Re: IDENTITY- What it means to be 'me'

From: Max More (
Date: Sun Dec 02 2001 - 01:09:04 MST

At 09:44 PM 12/1/01, John K. Clark wrote:

>do you think you're more like a symphony or more like a brick?

Depends on the time of day. Late afternoon -- brick, no question. Late
evening -- symphony, or maybe melodic trance.

Rather than getting into this debate again, I'll just make a meta comment.

The range of views among transhumanists on the issue of personal identity
is wide, yet we cluster more tightly than the general population. I think
you could roughly (and with some twisting) array the positions along a
spectrum, with probably all of us towards the more permissive end and most
people on the more restrictive end.







Identity theorists (reductive materialists) have a miserable time, because
they believe they *are* their current physical instantiation. No uploading
for them, and (on most interpretations) no superlongevity through gradual
replacement of biology by non-biological components.

Dualists allow that you can survive the death of your body, but you have
one and only one soul. Presumably if souls were thought to be mortal, they
would be unhappy as they would have no recourse. Reincarnations hold what I
find to be an incoherent view. They identify with a soul that is totally
separate from any personality. (If their view were correct, I would have to
say that I didn't care if I died, so long as my personality survived.)

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 know.

Functionalism covers a wide range of views in itself. (I set out four of
the possible views here: ) Most
transhumanists would fall into the functionalist camp, whether they are
familiar with the category or not. John Clark is clearly some kind of
functionalist. But other perfectly good functionalists cannot accept John's
view that an identical copy of a person is that person.

Parfitians (myself included) tend to agree with some functionalists and
disagree with John, saying that an identical copy of me is not me. However,
we are actually closer to John in that we don't think that identity is what
matters. What matters is psychological connectedness and continuity. So, in
practice, we are pretty close to John's view. I would not be happy about
being destroyed while my life was taken over by a copy made weeks before I
was destroyed, but I would far prefer than to destruction and no copying.
The more you cut down the overlap, the less disturbed I would be. If you
don't activate the copy until after I'm gone, I find it hard to see what's

Moravecians, however, go much too far in the direction of abstracting from
matter. As I've said to Hans, this view is suicidal in practice. While Hans
used to look forward to being uploaded -- having the crucial aspects of his
identity transferred to another, more powerful medium, he no longer cares.
He's eaten the lotus of Platonism. Now he believes that every potential
pattern already exists given some sufficiently clever interpretation of any
object. It's a kind of bizarre, Platonist panpsychism of all (possible) selves.

This spectrum of views doesn't cover the whole range, even among
transhumanists. For instance, orthogonal to these distinctions, you get the
views of someone like Mike Perry (author of Forever For All). Mike's view
is that you survive only so long as your current memories survive). While I
agree with Mike's views in other respects, my own Parfitian perspective
says that I am a process, not a static state. I would prefer to maintain my
memories (even the most painful ones), but I will survive into the future
even if I forget everything about Max-2001... just so long as Max-2001
leads to Max-2002 and so on, in the appropriate way. Max-2001 is a
person-stage rather than a person.

Well that's enough. Time to go to bed.

I'll wake up a new man.


Max More, Ph.D. or
Strategic Philosopher
President, Extropy Institute. <>

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