[ExI] Uploading and selfhood

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Fri Apr 11 05:53:52 UTC 2008

Michael writes

> Lee:
>>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'm not really talking about perception *at all*.  You brought
it up.

> I stick to my guns that for there to be similarity (or ever
> 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.

I'm not interested in appearance either!  :-)   Don't you
think that there were G2 stars before there was any
life in our solar system?  (And, contra SETI, say not
within a billion light years?)  You really don't think
that it's possible for two things to be *intrinsically*
similar without anyone or anything observing or knowing
about it?  Surely you admit that carbon atoms in Andromeda
are pretty damned similar to carbon atoms in Jupiter, and
were long, long, before there might have been any observer
anywhere. "Appearance" is IMO entirely moot.

> ...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.

But our language need not attempt (in fact it should *never*
attempt) precisely delineated objects (not, at least outside
mathematics).  Anyone who thinks that "1956 For Fairlane
4 Door Town Sedan Auto Trans with V8" precisely
delineates anything is deeply mistaken.  Korzybski seems
to have devoted the entire 1933 "Science and Sanity" to
depictions and explanations of levels of abstraction. The
great book by Weinberg "Levels of Knowing and Existence:
Studies in General Semantics" (1959) also said the important

So when one of us says "Jupiter" we should not suppose him
to refer to some weird possibly very bogus concept of the
thing that he has.  If he were to talk about "manned voyages
to Jupiter" it would be decidedly insane (hence Korzybski's
Title "Science and Sanity") to take him to be referring to his
concept (who would want a manned voyage to his brain?).
He is referring to the unknown (in detail) thing that is *out
there*.  And you do too!  All the time!  Whenever you 
speak to others in daily life, you are trying to refer, to point,
to something outside your skin---except in weird philosophic
discussions where for reasons unknown to me, people 
suddenly think that realistic language is "naive" or something.

> The real problem is that the more precisely;y we try to
> define our words and concepts, the more slippery reality
> becomes.

OF COURSE!    That's why I have said over and over that
we ought to avoid *defining* things, especially trying to define
them precisely, and certain avoid also (as Korzybski said 
again and again) Aristotelian definitions.

> 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?

Likewise, "Napoleon" should refer to the now quite dead
man born in 1769 on Corsica who ruled France from 1795
to 1815 and who died on St. Helena in 1821.

*That* is what the term "Napoleon" should refer to. Not 
anyone's concept.  Not any perception.  Not any appearance.
Of course, no knowledge is certain;  "all knowledge is 
conjectural", as the good philosophers who adopt PCR 
know very well.  (See Bartley, PCR.)

>>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.

That really is pure nonsense. There are some very unhelpful results
in quantum mechanics that should not be taken too literally (just
as Einstein's relativity theory has been grossly misused). Jupiter
is located at no less than 4 astronomical units from Earth, and it
is impossible for you and Jupiter to compose any part of a larger
system when you happen to glance at it. It's not *useful* in any
way to suppose that they do. There is no physics in which it is
useful to consider you being a single system (again, outside an
extremely narrow interpretation of QM). This is the sort of 
"insanity" that really used to upset Korzybski so bad---now me,
I'm not so upset, because I realize that Sapir-Whorf was wrong
and words don't really have as much influence on our actions as
those guys thought. In other words, you,  Michael go about all
day long being quite sane and making perfect sense, except when
(IMO) you get into discussions like this and start saying things
about Napoleon or Jupiter that 99% of people would think is

> 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)

There are indeed other times when the skin-barrier isn't
the appropriate boundary to use.  For example, what
is the boundary between child and adult? Several 

1.  It is *wrong* to say that there are no such things
     as children or adults just because we have no
     precise dividing line between them
2.  For some purposes, it is advantageous to force
     a line at age 18.  For other purposes, a line is
     drawn at 21.  The  Marines, I think, draw the
     line at 17.  And so on.
3.  We know what *the reality* is. We understand
     that age lies on a continuum. We must resist the
     temptation to try to *define* anything here.

You don't draw any distinct "boundary between the
observer and observed"?   Never?  I would venture
that you do *indeed* draw such a boundary in 99%
of your waking life. If you did not act as though you
were drawing such a boundary, you'd be killed in
traffic right off.  You wouldn't be able to tell yourself
apart from what you were reading. Or emailing. Surely
you admit that a *huge* part of the time you do draw
such a boundary. 

>>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 ;) 

They'll have to break up the solar system somewhat like we
do or else they'll crash on the hard spheres (planets) and
won't be able to use the thing we call "the sun" unless they
also are able to make an internal map of it in whatever
passes for their nervous systems.  They jolly well will believe
it to be something outside their craft(s) and outside the
boundaries of whatever they are that came to our solar
system. (Unless they start talking about epistemology and
ontology---then they might be really confused?  who knows?)

>>We progress best when we confine our descriptions and ideas
>>to what is objective.
> Can you offer a means for doing this?

Yes.  (1) avoid philosophy classes (2) stick to science and
especially to common sense (3) avoid fancy navel studying
involving "subjectivity" "observer/observed" distinctions
(4) avoid reading about the philosophical implications of
relativity or quantum mechanics (5) try to refer to things
the same way a child (who has loads of common sense)
does, e.g., "there is a car", "there is a dog", etc.  (6)
Avoid referring to "perceptions of cars", "perceptions of
dogs", etc. (8) Avoid ever thinking about or mentioning
*qualia*, a total philosophic death-spiral if there ever was
one (9) avoid thinking about what consciousness "is" (the
dreaded "is"-of-identity that Korzybski and the general
semanticists so declaimed against)  (10) adopt whenever
possible the daily meanings of words and concepts, and
ask a bright twelve year old if something starts to sound 
confusing, how we should think about it,  and those are
just the first ten things I happened to think of.

>>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
> interdependent integration as a system.

Can't argue with that!  :-)


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list