Re: Identity

Void where inhibited (
Sun, 22 Nov 1998 12:54:01 -0500 (EST)

On Sun, 22 Nov 1998, John Clark wrote:

> I'm not sure what you're driving at here, if it's that they're identical but not
> the same it's a distinction without consequences.

The distinction is tricky to understand; it stems from the fact that in English our adjectives "same" and "identical" don't change when they're referring to two identical objects or one object identical to itself. I'm saying that two objects are "identical" if they are indiscernable. On the other hand, two objects, no matter how identical, are two objects, not one. The difference between two objects and one object IS discernable, and since it is, I won't be mistaking two green cubes for one Green Cube.

> >But despite the fact that these two objects (dos, duo, not 1 or
> >3; four is right out!) are identical, they are not the "same
> >object." They are: *two* *indiscernable* objects.
> Who cares? It wouldn't matter how many objects there were or which one I had
> if I couldn't discern the difference.

It certainly does matter HOW MANY you have, though not WHICH you have. If you had a million indiscernable dollars sitting in a computerized bank account, would you be happy giving me $999,999 of them so long as you still had one? I should hope not. On the other hand, I don't think either you or I would give a fig either way about which dollar you kept; they're all the same, you know.

> And the things we value most are
> not objects at all, they're attributes. If there are 2 green cubes
> there may be two objects but there is only one "green", and only one
> "2" and only one "cube". I don't need to conjure up Plato and there is nothing
> metaphysical or mystical in this, it's just that not everything is a noun. The
> wonderful thing about computers is that they work great with adjectives, they
> can describe matter in great detail.

This is what I meant by Plato's heaven. Just like how Platonic philosophers imagine that there is a pure form of green which exists apart from the green things, so must there be a "cube" separate from our cubes and a "2" separate from our pair. Where is this one "green" of which you speak? Where is the "two?" Can you show it to me? Can you point at it? Can it be demonstrated by experiment? If not, how do you know it exists? :)

Joviality aside, we could define the One True Green to be the set of all green things. In this case, so long as there is a green thing, the Green still exists. I presume that this is how you're defining your consciousness: so long as there is a "John Clark"ness out there, you're still conscious, where the "John Clark"ness is the set of all matter which is organized in a Johnclarkian way.

> >How does this relate to consciousness?
> It makes my job even easier if I'm allowed to deal with more abstract stuff and
> not just concrete objects. It doesn't matter if there are two identical brains
> or only one because consciousness doesn't have a position in space. Looking for
> consciousness in the brain is like looking for "fast" in the engine of a racing
> car. I am not an object, I am not a noun, I am an adjective modifying matter, I
> am the way matter behaves when it is organized in a Johnclarkian way. The
> Johnclarkian way is vastly more complex than the "green" way or the "2" way, or
> the "cube" way, and it's far rarer too, but it's a difference of degree not of kind.

But is your consciousness actually correlated with the set of all things Johnclarkian? Or is your consciousness attached to your current instantiation? If I've got two green cubes, and smash one, what happens to the second cube's greenness? If the second cube's greenness is simply the Green, defined above, then there is a little less Green in the world. On the other hand, if greenness is tied up in the cube, then smashing one cube's greenness will destroy the greenness contained within. Similarly, engines are fast, but if I destroy the engine, it will lose its speed.

I happen to think that there is no such thing as a Green; that's what I meant by the non-existence of Plato's heaven.

Anyway, this matters not a bit, because the act of destroying one copy and not the other will break the identity. If I shoot one in the chest, that one will suffer a sucking chest wound; this person is now different from the other one who is still healthy. Therefore, we can't use the fact that the two copies were once so close as to satisfy IoI to justify the death of one of them, particularly if the copy doesn't want to die.

The question as to whether your consciousness resides in the set of all things organized in a "you" way or whether other yous would have individual consciousnesses is irrelevant to the ethical/pragmatic question of whether it would be OK for a copy to die. The answer is still "only if the copies think it's OK."

> >it seems not at all unreasonable that the copies might be
> >willing to die so that the other one would live.
> It's just as reasonable (or unreasonable) that the original would be willing to
> die so that the copy could live.

<nodnod> They're indiscernable.

> >We see this all the time in parents willing to give their own lives for
> >their children. [...] I'd be inclined to think that they'd be MUCH more willing
> >to do so, since (at least for a fraction of a second) they'd even satisfy the
> >conditions for Identity of Indiscernables: for a brief moment, they'd be
> >identical *in every way*.
> The trouble is that all would feel exactly the same way so everybody would kill
> themselves.

Don't be silly. I'm talking about something like the random number generator you discuss below, or, more realistically, all the copies risking their lives so that at least one copy might live. If me and a half-dozen of my copies were facing a man armed with 6 bullets... etc.

> If there were 10 identical copies of me running in parallel and I had a machine
> that would pick one copy at random to survive and at the same instant destroy
> the other 9 copies then I wouldn't mind pushing the button. The other 9 John
> Clarks would of course have exactly the same opinion.

Of course they would. But that's a personal choice that you'd be making, not based on necessary and inviolable physical principles.