[ExI] Fw: Uploading and selfhood

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sun Apr 6 18:05:07 UTC 2008

Michael writes

> Lee said 
> > True and False apply to assertions, or to maps.
> > Now you can have a true map, or literal model, of something
> > as opposed to false ones. For example, suppose we made a huge
> > scale model of the Mississippi valley, except that it contained
> > a single but very prominent glaring inaccuracy (say the Platte
> > river runs mainly south to north rather than west to east), and
> > then we all die.  An alien intelligence that makes its way to
> > Earth will, we may say, encounter this scale model, verify
> > its "truthfulness" except for that one tributary. So true and
> > false models do exist outside of human categories.
> I have to point out that a map is only one kind of representation of
> the territory, and one that is produced for a specific purpose: an
> alien may well not recognise it as being representative, as she is
> focusing on completely different properties of the territory.

I want to claim that *objectively* existing relationships that
are sufficiently salient or "obvious" will be noticed by any
evolutionarily derived intelligence that has managed to survive,
because survival is impossible without an awareness of what
is objectively present in the environment. This *must* extend,
I claim, to an alien being able to locate and perceive large
scale objectively similar structures. 

> A cat for example does not understand the relationship
> between map symbolism and territory.

Heh, heh, and it's said that quite a few people don't either!  :-)
Which I appreciate.

> A Norwegian does not necessarily understand the relationship
> between English and the reality it supposedly depicts.

Oh, that's because the meaning of English is to a large extent
*conventional*, not isomorphic. The five letter term "zebra"
has only a conventional relationship to the stripped animal.
Isomorphic meaning, on the other hand, is objectively present
(or not) to some degree or other. Douglas Hofstadter, in
"Godel, Escher, Bach" has a particularly illuminating chapter
entitled "The Location of Meaning".

> The relationship between a symbolic system and the
> referent depend on understanding the syntax.

Well, yes, and unless I mistake your meaning, the
relationship also depends on a lot of assignments
by agreed upon convention, quite apart from questions
of grammar or syntax.

> In this example you are depending on the alien sharing the
> symbolic representation system that the human manufacturers
> use.

I don't think so.  If the model of the Mississippi Valley, for
example, is made of plaster, is more than a mile in size, and
the plaster has not yet had a chance to decompose, and it
is sufficiently detailed, then as a three dimensional structure
is really does have the *same* structure (only scaled down)
that the Mississippi Valley has. Once the isomorphism occurs
to an entity, it is exactly like the key to a cryptogram: from
then on, conjectures regarding the meaning of disparate parts
may be confirmed (and they will be). Entities who successfully
navigate through space to Earth will have the equipment to
detect such similarity;  the similarity is objective and non-
conventional (that is to say, it's of the isomorphism variety).

> A model, any model, necessarily exists within the category
> system (syntax) which it depends for its meaning.

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.

> We can only speak subjectively, and in doing that we have to
> admit that our own context in asserting true or false may be
> denied as valid by another.

Well, any given *convention* may be disputed.  If I say it's
absolutely dark outside, you may say that on the contrary it's 
absolutely as well-lit as any day could be, it's possible that
we are not using the terms the same. Perhaps "dark" means
something altogether different to you.

But I claim that we can speak objectively, once the referents
to the words are agreed upon. Suppose that two organisms
(speaking the same Indo-European language) pass all sorts
of tests showing that the terms "Hawaii" and "people" are
used equivalently (i.e. under all the same conditions) by the
two organisms (people). If they also---as evolutionarily
derived organisms must, I assert---evolve, develop, and
have a sense of time, then the meaning of "Some people
have been to Hawaii" is completely objective and completely
inarguable. We *really* do presume that any space alien, for
example, if they communicate among themselves at all, will
have a language in which it is possible to translate at least
gross features of reality. Once this is done, then they too may
join us in making commonly translatable statements about
objective reality (e.g. is Jupiter bigger than the sun?).

> > What about Jupiter?  Would you say that there is no Jupiter
> > out there? What would that mean? If you were struck by a
> > car as you walked across a street, you would not surely
> > correct a police officer who came by and asked, "were you
> > struck by a car", with something like "you mean, my-perception-
> > of-police-officer, that I experienced terrible force applied to
> > my-perception-of-my-body by a perception that I had of a
> > "car".
> Well, Jupiter is a human concept.

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?  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.

Something is a human concept, I would suggest, just in case it has
no referent independent of human beings.

> Separable objects are human concepts. Our concepts are what
> we experience. We don't experience reality "as it is" because
> whatever objective reality there is gets articulated in finite,
> differentiated objects before it hits our brains.

I agree that we cannot experience reality "as it is". Those things
that are out there get first two-dimensionally mapped onto our
retinas (in the nicest case to describe, that of vision), and from
there there are further mappings that take place in our nervous
system. 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".

> I don't claim I'm an anti-realist (I consistently fail to align myself
> with any philosophical school, ever since my brief infatuation
> with Hegel ended). The realist-antirealist dichotomy is just as
> naive as either taken on their own.)

I understand.

> All I say is this: Jupiter exists in the human mind, it's a semantic
> articulation of a particular experience which we then use to
> filter other experiences into.

Do you consider it just a vast coincidence that---take a river
instead of Jupiter---so many other animals happen to also
have "the river" in their "minds"?  They act as though they
understand that a river is where to go to relieve thirst, or
flee predators, or a place to avoid because for many it's
dangerous. Likewise, aliens will *certainly* be able to 
distinguish a river (or Jupiter) from surrounding entities.
All of this is a coincidence, because humans "just happen"
to have a certain semantic articulation?

I really suspect that you believe that what the rest of us
refer to as "rivers" and "planets" really are out there. You
do, after all, manage to navigate to the same places as
the rest of us.

> We can't step outside the human mind and know what
> reality is like outside of subjectivity, or outside of the
> human conceptual structure,

That's right.  We can only *conjecture* about the actual
relationships between things out there. As Popper and
Hayek have explained, all knowledge is conjectural.

> BUT my statement was referring to the question of
> Napoleon (this is the problem when you break up a
> paragraph into its constituent lines...the context and
> therefore meaning is lost).

Sorry---it does make an unfair demand on the reader
to go back and read it all at once, which I do have
to force myself to do after I've interrupted your
stream of thought.

> And yes, I still think that whether Napoleon "is" the
> nutter before us now just because he believes he is,
> or forever ceased to exist hundreds of years ago,
> is ultimately unimportant...because whatever we give
> as an answer makes no difference to anything. We
> might as well debate whether yellow is lighter than
> pink for all the importance the answer we reach will have.

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).

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


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