Re: personal identity

Hal Finney (
Fri, 9 Jan 1998 09:07:33 -0800

Harvey Newstrom, <>, writes:
> Wei Dai wrote:
> >
> > On Thu, Jan 08, 1998 at 09:32:08AM -0500, Harvey Newstrom wrote:
> > > Worse still, what if all your identity data were printed out in a book?
> > > Would a paperback be "you"?
> >
> > I would say yes. If you answer differently, try this question instead: is
> > a cryogenically frozen head of yours you? What if the only way to revive
> > it is to completely take it apart molecule by molecule and put it back
> > together again? I see no essential difference between this situation and
> > the book.
> I would say no, the book is not me. It may be a blueprint or set of
> instructions for rebuilding me. If someone follows the instructions in
> the book and somehow brings me back, then I would be back as me. But I
> don't think the information about me or about rebuilding me equals me.
> I am signed up at Alcor for suspension. I would feel cheated if instead
> of freezing my body they published a book entitled "All About Harvey
> Newstrom."

This brings to mind Hofstadter's essay "A Conversation with Einstein's
Brain", in The Mind's Eye, by Hofstadter and Dennett. In the essay is
a book which is all about Einstein, having a complete model of his brain.
Here is a brief description I found on the web:

> A typical conversation might go something like the following: A person
> writes down the statement,"How are you feeling?" onto the first page. The
> person then reads and carries out the indicated rules for transforming
> the written statement into simulated auditory stimuli and then into
> a myriad of neuron and synapse firings and inhibitions. Finally the
> responses from the speech generation centers are translated back into
> the written message, " I'm not feeling anything you idiot, I'm a book!"

(Actually I don't think the book would say that, since it would not
be initially aware that it was a book, and it would in fact at least
simulate feeling things. Rather, it would say something like, "I can't
see and my body feels strange, but I hear you OK and my thinking seems
normal enough.")

If Alcor restored you as a book, it would not be fundamentally different
from restoring you as an upload who was not currently being run, or
as a person who was still in suspension. The flaw is not in the fact
that you are a book vs software vs meat, but that there may not be any
provision to actually run the program and allow you to experience life.

If Alcor did provide such a means, some person or robot who would
go through the process of updating the book and allowing you to have
conversations and experiences, you might complain about your slow speed
compared to the rest of the world, or possibly the limited quality of
your I/O (depending on how much was incorporated in the book) but you
would not have the right to complain that your resurrection had failed.