[ExI] The Napoleon problem

Spencer Campbell lacertilian at gmail.com
Thu Feb 11 02:26:58 UTC 2010

JOSHUA JOB <nanite1018 at gmail.com>:
> I don't mean to sound, well, mean, but this strikes me as not a problem at all. Am I missing something?

Probably not. I was fifteen or something the last time I used it, and
now it seems a little trite even to me. There's always a chance,
though, so I can elaborate. It's basically an epistemological
question: how do we KNOW that he isn't Napoleon?

> You have huge amounts of evidence to show he was born, him growing up, etc., and so obviously he is not actually Napoleon.

A hole in the experiment, easily patched: of course he believes he
regressed to an embryo during the jump through time, shoving aside the
soul that otherwise would have occupied it.

Not the heart of the problem, though, either way. There is an
assumption, built in, that he and Napoleon really were different
people. No weird magic took place. Even having established that, there
is a (non-intuitive) way to view the question "is he Napoleon" so that
it has a very interestingly uncertain answer.

> He is also explicitly said not to speak French, nor look like him. Even if he had read everything Napoleon had ever written, ever word written about him, there would still be information he did not know (since obviously, every single experience he had ever had was not written down, and even if it was, there would necessarily be detail missing). So he doesn't even have all the knowledge Napoleon had.

And how, precisely, do we know he doesn't? He knows more than we know.
If anyone on Earth knew every detail of Napoleon's life, it would be

> So while he might have believed whatever he liked, he certainly was not the man Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France. He was not born at the same time, nor had all the memories and experiences of the man. An expert on him, certainly. But not the man himself.

It's much more likely that your knowledge of Napoleon is false than it
is that his knowledge of Napoleon is false. He is not only an expert
on Napoleon, but a super-expert; no one can answer Napoleon-related
questions with anywhere near the precision or accuracy that he can,
even if he blithely confabulates unverifiable details to do so.

So, when it comes to the question, "who is Napoleon", who are you
going to believe? You or him?

The obvious answer is you, because the man is insane. But one has to
wonder what makes this Napoleon question so fundamentally different
from every other Napoleon  question, so that no degree of knowledge
about Napoleon is the least bit helpful in answering it.

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