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How do you know you're you? - Input Junkie
November 15th, 2013
10:17 am

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How do you know you're you?
In a recent discussion of whether you can tell that someone has been resurrected accurately enough*, I said:

"I may be kidding myself, but I think of my identity as being at least as much tied up in something about how my experience usually feels as it's tied up with my memory.

I do care a lot about my knowledge of golden age sf, and was upset when I lost access to it after trying welbutrin briefly. (I don't know how often this sort of thing happens, but it damaged my access to long term memory for months. It was bad for my short term memory, too.) However, I think I'd still be me in some important sense if I cared about something else the way I care about sf, and wouldn't be me if I cared about sf in some other way. This is getting hard to define, because when I think about, I'm not sure about other ways of caring about sf. There are other people with much better memories of the details, and I wouldn't mind having that. I'm pretty sure I'd still be me if I could put a lot of work into trying to figure out who Severian's parents are. (Gene Wolfe, Book of the New Sun). I'm not sure I'd be me if I developed a huge preference for science fiction vs. fantasy or vice versa.

Here's one: a major thing I want from sf is the feeling of spending some time in a world which is different from and more interesting than this world. I can enjoy nitpicking the world-building, but it's not a primary pleasure.

A while ago, I tried D-phenylalanine, and I dropped it because I didn't feel like me. Sorry, too long ago to remember details.

I have a sense of rightness which drives the way I do calligraphy. I wouldn't want to lose that, but having a sense of rightness is an important part of how I approach creativity and I'd want to have something else it applied to. I'm not sure everyone else does it that way.

It's not that memory or physical continuity are nothing to me, but I can tell I'm me because I feel like me. If I became someone who found their identity in their memories, I'd be someone else. And if you resurrected someone who looked like me and did calligraphy like me, but who found their identity in their memory, you've gotten it wrong, at least by my standards. Not that the pseudo-me would necessarily care, and I'm not sure about whether you're obligated to care."

How can you tell you're you?

Possibly one of the ways you can tell I'm me is that I'm not taking a crack at the possibly harder question of what you'd want from resurrecting someone else.

*Edited to add: I don't think the summary was quite accurate. The link is about trying to even figure out what you mean when you say you want the same person back.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1025039.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:whswhs
Date:November 15th, 2013 05:26 pm (UTC)
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Are we assuming that I am me? Or are we addressing this question, say, to a hypothetical person who lives in a society where some form of uploading is available?

If I had all the memories I have now, but I knew that I was a mind emulation running on some sort of digital system, I would say that I definitely was not "me," but that I was a digital intelligence who had the memories of an organic person. This might be experientially obvious—if, say, I was in a large immobile computer with cameras and microphones, or was getting perceptions from a coarse-grained virtual reality, or was in an obviously artificial body—but even if I was in a body that was exactly like my current organic one, I would believe this if I knew that I was a mind emulation. Mind emulation as usually described (there are exceptions, such as the version Kurzweil proposes in The Singularity Is Near) is not survival but reproduction.

In other words, I'm not going to think of it solely in terms of some form of experiential test. Personal experience is not always a guarantee of objective truth. That way lies the idea that if your god module gets triggered, whatever sort of religious experience you have demonstrates the truth of your particular religious beliefs—which is obviously wrong, because people with entirely incompatible beliefs have religious experiences that seem authentic and compelling to them.
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From:selenite
Date:November 15th, 2013 05:40 pm (UTC)
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This is roughly my objection to cryogenics. No one's convinced me that the revived body would be *me* rather than the equivalent of a new clone sharing my DNA.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 15th, 2013 05:50 pm (UTC)
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Do you think the revived version would have any of your memories?
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From:whswhs
Date:November 15th, 2013 07:19 pm (UTC)
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I personally don't think that's decisive.

Here's one of my thought experiments: There is a structure deep down in the core of the brain that can be blown out by a stroke. If you blow out half of it, not only does the person suffer lateral paralysis, but they cease to identify one side of their body as part of them (and will ask "who put this other person's leg in my bed?") and they can only perceive one side of a clock. If you blow out the whole thing, they experience irreversible loss of consciousness.

So suppose we develop a nanoengineered digital emulation device for this, and plant it in the center of the brain. The new person will have all of the same memories—it's the same brain, after all. But will they be the same person? It seems that they will be a different consciousness that has been implanted in the old body and brain. Perhaps they will even think of the original person in the third person. I'm not convinced that shared memories are critical.
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From:siderea
Date:November 16th, 2013 02:10 am (UTC)
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So there's this SF story by Daryl Gregory, called "Second Person, Present Tense"....
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From:selenite
Date:November 16th, 2013 01:39 am (UTC)
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I have no idea, and the burden of proof is on the advocates.
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From:agrumer
Date:November 15th, 2013 09:58 pm (UTC)
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How certain are you that you’re the same person today that you were yesterday?
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From:selenite
Date:November 16th, 2013 01:40 am (UTC)
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Enough for all practical purposes.
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From:whswhs
Date:November 16th, 2013 04:14 am (UTC)
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Completely. I don't assign nonzero probabilities to hypotheses unless there is some actual reason to do so; the fact that I am capable of error is not a reason to suppose that I am in error in a particular case, and still less to suppose that I am in error in a particular hypothetical way. I don't do Cartesian doubt.
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From:elenbarathi
Date:November 16th, 2013 06:34 am (UTC)
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*applauds* Well said!
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From:metahacker
Date:November 16th, 2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
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There are some interesting assumptions in your probability assessment!

I am 100% certain I am not the same person today I was yesterday. It's physically impossible. If I were, that would be horrible; I'd be stuck in some sort of stasis.

I have many of the memories of the person I was yesterday. But I'm not them. I'm also not the me that existed an hour ago.

We die every moment, to be carried along by the next "us". The experience seems seamless, because the alternative is quite horrible to comprehend: the we of now is ephemeral, fleeting, and gone every few seconds.

A version of me that woke from, say, perfect cryostasis would be as similar to me as the one who wakes up tomorrow. As we travel further into the realm of science fiction, a perfect copy of me would awake similarly. Which is the "real" me? A meaningless question. Neither of them. The real *me* vanished a second ago; a new me has picked up the torch and is carrying it forward--just like the new "me" from cryo or from the copy would do.

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From:elenbarathi
Date:November 16th, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC)
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"The experience seems seamless, because the alternative is quite horrible to comprehend: the we of now is ephemeral, fleeting, and gone every few seconds."

Well, not so horrible - that's the basic premise of Buddhism, after all, and millions of people have spent a lot of time trying to comprehend it. It's like one's life is a wave - just one of an endless number of waves, that arise and subside and affect each other - and Consciousness is the surfer that rides one wave, fleetingly standing up on top and getting a glance around before the wave subsides. We're just patterns of motion; our much-vaunted egos are no more than sea-foam.

It's said that when people actually manage to grok this, their usual response is to laugh and laugh.

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From:whswhs
Date:November 17th, 2013 06:34 pm (UTC)
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But when I refer to myself, I am not talking about my ego or any such conceptual structure. I'm referring to myself as a physical entity. I'm not a dualist, after all.
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From:whswhs
Date:November 17th, 2013 02:35 am (UTC)
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That seems to me to be a fallacious argument, of the kind that Wittgenstein's "ordinary language philosophy" is intended to immunize us against: It takes a term that has a well understood meaning in ordinary language, interprets it as having a different meaning, and then claims that because the assertion with that different meaning is false, the original claim is false. Technically this is a form of the fallacy of equivocation.

In this case the term is "the same." Or, in technical philosophical language, "identity."

You are taking "sameness" to be a question of "similarity." That is one form of identity, traditionally called qualitative identity (Aristotle distinguished a couple of variants of this, but that need not concern us). But it's not the only form. There is also numerical identity, or the identity of being the same entity at different points in time. Present-day philosophers treat numerical identity as an extreme case of qualitative identity, that of sharing not merely some but all attributes, but that's obviously wrong, the sort of error that it takes a brilliant logician like Leibniz to make: As you say, I share few attributes with the Bill Stoddard of, say, 1960, or the newborn infant of 1949 who later was named "Bill Stoddard." But he and I are numerically identical: we are at different points on the same continuous world line. We are, in the ordinary English meaning of the word, the same person. Any definition of "the same" or of "identity" that does not lead to this conclusion is a change of the meaning of the word, and therefore is not addressing the same question. And therefore the ordinary English meaning of the word cannot be about similarity.

It's possible, of course, to argue that the ordinary English meaning of "the same," like the ordinary English meaning of "phlogiston" or of "God," does not correspond to anything that actually exists. But that's a difficult claim to make in a consistent way. If there is no such thing as numerical identity, then when we set up a physical model and assign index numbers to the various objects in the model, those index numbers cannot be maintained, but can be randomly reassigned at any moment. And if there is no such thing as numerical identity, then when we calibrate a laboratory instrument, intending to use it to measure physical variables, we cannot assume that the instrument we use five minutes later to carry out those measurements is "the same" instrument, or that the calibration we performed has any relevance to it; so the whole evidential basis for physics falls apart.

In the sense of numerical identity, I am the same Bill Stoddard who was posting to this thread a day or two ago, and the same one who first encountered the Internet a decade or two ago, and the same one who was born in 1949. And on the other hand, if you could scan me and create a copy of me exact to the limit of resolution permitted by the Heisenberg inequality—as similar as possible—that would not be numerically me. For one thing, we could in principle look at each other across a room, and each would see someone who was not him.

My uncle owns the axe that Abraham Lincoln used to split rails. Of course, it's had five new blades and eight new handles since then, but it's the same axe.
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From:siderea
Date:November 16th, 2013 04:54 am (UTC)
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That seems to me to be a less interesting question than, "How certain are you that you won't like being whomever you are tomorrow, whether that's the 'same' or 'different'?"

After all, we (in our culture at least) apparently have a strong bias towards the status quo of our experience of self, whatever that is.

This isn't a mere philosophical diversion. I'm a psychotherapist. Helping people cope with change -- others' and their own, the invited and the unwelcome -- is what I do. "Will I still be me if I'm someone who isn't angry about what happened to me?" is not a rhetorical sort of question in my professional life.
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From:metahacker
Date:November 16th, 2013 05:20 pm (UTC)
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How does this all get combined with the thing where we look to our past actions to decide what is in our character?

I'm thinking of the "I gave that guy a dollar...I guess I'm generous" tendency (even if the dollar-giving was engineered by an experiment), or "I slammed that door--I must be angry!".


"Will I still be me if I'm someone who isn't angry about what happened to me?" is not a rhetorical sort of question in my professional life.

Indeed.
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From:siderea
Date:November 16th, 2013 10:49 pm (UTC)
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How does this all get combined with the thing where we look to our past actions to decide what is in our character?

I'm thinking of the "I gave that guy a dollar...I guess I'm generous" tendency (even if the dollar-giving was engineered by an experiment), or "I slammed that door--I must be angry!".


By default, we (at least in our culture) cherry-pick ruthlessly to substantiate whichever characterological traits we wish a priori to ascribe to ourselves. "I want so badly to think of myself as generous, well, hey, that dollar the experimenter had me carry across the room to that other guy totally counts towards that."

Our culture... doesn't have a very healthy relationship to identity and character.

Narrative Therapy, btw, as I understand it (which is weakly) is the fine art of helping the patient cherry-pick a different set of data in support of a more functional characterological agenda.
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From:elenbarathi
Date:November 16th, 2013 09:32 pm (UTC)
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"That seems to me to be a less interesting question than, "How certain are you that you won't like being whomever you are tomorrow, whether that's the 'same' or 'different'?"

Oh, well-put. There are a lot of people with 'Anywhere But Here, Anyone But Myself Syndrome': they believe that if they could only be transported to some other place, or they could magically change all the things they don't like about themselves, they'd be happy. Usually they avoid challenging this belief by staying firmly stuck where they are, but if they do manage to engage their emergency reaction-formation thrusters and escape to re-invent themselves elsewhere, they're not any happier, because they're still thinking in the same messed-up ways.

Gandhi said "Forgiveness is giving up the hope of a better past." I've found that to be a useful definition to tell my folk who hold on to their anger because they think forgiveness is saying that the past wasn't really bad.

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From:siderea
Date:November 16th, 2013 10:41 pm (UTC)
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to engage their emergency reaction-formation thrusters

AHAHAHAHAHAH oh, that's so going in my quotes file.

they're not any happier, because they're still thinking in the same messed-up ways.

In the spirit of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, though I entirely agree, I also entirely disagree, in that I believe place and context matter enormously to who we are, and the self that we manifest. Sure, sometimes it's projecting self-dissatisfaction outward, but sometimes it's a little bit of wisdom breaking through, that one of the things one can do to take responsibility for the self one is, is to change the self's context, and get the hell out of Dodge, and go someplace that will elicit or permit a better sort of self.
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From:elenbarathi
Date:November 17th, 2013 12:07 am (UTC)
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*bows and grins* Glad you like! The folk I look after are mostly geeks; they grok starship metaphors.

"sometimes it's a little bit of wisdom breaking through, that one of the things one can do to take responsibility for the self one is, is to change the self's context, and get the hell out of Dodge, and go someplace that will elicit or permit a better sort of self."

So true! One of mine got the hell out of horrible Kansas City with a single suitcase in April, to live a life of over-worked but alcohol- and abuse-free poverty here in the scenic Northwest. She has done valiantly, but the hard thing for her is not falling back into the decades-long patterns of rumination and shame. Especially now that the long nights and wet grey days have set in, and it might not seem such an improvement, to work all day and then go to bed in a friend's camper and listen to the rain on the roof, with no booze and no husband (however worthless.)

For those times, reaction-formation, revulsion at how one had been living, isn't enough. The emergency thrusters only work in emergencies; after the crisis is over, there's got to be a big overhaul of the navigational systems and the maintenance protocols, else they'll just go off course and break down again - assuming they even had any course laid in to begin with.
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From:bemused_leftist
Date:November 15th, 2013 06:37 pm (UTC)
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Some Buddhists have been working on this question for a couple of millenia, at least.
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From:siderea
Date:November 16th, 2013 02:33 am (UTC)
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A while ago, I tried D-phenylalanine, and I dropped it because I didn't feel like me.

Of course, "so I don't have to feel like me" is one of common motivations of intoxicant use and abuse.

So what you're really saying is that it made you feel not like you usually do, and in an unpleasant way. If it had made you feel differently, but in a way that you liked...

Well, that, that gets us to one of the key points of Listening to Prozac, a brilliant book about exactly these issues, which AFAICT the vast, vast majority of readers failed to understand in the most basic way.

The author wrote of cases of patients put on Prozac, who within 12 weeks of starting the drug, were describing how they felt on it as "I finally feel like myself" -- except these patients had been depressed for, in some cases, decades, indeed from adolescence, thereby raising the stunning question -- and the reason the author wrote the book, exploring this phenomenon, (and I paraphrase) "Why is this new self you've been for a mere 12 weeks the 'real' you, and the you you've been for the last 20 years, and the whole of your adulthood, suddenly the 'false' you? What exactly do we mean by 'the real me'? And isn't it very concerning that a medication can do that?"

And the American public read that, and.... jumped in their cars and drove to their doctors offices and demanded this drug which makes people "feel like themselves" for themselves. Thereby answering that final question with a resounding, "No, not to us it isn't."

I have tons more to say about identity and values and psychology and sense of self, but if you'll excuse me, the intoxicant store is going to close shortly.

Edited at 2013-11-16 02:35 am (UTC)
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From:elenbarathi
Date:November 16th, 2013 05:13 am (UTC)
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Dr. Peter Breggin, who wrote 'Talking Back To Prozac', explains the phenomenon as intoxication anosognosia. This is the same reason why drunks will insist and sincerely believe that they're not drunk; why stoned people think they're not acting stoned; why people who do cocaine insist that it improves their mental functioning.

I think that's probably true to a large extent, but I also think there's another factor - that when people say "I feel like my real self", what they mean is that the only difference they can feel is that they're not feeling bad - not 'high', but not anxious, not sad, not crushed under the weight of despair. 'Comfortably numb' is not actually the normal affect of a healthy, undrugged person, though, and drug-induced dissociation can hardly be considered a normal, healthy emotional state.

People with xenomelia feel that their own healthy, functional limbs aren't really theirs, and want them amputated. People with gender or species dysphoria feel that their entire bodies are the wrong sex or species. Some people believe that their bodies are not really *theirs* and that the life they're leading is not their real life. There are all kinds of different ways that a person's feelings and beliefs about their 'real self' can be in drastic contradiction to the observable facts.

If someone says he's known all his life that he's really a woman, or really a wolf, what does 'really' mean in that context? What if people who are unhappy with their lives because they think they're *really* wolves could take a drug that made them perceive themselves as wolves?

Edited at 2013-11-16 05:14 am (UTC)
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From:elenbarathi
Date:November 16th, 2013 06:26 am (UTC)
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How can I tell I'm me? Feedback loops. When I touch my cheek, I feel both the hand and the cheek. When I think about my thoughts, the thinking and the thoughts are both mine.

For sure, feedback loops can be broken. If my hand was numb, I might think it was someone else's hand touching me. If I could think about certain of my thoughts, but not control or change them, I might conclude that they weren't really *my* thoughts. If I had anosognosia after a stroke, I might believe that my explanations of why nothing, including my own body, had a left side were perfectly sensible and obvious, and that people who didn't accept them were just yanking my chain.

I am myself, that's all. It's not a matter of what I remember, or how I think I'm supposed to feel. I am an ego, a self-aware point-of-view. If my brain was damaged so that I was no longer aware of myself as existing as 'I', then 'I' would not exist. That's what's so scary about general anaesthesia. It's not like falling asleep; it's like being dead, because while it's going on, the brain-functions that generate self-awareness are shut down. If they didn't boot back up, one would be brain-dead, even if not physically dead.

Some peoples' egos shut down - for unknown reasons, they lose their 'I', their sense of themselves as a being - and when they reboot, they're an 'I' again, but not the same one. Such people are sometimes known as Walk-Ins, and there's a ton of New Age woo about them, but as far as I know, there've been no brain-scan studies about this yet.

Here's a couple of related articles:

The Brain: The Mystery of Consciousness

Belief in reincarnation tied to memory errors

My opinion is that consciousness is a function and product of the brain, and when the brain is no longer functional, the person is dead. I hold that 'resurrection' is right up there with all the other cool things humans would really, really like to do - like turning invisible or into an animal, or levitating objects - but will never be able to do because they contradict the fundamental rules of physical reality. Therefore, I say anyone who can be 'resurrected' was never really dead in the first place.


Edited at 2013-11-16 06:31 am (UTC)
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From:whswhs
Date:November 16th, 2013 07:53 am (UTC)
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That business about walk-ins is interesting, but I'd like a source that talks more about neuroscience and less about occultism that the article you link. Any suggestions?
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From:elenbarathi
Date:November 16th, 2013 09:07 am (UTC)
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Alas, no; I would like one too, but I haven't found any. That's the problem: neuroscientists haven't gotten around to studying what's going on in the brains of physically and mentally healthy people who 'died' as one ego and 'rebooted' as another, or who have more than one ego sharing the same brain, or feel and believe that they're *really* a wolf or a seal, or feel and believe they have a second 'shadow' body.

There are a lot more of such folk around than most people would suspect. Most of them do subscribe to traditional and/or New Age explanations for their experiences, because even if these are based on bad logic and worse evidence, at least they acknowledge that this stuff does happen, and provide some useful guidelines for dealing with it.

Up until recently, psychiatry has had the only alternate explanations, based on worse logic and zero evidence. That model holds that these things don't happen, that people who think they do are crazy, and that 'curing' them means convincing them that their experience was unreal (or that they should shut up about it.)

A book you might like is The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better. A few that I haven't read yet, but that sound very interesting, are The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are and Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain .

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From:whswhs
Date:November 16th, 2013 03:08 pm (UTC)
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Ah, Damasio. I have his The Feeling of What Happens, though I haven't found time to read more than the opening yet. I think I'm sympathetic to the whole conceptual scheme of "embodied cognition" and to the idea of the cognitive role of emotion.
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From:metahacker
Date:November 16th, 2013 05:11 pm (UTC)
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I can't remember--did you read Duplicate? It looks at some of this stuff...
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