 2008

Hi Lee. Thanks for continuing this. 

>As I got from Hofstadter, at least while I was reading that
>chapter, it became clear that there are two kinds of meaning.
>One is by convention, the other is by isomorphism. He has
>many nice examples of the latter, and they do not depend
>on the syntax of any language or upon any conventions.

I think isomorphism makes some quite specific assumptions about perception. I'm pointing this out now, and I think what I mean will become clearer later. That said, I really must read some Hofstadter. Sounds like a dude.

>How could any entity, again the space alien, possibly navigate to
>Earth if it did not have the ability to distinguish Jupiter and other
>astronomical bodies from the Earth?  

Well - it was your idea to start comparing humans to this specific alien which had travelled specifically to earth. I might argue that the conditions on the discussion determine the outcome. My point would be that there is nothing in reality to force the particular understanding of reality that we have. 

>You and I are clearly
>*referring* to different things.  I am referring to that great
>gas thing out there that is about 1000 times the mass of the Earth.
>You are doing what?  Perhaps referring to what is going on in
>human brains?  I would call that (and refer to it) as "our concept
>of Jupiter", or "our map of Jupiter", or "the impression that Jupiter
>makes on us".  In each case, note that *I* am referring to the
>gas giant.

It's a trivial point, but even when you think you're referring 'out there', what you're looking at is still in your head.

>But the boundary between a glass on the table and the
>table itself is objectively real---it is *not* a human manufactured
>distinction.  All sorts of phenomena, take a wind storm, for 
>example, separate the glass from the table quite easily, much 
>more easily than the molecules of the table are separated from
>each other.  This is why it makes sense and is objectively
>correct for our distinctions to be made between "glass" and
>"table" because in this case our distinctions do correspond to
>actual, objective differences that are "out there".

But this is all based on our particular, peculiar, level of perception. Those entities we call glass and table are themselves constructed from many smaller entities. Their molecular structure is constantly shifting. We have one specific macroscopic perspective, which articulates the glass as a temporally persisting identity in distinction from the table. Another being may well have a different one which doesn't perceive the "glass" at all, but perceives the molecules perpetually shifting their relations, and only trivially forming any temporary macroscopic objects. Or it could perceive the macroscopic identity as being of a much higher level (the glass itself is trivial - it is the larger system of which the glass is an atomic component which is the real identity). Or it could experience time in a different way...or causation could appear very different to it, shattering notions of individuality whatsoever. Do you see the large point I'm making? I'm not
 talking about distinctions as shallow as realist vs antirealist, or a French word vs an English word, I'm saying that the nature of subjectivity is such that we cannot even know what other subjectivities look like. We have to question our very most basic assumptions, because they have all been evolved for specific reasons, to help us survive in a very particular environment. And, unless I'm mistaken we share this basic 'object' world view with the other sentient beings on this planet because we all share a lot of history and biology. It's not something as simple as culture or humanity which has shaped this understanding of the world...our very beings are based on understanding the world in this way, of presenting a finite comprehensible picture which is generally coherent, so that we can actually make a fair stab at acting and surviving in the world. But what we think is like a child's drawing. Our perceptions aren't a photograph, they're a surrealist

>Yes, I suppose that if history isn't a particular passion of
>yours, then you will be comfortable however the question
>is settled about whether this modern day person "really is"
>the same person and Napoleon I of France (1769-1821).

I thought of a better example than the yellow-pink one after sending the last email. We can choose whether to measure something in Metres or in Feet. The rule we use makes no difference to the reality, which is what it is regardless of which set of numbers we give it. This is like attempting to measure what constitutes the self, any particular self. It's not that I am unconcerned about whether Napoleon still exists in another body, or still exists at all. It's that the idea of there being a single consistent person, a self, called Napoleon is a human conceit. There is no single thing which correlates to this word, just like there is no single thing which correlates to the word 'love'. Selfhood is a convention. Just because it seems very specific (if slippery) to us, doesn't mean there is any objective quality which is referred to by it, or even any objective quality referrable by it. This is even more clearly the case than my last paragraph I think - the
 evolutionary need for us to believe in a consistent identity, to group all these different perceptions, thoughts, sensations, actions, relationships, bodily parts etc into a single cohesive entity far outweighs the idea that actually we are a collective of vastly different co-operating processes, a macroscopic entity made up of many networked independent cells which work together for some reason of which we are not aware...the 'ego', the thinking mind, sits on the organism like a crown and believes itself the ruler but in fact it is only the most focussed of many elements, almost all of which it is unaware of.

>But there are things we could talk about that are *vitally*
>important to you, as, say whether the light really was 
>red or really was green when you drove through it. And
>what used to be simply a difference of opinion (for what
>anyone could prove, even if, as sensible realists, they
>knew that either you were right or you were wrong), today
>we can establish beyond almost all doubt the actual objective
>reality of what color the light was when your car went through
>the intersection.  Therefore such statements as "Your honor,
>the light was green" can be evaluated as really true or really

I refer you to this (all too brief) passage: 								
		@page { margin: 2cm }
		P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm }

and also to this article from New Scientist (which I don't think you can read without a subscription): http://www.newscientist.com/channel/fundamentals/mg19726373.300-is-there-a-language-problem-with-quantum-physics.html

basically what it says is that, just as the quantum world can't be understood in classical terms such as assigning a specific 'position' or 'speed' to a particle, so we have to be very careful when applying any of our implicit notions to the world. Our language "contains deep assumptions about space, time and causality - assumptions that do not apply to the quantum world" - in fact, apply only to the particular interpretation of reality that our senses have come to provide us with. 

"When we say "the cat chases the mouse" we are dealing with well-definedobjects (nouns), which are connected via verbs. Likewise, classicalphysics deals with objects that are well located in space and time,which interact via forces and fields. But if the world doesn't work theway our language does, advances are inevitably hindered." To which I have to ask, where is the 'well-defined cat'? It exists only in our minds and our language. I'm not saying there is no material cat. I'm saying that the reality isn't as neat and tidy (either spatially, temporally, causally or intentionally) as we like to think. And this is true of every 'object' we can talk about. Just because we have a clear-cut word which is definable in separation from everything else, doesn't mean that carries over into reality. Or into other beings' perception of reality. Ultimately it says more about us and our priorities than it does about the world 'out there'.

Oh, and one last point about our hypothetical alien - in order to communicate effectively with it, of course it must share our world schema to some degree. Such is always the case. We must start from the same basic perspective in order to be able to exchange symbols meaningfully.


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