[ExI] Uploading and selfhood

Michael Miller ain_ani at yahoo.com
Tue Apr 15 13:34:57 UTC 2008


I've taken a while to ponder on these issues and work out exactly what i want to say in the way that will encourage least confusion. Hopefully, this time, i will succeed!

Lee says

>> I think maybe it's an oxymoron to talk about conceiving
>> what something looks like outside of perception.
>I'm not really talking about perception *at all*.  You brought
>it up.


>I'm not interested in appearance either!  :-)  Don't you
>think that there were G2 stars before there was any
>life in our solar system?  (And, contra SETI, say not
>within a billion light years?)  You really don't think
>that it's possible for two things to be *intrinsically*
>similar without anyone or anything observing or knowing
>about it?  Surely you admit that carbon atoms in Andromeda
>are pretty damned similar to carbon atoms in Jupiter, and
>were long, long, before there might have been any observer
>anywhere. "Appearance" is IMO entirely moot.

I think this is a key area where we're disagreeing. I think what I need to say here is that I don't have any belief either way about whether there were really stars before we perceived them. I'm happy enough to stick to what I perceive. I think I'd actually say that to do anything else is absolutely impossible, and...probably...unanswerable. It's not only unknowable, but it's a non-question. I hope this is clear. It's like asking what something looks like outside of subjective perception. It can't be done. To ask such a question merely shows a misunderstanding about what "looking like" means. It's not a question that can have any meaningful answer, even though grammatically the question seems to make sense, it actually only represents a misuse of language. To ask a question like "do objects have similarity outside of perception?" seems close to being a nonsensical question, one which cannot be answered either yes or no. The question of objective
properties is one I think we're foolish to discuss, it's an angels on the head of a pin issue. What we classify as something's essential qualities may well be not even 'visible' to another consciousness. But those properties being visible or not depends on consciousness perceiving them. But crucially, we can only think about objects using notions of perception via subjective consciousness. This is why I am surprised that you claim not to be interested in perception or appearance, but...how else do we assess things???

>But our language need not attempt (in fact it should *never*
>attempt) precisely delineated objects (not, at least outside
>mathematics).  Anyone who thinks that "1956 For Fairlane
>4 Door Town Sedan Auto Trans with V8" precisely
>delineates anything is deeply mistaken.  Korzybski seems
>to have devoted the entire 1933 "Science and Sanity" to
>depictions and explanations of levels of abstraction. The
>great book by Weinberg "Levels of Knowing and Existence:
>Studies in General Semantics" (1959) also said the important

>So when one of us says "Jupiter" we should not suppose him
>to refer to some weird possibly very bogus concept of the
>thing that he has.  If he were to talk about "manned voyages
>to Jupiter" it would be decidedly insane (hence Korzybski's
>Title "Science and Sanity") to take him to be referring to his
>concept (who would want a manned voyage to his brain?).
>He is referring to the unknown (in detail) thing that is *out
>there*.  And you do too!  All the time!  Whenever you 
>speak to others in daily life, you are trying to refer, to point,
>to something outside your skin---except in weird philosophic
>discussions where for reasons unknown to me, people 
>suddenly think that realistic language is "naive" or something.

I completely agree with your emphasis on the way we commonly use language. i think this focus on utility is something that linguistic philosophy has often failed to appreciate. I also agree that we can only correctly use language when we stop trying, as you say, to precisely define things. But do you not see that this is because the reality fails to match up, to the degree which we precisely define our concepts? To talk of Jupiter only makes sense when we use a vague utilitarian (functionalist) notion of what we mean (ie, an everyday-language notion). If we try to make a precise definition of what "Jupiter" is, we face all kinds of problems about where exactly we draw the line and say, "this electron is now too far away from that one and therefore is not part of Jupiter", and "at x point in time this coalescing cloud of matter is not yet Jupiter". We use language in a functional way and everyone knows what we mean. It is when we attempt to apply
language precisely to reality that it stops working. And this is, I think, most evident when we use concept-words such as "I". I've kept saying that my point is really a trivial one when applied to something like Jupiter - it makes no difference to the way we live our lives that there is not a precise definable Jupiter "out there". However, when we realise that "I" is just as much an ill-defined word which lumps together a whole bundle of different stuff without any neat boundaries or clear cut definitions, we then realise that what we take to be "me" in common-sense everyday usage is actually an awful lot fuzzier and trickier than we keep assuming. This really is my issue with the uploading thing, that it assumes there's a fairly neat entity called "me" which can be instantiated in different ways. The same issue has caused us centuries of dilemma over the "mind-body problem" when in fact the ability to distinguish mind from body is a
facet of the way our language works. If we stop thinking in neat, precise words suddenly that division falls apart, and we realise that there's just the life that we live, without any of these neat boxes we keep trying to fit things into.

>Likewise, "Napoleon" should refer to the now quite dead
>man born in 1769 on Corsica who ruled France from 1795
>to 1815 and who died on St. Helena in 1821.

>*That* is what the term "Napoleon" should refer to. Not 
>anyone's concept.  Not any perception.  Not any appearance.
>Of course, no knowledge is certain;  "all knowledge is 
>conjectural", as the good philosophers who adopt PCR 
>know very well.  (See Bartley, PCR.)

To clear this up, in case what I've been meaning is not now clear (I really hope it is): It's very easy to say "that man", but it doesn't tell us anything - as soon as we try to narrow that down, as we'd have to in the context of the question you'd posed about someone being convinced he was Napoleon, we ask "what is it that fundamentally constitutes 'that man'?" Is it his thoughts, his body, his biology, his attitudes, his actions, some combination of these...what? And then I think we realise that we don't have any agreed upon definition of what we mean by "that person", or "me". We usually know what we mean in most everyday circumstances, but in issues like uploading our usual concepts get stretched and we suddenly have to decide to either think our ideas out more precisely, or...not...

BUT i question whether any linguistic definition will completely suffice because, quite simply, reality is too complex too be neatly and perspicuously compartmentalised into our language. To compartmentalise at all is to reduce from the fullness of objective reality.

>> I refer you to cybernetics here. While observing Jupiter, you and
>> Jupiter become part of a single system.
>That really is pure nonsense. There are some very unhelpful results
>in quantum mechanics that should not be taken too literally (just
>as Einstein's relativity theory has been grossly misused). Jupiter
>is located at no less than 4 astronomical units from Earth, and it
>is impossible for you and Jupiter to compose any part of a larger
>system when you happen to glance at it. It's not *useful* in any
>way to suppose that they do. There is no physics in which it is
>useful to consider you being a single system (again, outside an
>extremely narrow interpretation of QM). This is the sort of 
>"insanity" that really used to upset Korzybski so bad---now me,
>I'm not so upset, because I realize that Sapir-Whorf was wrong
>and words don't really have as much influence on our actions as
>those guys thought. In other words, you,  Michael go about all
>day long being quite sane and making perfect sense, except when
>(IMO) you get into discussions like this and start saying things
>about Napoleon or Jupiter that 99% of people would think is

I'm surprised by this answer. What are the rules for a system then? I thought that this had all been battled out really well at the Macy conferences when they devised reflexivity. It seems to me, as soon as we start thinking about systems, either everything that can be conceptually grouped together in any interacting way is conceptually a single system, or nothing is. You and Jupiter are just as much a single system as your brain and your hand. If there's interaction there, then it's a system. There's no hard and fast rules, because whether something is a 'system' or not isn't an objective property, it's merely a way of grouping elements which interact. and observer and observed form an interacting system. The observer is always part of the system being observed. Why are you quoting Norbert Wiener, if you disagree with one of his fundamental principles?

>You don't draw any distinct "boundary between the
>observer and observed"?  Never?  I would venture
>that you do *indeed* draw such a boundary in 99%
>of your waking life. If you did not act as though you
>were drawing such a boundary, you'd be killed in
>traffic right off.  You wouldn't be able to tell yourself
>apart from what you were reading. Or emailing. Surely
>you admit that a *huge* part of the time you do draw
>such a boundary. 

This again is a matter of utility. I completely agree that we accept a common-sense point of view for 99% of our everyday actions. the world would fall apart if we didn't. But that doesn't mean they cover the other 1%, and we are just as incorrect if we try to force everyday functional usage of concepts to cover the remaining non-everyday situations. The problem comes when people think that one set of rules covers everything. The common-sense is not the be-all-end-all (nothing is).

>>>We progress best when we confine our descriptions and ideas
>>>to what is objective.
>> Can you offer a means for doing this?
>Yes.  (1) avoid philosophy classes (2) stick to science and
>especially to common sense (3) avoid fancy navel studying
>involving "subjectivity" "observer/observed" distinctions
>(4) avoid reading about the philosophical implications of
>relativity or quantum mechanics (5) try to refer to things
>the same way a child (who has loads of common sense)
>does, e.g., "there is a car", "there is a dog", etc.  (6)
>Avoid referring to "perceptions of cars", "perceptions of
>dogs", etc. (8) Avoid ever thinking about or mentioning
>*qualia*, a total philosophic death-spiral if there ever was
>one (9) avoid thinking about what consciousness "is" (the
>dreaded "is"-of-identity that Korzybski and the general
>semanticists so declaimed against)  (10) adopt whenever
>possible the daily meanings of words and concepts, and
>ask a bright twelve year old if something starts to sound 
>confusing, how we should think about it,  and those are
>just the first ten things I happened to think of.

Very good. I presume you did in fact understand the irony of my comment. Just in case, I'll reiterate that we can't think outside of our heads. Arguing that we should think only about what is objective is a nonsense. That said, I completely agree with most of your methods. In terms of everyday life people get on much better doing exactly as you suggest. However, fooling them into thinking that they're somehow being "objective" by doing this is to shortchange them. They're merely following one set of rules for approaching the world, and any approach is just another set of rules. This, I think, is what's most important for us all to realise. 

I think in general, all I'm trying to say is that there is a mismatch,  a weakness between our language and reality (and language is what we use to think with - we articulate the world via our language). This is not to cast aspersions on reality, or even to broach the realist-antirealist question...it is more to simply accept that perception and thought are conditioned by a lot more processses than merely the external matter which we perceive. We do not approach reality with a blank slate, we come at it with a set of boxes already made up which we then filter our perceptions through. Once we realise this, we stop thinking that what we see and experience of the world can ever be entirely uncoloured, because that colouring is part of who we are, and its what makes "my world" what it is, and makes it different from "your world". But this in no way affects "the world" which goes on untouched by the boxes (such as Jupiter or Napoleon) which we filter the mass
of material events into.

I think my head may explode soon if I keep on with this much longer...but I guess it's good for me to
think things through from different angles :)

But, I think on most of central issues we agree. I hope I've made this clear. It's really only tertiary differences where we think about the same things in slightly different ways, it seems to me.


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