Re: Can I kill the original?

From: Dan Fabulich (
Date: Sun May 07 2000 - 04:14:02 MDT

Some finite number of Harvey Newstroms wrote:

> Then I must clarify my goals. I don't want some Harvey Newstromish person
> to exist in the future. I want *this* current Harvey Newstrom to continue
> to exist and evolve into the future. I do not want him destroyed and
> replaced by a new Harvey Newstrom.

That's an interesting goal to have. However, I fear that it begs the
question as to why you have it in the first place.

I happen to be willing to "die" (or whatever) so long as a pretty recent
copy of me lives on. (By pretty recent, I mean on the order of months,
maybe a year under extreme circumstances.)

Why would a person be willing to do that? Well, it's because the
continued existence of this consciousness stream is not an intrinsic end
of mine. It is not an object which I pursue for its own sake: rather, I
pursue it because it happens to be practically useful for the pursuit of
other ends of mine. Once this consciousness stream LOSES its unique
status, once it is *no longer necessary* for the majority of my goals to
be pursued, I have no further (special) use for this consciousness stream.
*You* might say that I have no further (special) use for myself.

Why did you want to preserve your "self" (as such) in the first place? You
could tell me a story about your intrinsic desires, which you might
explain with a story about how you've evolved that way. But, of course,
our primitive desires have little to say about whether copy+destroy is
death, or whether it's morally legitimate. (In fact, to the extent that
our "evolved" desires tell us anything at all, they tell us that it's our
moral duty to die so that better equipped copies can live on: thus mothers
are willing to go to death for their children, brothers and sisters die
for one another, etc. And they aren't even very close copies.)

Instead of a clear primitive idea as to what "I" am and what "death" is,
if you're like me, your primitive desire is more like an imperative
saying: "I must prevent myself from dying." It doesn't tell me anything
what "myself" is or what "dying" is; rather, it just says that whatever
"dying" is, that's what I need to avoid having happen to "me," whatever
that turns out to be.

More to the point, if "you" turn out to be the program that's running on
the fantastic machine that is your body, then shutting down a copy
shouldn't be too big a problem. If you happen to be your current
consciousness stream, or control over it, or whatever, then destroying
that is a pretty big deal as far as our primitive desires are concerned.

I take it as axiomatic that our goals, our ends, are what we are striving
for; that the correct goals/ends are the correct things to strive for.
With that in mind, do we have it as a goal to preserve our current
consciousness stream?

As far as I can tell, the answer is no. My lizard brain has nothing to
say about whether I'm an adjective, as John Clark has been known to put
it, or a noun, as you might have it. My intuitions just tell me to
preserve "myself," and to avoid "death."

In light of that, and in light of my other goals, it seems to me like it
might be most efficacious to choose the definitions of "self" and "death"
under which I'm best able to accomplish my goals. Now, only *I* have
special knowledge of my own goals, and therefore *I* am in a unique
position to pursue them. But as far as I can tell, the most useful
definition (from the point of view of my goals) is the "adjectival" view.
Reflexive consciousness streams are hard to maintain. Processes can be
backed up, copied, and even expended if it serves a greater goal. So long
as the copy is pretty recent, it should share most of my beliefs and most
of my goals/ends for which I'm willing to stunt a consciousness stream.
And I've certainly got a few; maybe you do too.

You might try to insist that it's INTRINSICALLY important that I preserve
myself. But does that mean that I can't slice my own throat if a copy
lives on? No, because that "intrinsic" view is just the primative
imperative I described earlier, with extra oomph. It says I'm
intrinsically important, but doesn't tell me whether I'm the way I behave
or the ends I pursue or the beliefs I have or my own consciousness streams
or what.

Of course, the lizard brain DOES have something to say about, for example,
puncturing this body... but in my more rational moments I normally take it
that this is only extrinsically useful; that some things are worth blood
sweat and tears in order to get them.

So why should I care about consciousness streams? What sort of goals ARE
you pursuing that makes it a good idea to decide that "avoiding your own
death" means "maintaining control over this very consciousness stream"?
For they seem to be drastically different from mine.


      -unless you love someone-
    -nothing else makes any sense-
           e.e. cummings

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