X-Message-Number: 32846
Date: Tue, 21 Sep 2010 00:23:03 -0700
Subject: Identity is as Identity Does
From: Brian Wowk <>

I read with interest Bob Ettinger's recent remarks about Mark Gubrud's
piece in The New Atlantis.


Although I have not been around as long Bob, I have nevertheless
observed arguments about uploading, identity duplication, and related
subjects for decades.  In all that time there are two things I've
never seen: (a) A truly new argument, and (b) Someone change their
mind.  What is seen are people who passionately believe they are
correct, and who believe that they have just the argument to finally
convince the other side that they are right.  They never do.

I have come to believe that the question of whether a computationally
equivalent duplicate of a human mind (assuming equivalence in this
context is even definable) constitutes a continuation of the original
person may be objectively unanswerable.  It's almost a matter of
taste, like alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics that
assume different underlying realities that give exactly the same
measurable results.

Eventually the distant day will come when the computational processes
of a human brain are duplicated in an electronic computer, or even in
another identical organic substrate.  When that day comes, we can be
certain of this: If the person who was "duplicated" believed before
duplication that duplication constitutes survival of the self, then,
by definition, the duplicated entity will insist vociferously that
indeed they did survive.  This has ethical implications.  Conversely,
an entity derived from a person who did not believe in this form of
survival might be quite unhappy to be told that they were the product
of a destructive scan of somebody.  This too has ethical implications.

Philosophical truth aside, evolution selects against humans who spend
time worrying about whether sleep, anesthesia, or biostasis endangers
personal identity.  Similarly, it is easy to predict which side of the
uploading and duplication debates will win in the long term.  There is
no entity more invulnerable or fecund than one that believes it
consists of information.

---Brian Wowk

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