[ExI] Uploading and selfhood (explication)

Michael Miller ain_ani at yahoo.com
Thu Apr 10 11:07:09 UTC 2008

I've been thinking more about this, and I think there is quite a deep misunderstanding between us that reflects a comment someone else made a while back - you're talking about ontology, whereas I'm talking about epistemology. This is why I keep trying to shake off the 'realist-antirealist' boxes, because they're irrelevant to what I'm talking about. I'm not saying (to continue the example) there's no such 'thing' as Jupiter...there is probably 'something' which correlates to the word; however, that something does not <i>equate</i> with the word. This is to say, our language characterises objects as clearly delineated, persistent, and with a definite independent identity. I claim that in "reality" (to whatever extent we wish to use this term) things are simply a lot more fuzzy than this. And, in terms of something like "Napoleon", all we have is a word...the "reality" of Napoleon depends entirely on how we choose to define personhood, and precisely the
 problem is that we don't have a specific definiton of the word so everyone chooses to define it however they like. Therefore, the question of whether Napoleon <i>actually</i> still exists or not is unanswerable, at least until we have done some very precise work in defining what we mean by the term "the person Napoleon".

Secondly, I'd wish to withdraw from this emphasis on 'other' subjectivities such as aliens...such talk is purely conjectural. My main point about the relevance of concepts such as Jupiter and ex American presidents, was that we should be learning to live within our own subjectivity, not constantly striving to see outside of it (for such is impossible and leads only to enormous confusion). Trying to speculate as to what aliens think is just as impossible and useless. What I see and feel, my world, is where I should be living, not in some speculative "objective" reality which I only have inferrential access to. The nature of objects 'out there' really isn't that important...it's what happens with the objects 'in here' which makes all the difference, and this is all I will ever know about anyway.

----- Original Message ----
From: Michael Miller <ain_ani at yahoo.com>
To: ExI chat list <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>
Sent: Thursday, April 10, 2008 10:52:16 AM
Subject: Re: [ExI] Uploading and selfhood


>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.

I think maybe it's an oxymoron to talk about conceiving what something looks like outside of perception. I predict you'll disagree with this, but I stick to my guns that for there to be similarity (or even definable qualities) of "somethings" you need to have a specific perspective from which you are looking at them. I don't think we can sensibly talk about how something appears when no one is looking at it.

>and I am rebutting that claim (that Jupiter is a human concept)
>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".

Okay - I think here, we're actually confusing each other. By saying Jupiter is a human concept, I didn't mean that other non-humans couldn't have a similar one. I actually meant that it's a precisely defined concept with specific boundaries and qualities attached - as in the cat example last time, there is no precise "Jupiter-object" in reality - it's a useful concept, and aliens may well articulate their experience of reality into a very similar concept...but there's no precise Jupiter out there, because reality doesn't have the kind of precisely delineated objects our language imputes. Th real problem is that the more precisel;y we try to define our words and concepts, the more slippery reality becomes. This is <i>not</i> to say there's not something that correlates with the word. As I've said before, I'm neither realist nor anti-realist. I think the binary involved here doesn't do justice.

But, this discussion of Jupiter I think is taking us further and further away from the initial issue, which was of Napoleon - and I think it's here that my point is much more useful (to be frank, in regards to something like Jupiter it's really rather a trivial point). What have you to say in this regard?

>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!    :-)

I refer you to cybernetics here. While observing Jupiter, you and Jupiter become part of a single system. While admitting the utility of it, I disagree with the skin-barrier of identity (this is probably clear by now). I don't claim to draw any distinct boundaries between the observer and observed. (This is also probably by now apparent)

>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.

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

Okay. I'll wait for you to offer either an argument or some evidence for why this is the case ;) (Still though, for as long as we're talking about other subjectivities note that this makes no real inroad into the question of objective identities/properties)

>We progress
>best when we confine our descriptions and ideas
>to what is objective.

Can you offer a means for doing this?

>But we would find the same "issues" on any extra-solar
>planets as well, right? 

Not necessarily. And planets aren't the only source for intelligence to develop (at a fairly extreme - though not the most extreme - point, take Boltzmann Brains as an example)

>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:

Hmm, not necessarily. I'm saying we've developed a particular kind of awareness/conceptualisation which happens to have worked. The fact that everything in the "Earth" system has roughly the same kind of objective concept-structure would be pretty much determined by our evolutionary lineage, and our interpdependent integration as a system.


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