[ExI] Continuity of experience

Spencer Campbell lacertilian at gmail.com
Tue Feb 23 02:52:21 UTC 2010

Quoting from "How to Replace Uninjured Parts of the Brain":

Ben Zaiboc <bbenzai at yahoo.com>:
> This should preserve continuity if you accept that continuity is preserved over an episode of general anaesthesia, for example.

A very poor analogy! General anesthetics do not cause total cessation
of activity in the brain. Preservation and destructive scanning; this
is much more similar, if not identical, to resuscitation of the
clinically dead. Yet, even clinical death is less dead than brain
death. According to my cursory research, there is, in general, a
period of several minutes between the two.

A thought experiment is in order! (The audience: "aaaaagh noooo")

What we are looking for, here, is continuity of experience. Let's
suppose there exists some property, M (for "me"), such that continuity
remains unbroken as long as the individual retains that property. Now,
the first question is, what is necessary for M to be lost?

Let's consider five states of increasingly severe unconsciousness:
drunk, asleep, knocked out (as in general anaesthesia), comatose, and

In the first three cases, according to common knowledge, M is
conserved. It may or may not disappear for a while, but it comes back
if it does. I am still me after I wake up in the morning. So far, so

Comas are more tricky. There is no guarantee that consciousness will
return, but, if it does, common knowledge likewise dictates that M
must be conserved.

Death, in the sense of brain death, is totally impenetrable. Common
knowledge says that M transfers from the body to some weird
extradimensional medium which is thus far invulnerable to scientific
inquiry, so we can't really trust common knowledge anymore. This is
the state we're dealing with when we freeze or plasticize the brain.

It's worth noting at this point that M is a purely metaphysical
concept, not subject to measurement. I act the same with M as I do
without M. There really isn't any way to prove that I remain myself
even from second-to-second, let alone during transitions between gross
mental states. Not even I would notice if my M suddenly evaporated.
You might think that M could equally well stand for "memory", in which
case it would be pretty easy to measure. It does not.

To prove this is trivial, and that is where the experiment really
begins. I think everyone can agree that M can only belong to one
entity in the universe (at most) at any given time, no matter the
nature of its existence. Yet, it is inarguably the case that, if we
can scan a person's brain to reproduce their mind, we can do so as
many times as we want. There is nothing in the laws of physics to
prevent you from making two identical copies of me, or even three, but
only one can possess M at any given time.

So, due to some accident at the cloning facility, my mind is
replicated twice. The two copies have EXACTLY the same memories, by
definition, in the moment before they wake up. They begin to diverge
immediately, unless also placed in identical virtual realities. It is
unproblematic to claim that both of them really are the real me, in
that case. I can be in two places at once.

If you put them in real synthetic bodies, on the other hand, then the
story is quite different. In the very first moment of operation, they
experience different things (thanks to our old friend the Pauli
exclusion principle); and so, they have different memories. Now they
are definitely different individuals, though still indistinguishable
to a casual observer. I can not be two people at once.

This concludes the experiment. We're left with a final, troubling
question: where is M?

There are all kinds of answers you could come up with, but none of
them are very convincing and all of them are pretty uncomfortable.

Nolipsism says: nowhere, because M does not exist. Simple.

Panpsychism says: everywhere, because individuality is a crock to
begin with. Simple!

Dualism says: there must be some arbitrary soul-sorting process, which
of course we have no way to prove or disprove, built directly into the
fabric of reality. Not so simple. All things considered, though,
relatively appealing. You can see why most people go for this one.

I tend to subscribe to nolipsism, but, in this case, I am
superstitious. I will not be taking steps to preserve my brain,
because I believe that I will stay dead even if a perfect copy of me
is made. I have M0; my first copy has M1, my second M2, and so on.

Being a selfish person at heart, I don't really care about blessing
future generations with my knowledge. In fact, I would outright resent
a duplicate of myself who gets to live while I remain dead. I'm not
going to take any chances when it comes to potential supernatural
complications. I just want to survive, as long as possible and as well
as possible.

All I can do is take solace in the fact that Pollock tells me it is
pretty much a physical impossibility for me not to cling to this
particular superstition, no matter how blatantly irrational it is. And
it is pretty blatantly irrational. That doesn't mean it's false,

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