[ExI] Uploading and selfhood

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Wed Apr 16 08:44:40 UTC 2008

Mike writes

> Lee, I've taken a while to ponder on these issues and work
> out exactly what i want to say in the way that will encourage
> least confusion. Hopefully, this time, I will succeed!

What an optimist!  :-)  It is in the nature of these discussions
to be intractable. What really happens is that after a while
it dies down, and the participants slowly over the next weeks,
months, or years unconsciously absorb what they gleaned,
and reflexively anticipate such other POVs in the future.

> >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.
> I think this is a key area where we're disagreeing. I think what
> I need to say here is that I don't have any belief either way
> about whether there were really stars before we perceived them.

All of our knowledge is conjectural, but we follow our best
theories of science. (We also follow the most reputable advice
we can get for how our digestion works, or where to go to
find a neighborhood porn shop.) Science makes the issues

According to our best theories, dinosaurs once roamed the
Earth, and before that---again, according to our very best
ideas of knowledge, our best theoretical judgments---the
Earth was molten and had formed about 5 billion years ago
around the same time that the sun did.

Now this knowledge is really as firm or firmer than your
knowledge about George W. Bush. Was there a GWB
before he was perceived by you, or by the media, or
by his mother?  Well---the possibility certainly exists!
He could have been adopted, or (very unlikely) delivered
to Earth by especially mischievous Martians.

Therefore: it simply defies our best understandings when
you say

> I don't have any belief either way about whether there
> were really stars before we perceived them.

and furthermore, I don't believe you. In *any* other discussion
with your friends or family, you, being the well-educated type,
might demur if someone disputed evolution, or said that the
Earth was only 6000 years old, or that the universe did not
contain anything before there was an Earth. Hence you *really*
do believe that there were stars before they were perceived by
(a) you, (b) us,  (c) humankind, (d) evolved aliens.

> I'm happy enough to stick to what I perceive. I think I'd
> actually say that to do anything else is absolutely impossible,
> and...probably...unanswerable.

I detect a quest for *certainty* here. No knowledge (with the
*possible* exception of Descartes' cogito ergo sum) is certain,
it's conjectures all the way down.

> It's not only unknowable, but it's a non-question. I hope this
> is clear. It's like asking what something looks like outside of
> subjective perception.

Maybe I'm confused, but are we still talking about whether there
were stars before anyone perceived them?  Or whether the Earth
was molten before we observed it?

> To ask a question like "do objects have similarity outside of
> perception?" seems close to being a nonsensical question,
> one which cannot be answered either yes or no.

Then it all hinges on whether you believe the sort of "fact" that
stars existed before the Earth cooled. As soon as you admit that,
or just listen to yourself as you tell your friends and neighbors
some fragments of your (relatively vast) knowledge about things
you have not yourself directly perceived, then you'll agree that
the question does make sense.

> The question of objective properties is one I think we're
> foolish to discuss, it's an angels on the head of a pin issue.
> What we classify as something's essential qualities may
> well be not even 'visible' to another consciousness.

True, but Maxwell and Hertz could start talking about EM waves
"just as if there really were such things" that certainly were not
visible to anyone's consciousness but their own. But because
people in daily life are realists, other ears picked up on this:
"Whazzat they're saying? Ether waves?  Hmm. They really
exist?  Hmm. Maybe I could build an apparatus and test for

> BUT I question whether any linguistic definition will completely
> suffice because, quite simply, reality is too complex too be neatly
> and perspicuously compartmentalised into our language.

Totally correct!  I concur completely!  I often rail against
definitions.  By the very nature of abstracting, we lose (and
must always lose some parts of reality).  Consider

Eternal Truth #1:  Nothing is simple.
Eternal Truth #2:  Every statement must be further modified
                           (in order to become more accurate)

> To compartmentalise at all is to reduce from the fullness of objective reality.

Yes.  When I refer to GWB, I do not and cannot include the
complex reality of the man. But that's the way it is. We do the
best that we can.  And it all fits the picture of who we are and
how we evolved.

> > 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 crazy.
> I'm surprised by this answer. What are the rules for a system then?

A "system"?  I don't know.  I wouldn't know what rules there are for
something as ambiguous as that. Now in QM there are systems, and
the rule is that they include everything that can be described as a
single quantum state. The EPR results suggest that a system can even
be non-local, although David Deutsch disagrees. Anyway, we *rarely*
describe things in most of physics as a single system; usually it's things
interacting with each other, such as a transmission and the drive chain.
Or one molecule and another. Why the need to try to come up with
some idea about two hugely separate things such as you and Jupiter
being part of "the same system"?  Before 20th century gabblespeak,
such a notion would have amazed Galileo. Nor do I think Einstein would
have been able to guess what you are talking about.

> I thought that this had all been battled out really well at the Macy
> conferences when they devised reflexivity.

I never heard of them!  Okay, so google says that there were these
cybernetic conferences starting in 1946.  "Reflexivity"?  These are
really very abstruse things you're bringing in. Are they really necessary
to investigate whether you and the Andromeda galaxy are part of the
same system just because one photon from it enters your eye? Are
they really necessary to be able to decide whether there were stars
before the Earth, or oceans before people?

>  It seems to me, as soon as we start thinking about systems,
> either everything that can be conceptually grouped together
> in any interacting way is conceptually a single system, or
> nothing is.

Here is a brand new concept then:  the union of the southern most
orange on the southern most orange tree in Florida and the sunspot
that is at this moment closest to Earth. Wow!  A brand new system!
There's no utility in it!

> You and Jupiter are just as much a single system as your brain
> and your hand.

I'm not even sure it makes sense to say that my brain and my
hand are a single system. If that's true, and it's true about me
and Jupiter, then every two things in the universe are a single
system?  Or it's only when some intelligence ponders the

> If there's interaction there, then it's a system.

According to general relativity, matter curves space and so matter
here affects everything in the universe (within 42 billion light years,
so far as influences have been able to get in the past 13.7 billion
years, what with the expaning universe). So every two things or
three things or four things..., within 42 billion light years is a system.
How useful can the idea be when it applies to everything?

> There's no hard and fast rules, because whether something is
> a 'system' or not isn't an objective property, it's merely a way
> of grouping elements which interact.

I'll agree with that!  I sense that the word "system" is being overused.
We *can* talk about properties, unlike "system", that are objective,
or do you think we can?  I would say that it's objective whether or
not some people have been to Hawaii. In fact, it's objectively true
that some people have been to Hawaii.

> The observer is always part of the system being observed.
> Why are you quoting Norbert Wiener, if you disagree with
> one of his fundamental principles?

Hmm. Didn't know I was quoting him.  I don't think that that
principle makes much sense in daily life.  And if you depend
on it, my fear is that the term "system" starts to take on a
weird status. Try telling the judge that you and the traffic light
formed a part of the same system, and so you could not have
run it because you were it!

> I completely agree that we accept a common-sense point
> of view for 99% of our everyday actions. the world would
> fall apart if we didn't. But that doesn't mean they cover the
> other 1%,

I agree.  And so we have to do some arm-waving, and sometimes
a little special jargon for the 1%.  And even there, it's best not to
go all mathematical and start defining things. Keep the language
light, rephrase as often as possible, never depend on a single word
or concept if at all possible.  (I agree that when writing Lectures on
Physics, Feynman indeed did depend a lot on the term "energy".
But he explained all that as well as possible using different terms
and a lot of commonsense daily language.)

> and we are just as incorrect if we try to force everyday functional
> usage of concepts to cover the remaining non-everyday situations.

Okay---so *what* exactly were we arguing about that was not a
everyday situation.  Jupiter?  Napoleon?  Whether stars exist
independent of us?  I could go on:  Is there a moon when no one
is looking at it? (YES!)  Does a tree falling in the forest make a
sound when no one's around (see Feynman, but the answer is

> The problem comes when people think that one set of
> rules covers everything. The common-sense is not the
> be-all-end-all (nothing is).

I'll agree.  But we should get clear on the simplest things first. Then
we can investigate the Macy conference weirdness and QM and
reflexivity and self-transcendence and uploading, etc.

> Just in case, I'll reiterate that we can't think outside
> of our heads.


> Arguing that we should think only about what is objective
> is a nonsense.

I agree.  We should only talk about what is objective, though,
at least if we're trying to find out what is so. (Yes, two good
ol' boys can get together and discuss in very subjective terms
the qualities of other races, or who gives best pussy, etc., but
normally we all should be talking about that which is objective,
because the subjective is not accessible to those we're trying
to communicate with.)

> That said, I completely agree with most of your methods.
> In terms of everyday life people get on much better doing
> exactly as you suggest. However, fooling them into thinking
> that they're somehow being "objective" by doing this is to
> shortchange them. They're merely following one set of rules
> for approaching the world, and any approach is just another
> set of rules. This, I think, is what's most important for us all to realise.

I agree, and also enthusiastically agree with your concluding words:

> I think in general, all I'm trying to say is that there is a mismatch,  a weakness between our language and reality (and language 
> is what we use to think with - we articulate the world via our language). This is not to cast aspersions on reality, or even to 
> broach the realist-antirealist question...it is more to simply accept that perception and thought are conditioned by a lot more 
> processes than merely the external matter which we perceive. We do not approach reality with a blank slate, we come at it with a 
> set of boxes already made up which we then filter our perceptions through. Once we realise this, we stop thinking that what we see 
> and experience of the world can ever be entirely uncoloured, because that colouring is part of who we are, and its what makes "my 
> world" what it is, and makes it different from "your world". But this in no way affects "the world" which goes on untouched by the 
> boxes (such as Jupiter or Napoleon) which we filter the mass of material events into.

> I think my head may explode soon if I keep on with this much
> longer...but I guess it's good for me to think things through
> from different angles :)

I appreciate your patience, and your thick skin.  I know that I
get into rants and start being quite the curmudgeon. So thanks
for not being offended  :)

> But, I think on most of central issues we agree. I hope I've
> made this clear. It's really only tertiary differences where we
> think about the same things in slightly different ways, it seems to me.

Well, this post helped a lot, it seems to me.  When you write about

> Once we realise this, we stop thinking that what we see and
> experience of the world can ever be entirely uncoloured,
> because that colouring is part of who we are, and its what
> makes "my world" what it is, and makes it different from
> "your world". But this in no way affects "the world" which
> goes on untouched by the boxes [concepts?] (such as
> Jupiter or Napoleon) which we filter the mass of material
> events into.

it seems we're indeed not so far apart.


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