Re: evolution and "I"

Michael Wiik (
Fri, 30 Aug 1996 09:55:53 -0700 (PDT)

Tim Robbins writes:
> In response to de Vries:
> <As I see it, immortalists can be divided into two groups: those who
> want to live on through there current minds and/or bodies, and those
> who don`t care how the "I" fits into the picture as long as the
> descendants are "better" than the current version of "I".>

I'm a converted Extropian, or, at the least, a converted libertarian.
I used to be quite the liberal but was always a little uncomfortable
with that. Nonetheless, I still feel that deep within the extropian
philosophy there are inherent contradictions that will remain subtle
until forced to the foreground by what I see as a looming Singularity
of possibility.

I haven't read all that much on the nature of identity, and need to read
Max's paper on this, but to me it seems an illusion. Let me illustrate
with an example:

Moravec writes (in _Mind Children_) about where the seat of identity
is located. He points out that as long as your brain is intact, you can
lose limbs and still feel you are the same person. I think this is an
illusion caused by shared memory with the person you were previously.
For example, if I lose a finger, I may still think I'm the same person,
but I'm not, and will have to go thru a life with constant reminders
that I'm missing a finger (I'm leaving out surgical/prosthetic options
for this example). Let's expand on this with a scenario in which your
spouse or loved one has a horrible accident:

Option A is to save your spouse or loved one, except that he or she will
be wheelchair-bound forever, with missing limbs and other (non-brain)
damage. To the victim, he or she is still the same person, though they
(and you) will have to adjust to a considerably different life.

Option B is to replace this person with an exact clone, copying memories
and so forth exactly. To you, this is the same person, although the
person's original "I" is dead. However, everything you loved about the
person, including memories, emotions, personaility, etc. is the same.

I get the feeling that people would choose option A for themselves
but option B for their loved ones. To make the choice even more difficult
imagine that the loved one is also the primary provider for you and
your family, and that option A means a lifetime of poverty and unending
medical bills.

Personally, I'm a different person after breakfast than before. I change
all the time, as I suspect everyone else does too. Given advanced
technology, I'd change myself even further. Maybe if you edit yourself
only a little each day you can keep the illusion of continuous

I guess it comes down to my belief that the concept of identity will
change considerably for transhumans and posthumans. Once you start
spinning off replicants ("partials" in Greg Bear's lingo from Eon),
re-integrating these later on, mixing memories with those of other
people, editing your core beliefs, etc, things will get so hairy that
I doubt we can even think intelligently about what the results will be.
(But please try! It's of intense interest to me! :)