[ExI] Uploading and selfhood

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Wed Apr 9 05:33:49 UTC 2008

Michael writes

> Hi Lee. Thanks for continuing this. 

Oh, not at all.  The pleasure is all mine.  Thank you.

> >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.

Okay, but just for the record, yes, we often *perceive*
a similarity between two things, but we can conceive of
two things having similarity even when there are no
perceivers or observers about. But then, I forgot, we
are in fact in part debating the notion of a "realist"
ontology. Suffice it to say here that I claim that there
can be *objective* similarity of structure, or isomorphism,
even in the absence of nearby intelligent life.

> > 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 had written before

> > > Well Jupiter is a human concept. Separable objects
> > > are human concepts. 

and I am rebutting that claim by pointing out that any alien
that we can imagine that would have the wherewithall to
navigate to Earth would also have, as you put it, "the
concept of Jupiter".  Now if all intelligent entities that
happen to cruise though the solar system must have
an idea of Jupiter, then that adds a lot to the credibility
of the notion that there is an objective thing out there
that we refer to by the name "Jupiter".

> > 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.

Well, that's not actually true in my own case. The problem is,
"where do we draw the boundary between us who are observing
and what is 'out there'?".  A fairly standard way of doing that is
to suppose that what is outside our skins is "out there", and anything
on the other side of that boundary is us. So I am *not* supposing
that I do not include my retina, for example. I'm a whole system.
The whole system looks out there and sees things. It's the natural
way we speak, and we realists, at least, find nothing fundamentally
wrong with it.  (Of *course* we know the whole train of events
that leads from objects to photons to images to retinas to V1 
(nerve firings) that lead to more nerve firings that lead to... it's
nerve firings all the way down!    :-)

> > 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.

That's all true.

> 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.

I think that that is very much doubtful. We'll find that the
more successful "higher" Earth animals also make the
same segregations we do.  And I contend that that is
not mere coincidence, that even space aliens would
recognize glass (say volcanic "glass") as separate from,
say, rivers and trees. There *really is* a certain amount
of structure out there in the world that any evolutionarily
derived being that successfully makes its way in the
world will recognize.

> ....Or it could experience time in a different way...or
> causation could appear very different to it, shattering
> notions of individuality whatsoever.

I guess that that is *not* the case. That the aliens would
be rather similar to us in how they broke the world up.

> 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.

Right, and it's even pointless IMO to talk about 
"subjectivities", even though, <sigh>, I suppose that
a few discussions really do require it. We progress
best when we confine our descriptions and ideas
to what is objective.

> We have to question our very most basic assumptions,

Well, that's always a good idea!

> 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 we would find the same "issues" on any extra-solar
planets as well, right? And why should beings that evolve
there suddenly be unable to perceive what seem to be
very concrete distinctions we've learned about?  As an
example, we didn't use to be able to "see" in the ultra-
violet or infrared, and it would not be the least
surprising if other-evolved creatures don't naturally
see the same wavelengths that we do. (We know that's
the case, of course, with many animals, e.g. bees.)

> But what we think is like a child's drawing.
> Our perceptions aren't a photograph, they're
> a surrealist sketch.

Right, but where we appear to differ is that I think that
we evolved to *be* in accordance with a certain amount
of real structure already there "out there" in the universe. 
All of the "evolutionary epistemology" philosophy
(or wikipedia) is grounded upon the idea that we evolve
to be in accord with our environment---which, yes, is
exactly what you are saying too. So:

We come back again to how much structure is *really*
"out there", and how much we happen to impose via
our perceptions and preconceptions. I certainly grant
that there is a certain amount of that, but in the 20th
century I think it was greatly exaggerated by many.
EP (Evolutionary Psychology, of course) is very
much a reaction aginst that exaggeration.

More later.


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