Sincere Questions on Identity

From: Dickey, Michael F (
Date: Wed Dec 12 2001 - 14:45:07 MST

Sincerely, I hate to bring this subject up again, but it has been running
through my mind. It seems a good number of the people on this list support
the assertion that a copy is 'you'. I have been taking the stance (along
with a minority it appears) that a copy is not you, but it is a copy. I
consider everyone I have interacted with and read posts from on this forum
very intelligent, and the lack of interest in this subject or responding to
my arguments suggest, to me at least, that perhaps my stance is wrong. If
so many well learned people do not consider the question important enough to
reply to, then perhaps they know something that I do not. Because this is
an issue of great importance to me (a matter of life and death, so to speak)
I was wondering if, perhaps, someone can enlighten me on the fallacies of my
argument. It is vitally important for me that I feel comfortable in the
manner in which I may end up surviving bodily death and that hopefully it
will indeed be 'me' and not a copy of me. But people on this list feel that
a 'copy' of me is actually indistinguishable from me, or IS me. I would
like to learn as much as I can about this position, as I am striving to
figure out what the most likely and simplest explanation for observed
phenomena is. If the heart of this argument can be relayed to me, perhaps I
will be able to feel solace in a copy of me surviving. Thanks for your

So far, the only arguments I have identified that argues against the
'continuity of consciousness' argument is the 'how do I know it hasn't
happened already' form and the 'you aren't made of the atoms you were made
of before'


For some example of the 'How do you know argument' from responses to my

"I, for one, cannot see the slightest value in "continuity of
consciousness", whatever that is. How is being destroyed and restored
from a backup any different from the perfectly ordinary experience of taking
a whack on the head a waking up a few minutes later?"

"Its *you* as of the time of the backup if the backup and restoration
methods are completely loss less. Any other perspective is to argue
"consciousness" has some basis in non-physical phenomena."

"Your consciousness continues just like it would if you got bumped on the
head and "forgot" the last three days of your life"

"The continuity of consciousness view seems to be held by at least some
transhumanists. How this view can be held when many people have clearly
lived through a period of complete cessation of neural activity I don't

"how can you be sure that you don't die every night when you go to sleep and
that the conscious being who awakes the next morning is not a copy with the
same memories?

"If you were copied and murdered last night would you feel one bit different

I feel I have to delve into philosophy of science a little bit here.
Getting copied in a destructive manner is different from getting whacked on
the head and waking up a few minutes later in a few key areas 1) getting
whacked on the head does not destroy you 2) and the mechanism that houses
your consciousness never changes. There is no reason to suspect that I am a
different person (i.e. a copy) after getting whacked on the head because
there is no evidence suggesting that is the case.

I would argue that anything suggesting a continuity of consciousness between
an original and a copy necessarily implies that there is some supernatural
element to consciousness, unless you acknowledge that the copy is a
different being. Otherwise some common perceptual sense must hop from
original to copy, that would be unreasonable to assume scientifically.

Living through a session of complete neural cessation also does not involve
the changing of the physical mechanism housing the consciousness. It is
pretty obvious that going to sleep and waking up or experiencing a short
period of being clinically dead and then revived is a far cry from
physically incinerating a body and every atom and molecule and then
constructing an identical copy of it, as one scenario involves destruction
of some kind, and the other does not. How the view that these two scenarios
are indistinguishable can be held by a rational scientifically minded person
I don't know.

I can be reasonable sure that when I go to sleep at night I don't die for a
few reasons 1) Hooking me up to any kind of machine that measures brain
activity would never measure any absolute cessation in activity 2) My mind
and or body is not observed, on a nightly basis, to violently disappear in a
great flash of energy and the to suddenly reappear a few moments later in
another flash of energy 3) The molecules and atoms that make up my mind and
house my consciousness are never observed to change form or shape during the
course of the evening. In short, if all the evidence that exists suggest
that I am the same person, physically and psychically, when I went to sleep,
it is reasonable and scientific to assume that I am the same person that
wakes up.

I can also be reasonably sure that I was not murdered last night for the
same reasons above, in addition to the fact that no evidence suggest any
sort of violent struggle or murder, e.g. brains and blood splattered all
over the wall, with DNA that matches mine.

To elaborate a little further, there is a principle in science referred to
as Occam's Razor, that is 'The simplest explanation tends to be the correct
one' or it is assumed to be the correct one depending on your
interpretation. A prime example is the question of the existence of the
Universe. If one is to say that the universe exists and the reason for that
is that God created the universe, the next question obviously is who created
god. Only three logical possibilities exist, 1) that god created himself,
2) that he was created by another god or 3) that he was always there. If
one presumes that the universe must have been created because it is so
complex, then it would follow that any being that created the universe must
be pretty complex as well to create such a complex thing. Yet this just
moves the goal post back, who created this more complex being? If you
assume that God created itself or was always there, then it is just
reasonable to assume that the universe created itself or was always there,
in fact, once you add an arbitrary concept when attempting to explain
something (the presence of the universe) then it makes no difference to add
an infinite number of them. For example, saying the Universe was created by
God is functionally no different then saying the universe was created by God
who was created by another god who was created by a giant turtle who was
created by a giant robot who was created by a super alien ad infanitum.
There is no evidence to distinguish these lines of reasoning, the only line
of reasoning that is scientifically supported is that the Universe exists,
and does not require a supernatural source.

Similarly, saying that while you sleep it is possible you were destroyed,
copied, and resurrected is adding arbitrary entities to an observed
situation. If observed one would find that I sleep through the night,
undisturbed, no murders, no transporters, no spontaneous flashes of energy
associated with my body vaporizing. Since none of these things can be
observed to occur, arguing that they could have because you cant prove other
wise is anti scientific, as you can not prove a negative, and these
occurrences are arbitrary entities not based in any factual observations.

Conversely, should I be destroyed, copied, then resurrected, the instances
could indeed be observed. The destroying, the massive room sized scanner
moving and spinning around my head, and the room sized molecular
construction system creating a copy of me.


The 'you are always changing' argument, example from responses to my post...

"What exactly do you mean by "The Original" anyway, all your atoms are in a
constant state of flux, you really aren't the man you were a year ago."

As I pointed out in my original response to this, replacing one atom at a
time is far different from replacing all atoms at once. The actual process
the brain goes through ends up slowly replacing your atoms and molecules
over a vast length of time, any particular atom could remain in the system
for years on end. Comparing this slow repairing and modifying process with
a rapid total destruction of a system is logically fallacious. The RATE of
the replacement is the key difference. My atoms are replaced over a wide
spanse of time, and at any given time the majority of the physiological
mechanism that makes up my brain and my consciousness is unaffected. If you
compare the difference between replacing one neuron at a time with a
hardware equivalent vs. replacing ALL of them through a destructive scanning
method, it becomes obvious that there is quite a functional difference
between then two. It seems unreasonable to think replacing ONE neuron of
100 billion billion neurons has the same effect as replacing 100 billion
billion neurons while destroying the original neurons.


Harvey, in response to my comments later says when summing up the arguments

"The argument finally boils down, in my opinion, to semantics. Given the
definition of identity that claims the two copies are separate, we can prove
that the two copies are separate. Given the definition of identity that
claims all copies are the same individual, we can prove that all copies are
the same individual."

Anders says

"The problem is that we end up in semantics while really trying to say
something relevant about selfhood."

This sounds like circular reasoning to me, that is, assuming the conclusion
as a premise. If we look at the simplest explanation that the evidence
points to, it is reasonable to assume (and scientific) that you do not die
and get copied while you sleep, and that you are the same person after being
whacked on the head. I do not see it as a semantics argument, as we are not
arguing about the definition of what it means to be me. We are making an
observational claim that if you were to copy my neural pattern and recreate
it with a new set of atoms and molecules, that 'person' which is both a
neural pattern and a group of molecules exists independently from me, and I
am not aware of its thoughts and hopes and dreams, and it is not aware of

Damien later says

"This *doesn't* mean their fallible sense of conviction is *valid*, any more
than a surviving soldier's faith in God supports the existence of this
imaginary contrivance--although in both cases, I'm sure the experience would
`confirm' the prejudice."

Important point to emphasize, no matter how strongly one believes something
to be true, whether a copy is me or whether a copy is not, it has no bearing
upon reality and the way the world actually works. In fact, to determine
the way the world works, we must examine it through tests and experiments.
If I am most concerned with myself surviving physical death, I should be
concerned with the way the universe actually works. A simple thought
experiment seems to me reasonable enough to prove that a copy is not me, as
I mentioned before, if a copy is made with a passive scanning system and we
are both revived, do we perceive the same thing? If my copy is brought to
another room, can I see what it sees? If so, I would concur that we are the
same individual being, and that I would have had continuity of consciousness
had I not been revived, but this indeed would imply some sort of
supernatural link between the entities. But since I probably could not see
what he sees or experience what he experiences, it is certainly reasonable
to assume that he is NOT me, and that I would have had no continuity
consciousness, and that he is a copy.

Even Max acknowledges this when he says

"Parfitians (myself included) tend to agree with some functionalists and
disagree with John, saying that an identical copy of me is not me"

Of course, he goes on to downplay the importance of this distinction,
stating that

"we don't think that identity is what matters. What matters is psychological
connectedness and continuity."

It may not matter to him, directly, if he survives bodily death in a
continous manner of awareness, but it would matter to me.

Now, the point must be conceded that if ones top priority was to bring the
things they would have brought into the world in, then a copy will certainly
suffice. I would like to think that I can bring something into the world
from my existence, so having a copy would be preferable over no copy, but it
still is not *me* as far as the evidence suggests and I would not experience
a continuity of consciousness and for all intents and purposes could be
considered dead. I would place the highest priority on my continuity of
consciousness, followed closely by a copy being brought into existence.
But, I think, in this case, if reality can not prove a stance either way, it
would be best to err on the side of caution.


Some other comments I received...

"I believe that if the copy has all your thoughts and experiences, and a
continuity of consciousness, then he (not it) feels like " the
original you" has perceived a waking up sensation. I would say that this
statement is identical to "the original me perceives a waking up


"I think that if the copy feels continuity between the original you and
himself, then you wake up and live on. Unfortunately there appears to be no
way to establish an operative difference between this position and yours."

I think that the thought experiment I relayed above suggests there is an
operative difference between these positions. If the premise is that a copy
is me, then since I am aware of things I do, and a copy is me, I should be
aware of the things a copy does. It does not seem likely that this would be
the case if this experiment were actually performed. Though I must admit I
would be glad if it did turn out this way.

Lee Daniel Crocker suggested that the argument is pointless and it is more
important to discuss the rights of the copy, stating

"These are actual questions of fact, and concerns to think about. Which of
the lumps of flesh is "me" is just mental masturbation."

But I must disagree, since this assertion is testable under these
circumstances. Again, If a copy is me, and I experience the things I do,
then it follows that I would experience the things a copy does, since that
copy is me. This is an easily testable phenomena, but I think we can guess
what the outcome of the test would be until it is a test that is

In conclusion, I am really trying to understand what I am missing in this
argument, if so many people are so sure the point is irrelevant, what am I
not realizing?

Given the though experiment outlined ".... If we copied your neural pattern
and created a duplicate of it, while still keeping you intact, and woke you
both up, what would happen? If we took your copy into another room, would
you be experiencing subjectively what your copy was? I doubt it. Therefore
the copies 'waking up' and continuity of consciousness is different and
isolated from yours." what would be a good argument discrediting the
validity of this thought experiment.

Concerned about my well being...


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