Re: Can I kill the original?

From: Dan Fabulich (
Date: Sun May 07 2000 - 14:21:05 MDT

The Newstrom collective wrote:

> It almost sounds like you are saying that the ends justifies the means.
> That is, as long as another person is similar enough to you to carry out
> your plans, you don't need to exist anymore. You don't seem to want to
> continue living just because you like to be alive, but to acheive some
> future goals. As long as someone else is programmed with your meme-set to
> carry out your goals, you seem ready to die.

Sort of. I think certain means are justifiable by ends, and that stunting
a consciousness stream is one of them.

> > Why did you want to preserve your "self" (as such) in the first place?
> I don't have a good proof for why I shouldn't die. I just would like to
> avoid it. It seems like you question whether self-preservation is a useful
> goal.

No, I was asking the question rhetorically. I want to preserve my "self"
as well. That's an end that I pursue for its own sake. If it somehow
came to light that "I" was really my consciousness stream, then that's
what I'd want to preserve. But I don't think it's very likely that this
will somehow come to light; I think I'm going to be the one making the
decision for myself, and so, in light of that, I'd better make the
decision based on my goals. (The goal "preserve myself" being a not very
relevant goal, seeing as that goal sheds no light on what I am, or what
sort of definition of "me" I ought to have.)

> > 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.
> This is where the semantic problems come in. We do not all agree on what is
> the self. I don't know all the answers, but I find it hard to agree with a
> definition of self that allows selves I cannot detect. I don't know if
> their are other copies of me. How can they be me if I don't even know that
> they exist? I think, therefore I am. But I cannot think with the copy's
> brain, anymore than I can think with your brain. Until I get a replacement
> brain that I can think with, the replacement is unacceptable.

Well, the answer is obvious: one consciousness stream might not be aware
of another similar consciousness stream, but "you" (the collective bounded
by the predicate "is Harvey Newstrom") are necessarily aware of all of
"you" simultaneously. You(1) are aware of you(1), you(2) are aware of
you(2), so some member of you is aware of you(1), and some member of you
is aware of you(2). So "you" are aware of all of you, even on the
"adjective" view.

If you can't feel your hand, does that mean the hand isn't part of you?

> > 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?
> I do.

Ahem. You have it as a goal to preserve your "self," but you have chosen
to define "self" as consciousness stream. I'm arguing that this was a
mistake, that you'd be better served with another definition.

> If self-preservation is just to create a new individual and allow
> ourselves to die, then why limit ourselves to exact copies?

Uhm, your phrasing of my position is especially loose here. But anyway,
as I noted earlier, I DON'T limit myself to exact copies; pretty recent
(within months) seems OK to me.

> Why not make better individuals? Why not genetically engineer our
> children or build a race of superior robots? All of these may be fine
> goals, but they have nothing to do with my personal survival. If
> continuing this current consciousness stream is not the goal, then why
> make the copy similar to me at all?

You knew the answer to this before you said it. It's because the copies
have the similarity of meme-sets, the similarity of goals, necessary in
order for someone to be pursuing my goals with the special interest with
which I pursue them.

Replacing me with you, on the other hand, is unacceptable. (Though I
might even go for that if the goal were important enough and I knew you
shared it with me.)

> > 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."
> I have a twin. He is not me. I have had some people tell me that they
> couldn't tell us apart. This does not convince me that I can die. I still
> perceive an obvious difference between him and me. I have never gotten us
> confused. I am obviously in this body, and he is obviously in that body.
> No similarity in thinking or perceptions will suddently merge our
> consciousnesses into a single individual. From that point of view, I must
> insist that different similar objects can and do exist. The question is
> not, "Does the universe need two Newstrom brothers?" The question is, "Do I
> want to continue living?" I see no connection between these two queries.

Yet, I posit, you just might die for your brother given a pretty good
reason. And he just might die for you. This should be a hint to you to
probe your intuitions further on this matter: if these desires are coming
from your primitive imperatives, then, as far as I can tell, the primitive
imperatives are not only willing to make exceptions for exact copies, but
also exceptions for someone who shares only your genes. (Or even just
half your genes, in the case of your children.)

> > 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.
> I know what you are saying, but it sounds too much like fudging the answer.
> A lot of people on this list like to choose definitions that best support
> their goals. Sometimes reality is not cooperative. Sometimes things are
> not the way we want them to be. I think we need to answer the questions
> about reality first, and then choose goals that are possible within that
> reality.

Look, it's not like we can perform an experiment to check and see if a
copy is "really me" or not. This is a matter of definition, it's a matter
that we have to decide for ourselves on the basis of our other beliefs and
desires. I take it that the most you can say on this point is that my
definition doesn't jive with your goals, not that my definition doesn't
line up with reality.

But if it doesn't jive with your goals, with which goals does it conflict?
I've already made the case that it doesn't conflict with your desire for
"self" preservation, whatever "self" turns out to be. Rather, instead, it
only seems to conflict with your goal to preserve consciousness streams.
And as far as I can tell, you adopted that position because you took it
that this was the only way to preserve your "self". I'm arguing that this
is not the case, that you can preserve yourself while stunting your own
conciousness streams.

> Continuing my consciousness stream is my goal. You seem to discount this
> goal and ask what other good goals come out of my life.

No. I discount this goal as a conflation with the goal of preserving your
life. They are distinct. One goal demands you preserve your "self;" this
goal remains mute on what the self is. Another goal demands that you
preserve your consciousness stream. This goal is substantially different
from the former, and I can find no motivation for asserting that these
goals are the same, or deserve the same weight.

> If I can't come up with any great purpose for my life, should I kill
> myself? Maybe I will think up a great purpose later. For now, maybe
> I'll just stick around for the entertainment value. Continuing
> consciousness is a goal in and of itself. If this stops, why would I
> care about any other goals that occur afterwards?

Again, I can grant you all this. I'm more than happy to say that my life
is an end in itself. But I have to choose what constitutes me. Are you
going to take the hard line that "defining myself as a consciousness
stream" is an end in and of itself? If so, then I suppose I really can't
persuade you to give it up. But I bet you don't take defining to be an
intrinsic goal, that you've taken it up on account of other goals that you


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

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