Re: [UPLOADING] Is the original alive?

Harvey Newstrom (
Thu, 16 Jul 1998 18:03:49 -0400

Hal Finney <> wrote:
> I did not engage in any such discussion.

Oops. I apologize if I got attributes wrong. I don't mean to confuse things any more than they already are!

> You might also consider what would happen if you do an autopsy and when
> you open the skull you find only a radio transceiver, with transducers
> interfacing to all the nerves which come into the brain. The body was
> being tele-operated by a brain (or computer?) elsewhere.

Then I would think that the consciousness was wherever the brain was. If the brain was transplanted out of the original body into a new body, it is clear to me that the consciousness followed. If the brain remains in the original body unchanged by the procedure, it is not clear to me if the consciousness is elsewhere.

> Let me add one other point. In my opinion, the "alive vs dead" distinction
> is not the central point. The central issue is consciousness, whether it
> is terminated or (potentially) continues.

Agreed. I think many people are confusing the questions here. The question "is the copy me?" is a totally different question from "is the original me?". The goal of preserving our current original consciousness must choose to save the original, the copy, both, neither, or either. Many different scenarios are all being lumped together and confused in these conversations.

> It should also become possible to create conscious systems which are not
> "alive" by most definitions. If I load an AI program into my computer so
> that it can think, reason, feel, etc., it still would not have most of the
> properties generally associated with life. It would be conscious but not
> "alive".

Yes, I agree with this. Your point is well taken that the whole concept of "alive" or "dead" is not really central to the question of continuing consciousness. It now appears that my original question using the word "alive" was vague and ill-conceived. It may not express my true concerns or question very well at all.

> Consciousness, in my view, is an information-processing activity. A given
> instance of consciousness is defined by its state and its transitions as
> it processes information.

This implies that you think all identical model Pentium II's running identical copies of Windows 98 are all the same PC. The PC's are all the identical body. The software is all the same program. The documents on the disk are all the same information. Are these all the same PC? Would you count PC's sold by gateway based on what was loaded in their memory or harddrives rather than counting boxes, locations, or distinct physical entities?

> As long as this information which defines the
> consciousness is preserved, it has the potential of continuing. Rather
> than trying to stay alive, we should try to preserve our consciousness,
> in this sense.

This implies that I shouldn't worry if my PC crashes, as long as an identical PC somewhere with the same program continues on.

> So seeing a dead body does not by itself give you enough information
> to judge whether the information which defines the consciousness, the
> "person", it embodied, has been lost. Rather than focusing on death vs
> life, the issue is better dealt with in informational terms, in my
> opinion.

Agreed. Seeing the original body tells me that the original program is no longer functional or experiencing, but gives me no information about any possible copies. Seeing a copy tells me that the copy program is still functional and experiencing, but gives me no information about the possible states of the original. You cannot judge the copy's state by looking at the original, or the original's state by looking at the copy. This latter judgement seems to be the one that copy-and-kill advocates seem to be making.

I think we must somehow follow the original consciousness to see where it ends up. If we follow it to the new body, that would be success. If we follow it to the dead body, then that would be failure.

Harvey Newstrom                                   <>
Author, Engineer, Entrepreneur,              <>
Consultant, Researcher, Scientist.           <ldap://>