Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

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Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby kromagnon » Mon Aug 31, 2009 3:53 pm UTC

I apologize if a similar thread has been made, I used the search tool, but this is sort of a complicated idea,so I might have missed it.

Are we just the sum of our parts?

The teleportation problem:

1)Disassemble a person atom by atom, transport the atoms(arbitrary distance) and re-assemble. Assuming the person is put back together properly most people would agree that it is the same person.

2)Disassemble a person atom by atom. Save the data of location, spin etc. Disregard original atoms. Assemble the person from a "pile" of "new" atoms. Is this the same person? They certainly believe they are the same person, they have all the same memories, feelings, and dreams.

3)If you answered "yes" to number 2:
Perform #2... Then re-assemble the person using the original atoms. Are they both the same person?
Take this a step further. Assume you are the person being teleported. Is there continuity of consciousness? In other words, which one are you? If I decide to punch one of you in the stomach, do you feel the pain, or do you see your new twin double over?


The brain surgery problem:

This is another way of thinking about #3 on the previous exercise.

Scientists make an exact replica of your brain, atom by atom.

1)They cut out a 1cm x 1cm x 1cm cube of your brain, and replace it with the appropriate cube from the replica brain.
You should notice no difference, right?

2)Repeat #1 until the entire brain is replica.At some point do you stop being "you"? Does your "instance" of consciousness get replaced at some percentage of replica brain? 50%?

3)The cut your brain right down the middle, and share the halves.... (Replica Left | Original Right) and (Original Left | Replica Right) Where does your "instance of consciousness" go? With the left or the right?


Hopefully this is thought provoking and hasn't been done before on these forums.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby Dark567 » Mon Aug 31, 2009 5:17 pm UTC

Well, there is no satisfying answer to these problems. The concepts of identity and consciousness are extreme abstractions of these underlying physical mechanisms. Truly I believe that once you look it on that low of a level that you have to say that every (milli)second that you exist you become a different person then you were before.(Because you lose a few atoms and gain a few others.)

Now lets say you freeze time and do #3 of the Teleportation problem. I would say they are different people because they are different atoms.

Now of course you could follow a non-physicalist approach(ie. we have a soul and it can't ever be copied) but I find that somewhat unappealing.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby qetzal » Mon Aug 31, 2009 5:52 pm UTC

I think much of the apparent difficulty lies in the ambiguous use and meanings of the word "same."

In teleportation problem #1, it's relatively easy to agree it's the same person in #1, since it's the same individual atoms in the same physical arrangement.

In #2, the newly assembled person is the same in the sense of being indistinguishable from the original, but different in that they are composed of distinguishable atoms. (Of course, the atoms are only distinguishable because they were kept physically separate.)

In teleportation problem #3, both the newly assembled (new atoms) person and the re-assembled (original atoms) person are initially the same in the sense that each is intrinsically indistiguishable from the other (and the original). In that sense, yes, they are both the same person. However, they are also physically distinct bodies occupying different space, so in that sense they are not the same person. (Of course, their initial 'sameness' breaks down virtually immediately, since they will immediately begin experiencing different environments, experiences, etc. by virtue of being physically distinct.)

Unless dualism is somehow true (which I don't believe), the two versions would share the same past consciousness, but would never share consciousness with one another.

The brain surgery problem has a different issue. At any given moment, a particular cube in your brain is likely to be doing things, based on your sensory input, your mental state, etc. If you instantaneously replace thay cube with the anatomically identical cube from a replica brain, there will still be differences unless the replica brain is doing exactly the same things your brain was doing at the moment of replacement.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby General_Norris » Mon Aug 31, 2009 8:37 pm UTC

In 1, I am one of those who disagree.

Using the same or different atoms is irrelevant because they are identical. Thus we are cloning a dead person. In other words, recreating a person with the same or different atoms is the same thing, we are creating a clone.

Now on the brain surgery problem I hace no idea and I can't answer.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby Elvish Pillager » Mon Aug 31, 2009 8:42 pm UTC

None of this is a problem if you assume that sameness isn't transitive (which I do.) In (2), both of the resulting humans are the same person as the original one, but they are not the same person as each other.

Let's bring in the multiple-universes hypothesis: I see no evidence that all of us (including our consciousnesses) aren't constantly bifurcating.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby WaterToFire » Mon Aug 31, 2009 8:53 pm UTC

kromagnon wrote:The teleportation problem:

1)Disassemble a person atom by atom, transport the atoms(arbitrary distance) and re-assemble. Assuming the person is put back together properly most people would agree that it is the same person.

I disagree. The only satisfactory explanation I have seen for consciousness is that it is created by the continual processing of thoughts and data in the brain. By breaking this cycle, even for a split second, the original person 'dies', as his or her brain processes have stopped. If a replica is created later, even from the same atoms, even if it is indistinguishable from the original, that goes only for outside observers.

2)Disassemble a person atom by atom. Save the data of location, spin etc. Disregard original atoms. Assemble the person from a "pile" of "new" atoms. Is this the same person? They certainly believe they are the same person, they have all the same memories, feelings, and dreams.

Its the exact same situation. The atoms make no difference.

[qutoe]3)If you answered "yes" to number 2:
Perform #2... Then re-assemble the person using the original atoms. Are they both the same person?
Take this a step further. Assume you are the person being teleported. Is there continuity of consciousness? In other words, which one are you? If I decide to punch one of you in the stomach, do you feel the pain, or do you see your new twin double over?[/quote]
There is no continuity. You die the moment your brain is dissassembled. Everyone else sees someone who looks and acts just like you emerge at the other end.

The brain surgery problem:

This is another way of thinking about #3 on the previous exercise.

Scientists make an exact replica of your brain, atom by atom.

1)They cut out a 1cm x 1cm x 1cm cube of your brain, and replace it with the appropriate cube from the replica brain.
You should notice no difference, right?

Indeed.

2)Repeat #1 until the entire brain is replica.At some point do you stop being "you"? Does your "instance" of consciousness get replaced at some percentage of replica brain? 50%?

As continuity of consciousness at no point was broken, there is no difference. Your medium has changed, but you are still as conscious as before.

3)The cut your brain right down the middle, and share the halves.... (Replica Left | Original Right) and (Original Left | Replica Right) Where does your "instane of consciousness" go? With the left or the right?

Good question. It is possible that the phenomenon of consciousness requires the interplay of the two halves, and would entirely break down if they were separated, leaving only a non-self-aware intelligence. This has probably been studied, however.

EDIT: And then there's Elvish Pillager's theory. I think I might like that one better than the one I've detailed here. Will have to think, however.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby EnderSword » Mon Aug 31, 2009 9:01 pm UTC

I think the solution to it is just that conciousness isn't really that special or different than anything else. If its a new set of materials, its a new thing made the same and functions as the old thing did. Conciousness while appearing as an emergent property to us is just some complex system we can't fully track. You have killed the first thing, and it'll never know, and created a second thing and it'll never feel like a new thing.

In a way you don't really need teleportation or anything to tricky for this anyway, your body is pretty much recycled constantly anyway, despite being in the same general form, you're almost a completely different set of atoms than you were like 7 years ago.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby qetzal » Tue Sep 01, 2009 3:59 pm UTC

WaterToFire wrote:I disagree. The only satisfactory explanation I have seen for consciousness is that it is created by the continual processing of thoughts and data in the brain. By breaking this cycle, even for a split second, the original person 'dies', as his or her brain processes have stopped. If a replica is created later, even from the same atoms, even if it is indistinguishable from the original, that goes only for outside observers.


For a non-dualist, consciousness is a property of the physical state of the brain. Assuming you could reassemble all the atoms into their precise positions, and also ensure they had the precise velocities etc., you should re-establish consciousness to exactly the same state at the moment of disassembly.

Of course, if you're a dualist, it's easy to argue it's not the same person, simply by assuming that the connection between the body and the non-material consciousness or soul or whatever becomes severed during disassembly, and can't be re-established later.

New thought experiment. Take two people, Alice and Bob, in New York. Instantaneously transmit Alice through space/time to LA one week in the future. Disassemble Bob, physically transport all his atoms, and precisely reassemble them in LA one week later. Assuming non-dualism, is either Alice or Bob the same person as before?

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby kromagnon » Wed Sep 02, 2009 1:11 pm UTC

In a way you don't really need teleportation or anything to tricky for this anyway, your body is pretty much recycled constantly anyway, despite being in the same general form, you're almost a completely different set of atoms than you were like 7 years ago.


This is precisely the reason I started thinking about this topic.

As continuity of consciousness at no point was broken, there is no difference. Your medium has changed, but you are still as conscious as before.


If you stop all brain function, then start it again in the same brain/ same atoms is continuity of consciousness still broken?
For 1 planck time?
For an hour?

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby qetzal » Wed Sep 02, 2009 1:50 pm UTC

I'd say yes, continuity of consciousness is broken, but I don't think it matters. Under dualism, one could argue that continuity is necessary to maintain the non-material aspect of consciousness. But under non-dualism (which is more in keeping with available evidence), continuity shouldn't be required for consciousness. All that's required is a specific arrangement of matter/energy.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby sje46 » Wed Sep 02, 2009 2:14 pm UTC

kromagnon wrote:I apologize if a similar thread has been made, I used the search tool, but this is sort of a complicated idea,so I might have missed it.

Are we just the sum of our parts?

The teleportation problem:

1)Disassemble a person atom by atom, transport the atoms(arbitrary distance) and re-assemble. Assuming the person is put back together properly most people would agree that it is the same person.

2)Disassemble a person atom by atom. Save the data of location, spin etc. Disregard original atoms. Assemble the person from a "pile" of "new" atoms. Is this the same person? They certainly believe they are the same person, they have all the same memories, feelings, and dreams.

3)If you answered "yes" to number 2:
Perform #2... Then re-assemble the person using the original atoms. Are they both the same person?
Take this a step further. Assume you are the person being teleported. Is there continuity of consciousness? In other words, which one are you? If I decide to punch one of you in the stomach, do you feel the pain, or do you see your new twin double over?


2. Yes, I would consider them the same person. Since all a person is is a collection of memories and feelings, etc, then why wouldn't I? This question doesn't have to be applied to conscious beings, and is to me a meaningless question. If you took apart a a lego castle, and rebuilt it with the different identical legos, is it the same castle? What does this property of "sameness" matter? You have nothing to compare it to.
3. Yes

How are the "twins" connected? Why, if I punch one, would the other one double over? I don't understand why there would be any kind of link, at all. If I built a replica computer with the same memory as my computer, if I change the background in the first one, will the second one getthe new background too? Humans, to me, are essentially machines. Our brains are computers.
The brain surgery problem:

This is another way of thinking about #3 on the previous exercise.

Scientists make an exact replica of your brain, atom by atom.

1)They cut out a 1cm x 1cm x 1cm cube of your brain, and replace it with the appropriate cube from the replica brain.
You should notice no difference, right?

2)Repeat #1 until the entire brain is replica.At some point do you stop being "you"? Does your "instance" of consciousness get replaced at some percentage of replica brain? 50%?

3)The cut your brain right down the middle, and share the halves.... (Replica Left | Original Right) and (Original Left | Replica Right) Where does your "instance of consciousness" go? With the left or the right?

1. Well, yes, I would notice no difference.
2. You are always you. "At some point do you stop being "you"?" At what point does X stop being X? It's a meaningless question to me. It doesn't really make sense. Define "instance" and I can answer your second question.
3. What is an instance of consciousness?
There will be two people with the same inherent information who will diverge into two different people as their lives go on. It's no different than instantly cloning someone. There will be two people with the same consciousness, sure, but they aren't the same person.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby kromagnon » Wed Sep 02, 2009 2:37 pm UTC

How are the "twins" connected? Why, if I punch one, would the other one double over? I don't understand why there would be any kind of link, at all. If I built a replica computer with the same memory as my computer, if I change the background in the first one, will the second one getthe new background too? Humans, to me, are essentially machines. Our brains are computers.


They aren't connected. What I was trying to ask was: "Which one are you?" When you look at your "twin" do you get punched or are you seeing your twin get punched? By what arbitrary means are you in that specific body thinking your thoughts, instead of in the other body thinking those thoughts, feeling that pain?
Of course if you believe that consciousness is just an illusion, than this question is meaningless.

You are always you. "At some point do you stop being "you"?" At what point does X stop being X? It's a meaningless question to me. It doesn't really make sense. Define "instance" and I can answer your second question.

The nuance I was trying to impart was "has your stream of consciousness continued, or is the current "you" a new instance of consciousness? As far as defining instance: I apologize. I lack the skills to define exactly what I mean by this, perhaps someone else who gets what I was implying can field this one.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby QwertyKey » Wed Sep 02, 2009 4:01 pm UTC

kromagnon wrote:
They aren't connected. What I was trying to ask was: "Which one are you?" When you look at your "twin" do you get punched or are you seeing your twin get punched? By what arbitrary means are you in that specific body thinking your thoughts, instead of in the other body thinking those thoughts, feeling that pain?
Of course if you believe that consciousness is just an illusion, than this question is meaningless.

The nuance I was trying to impart was "has your stream of consciousness continued, or is the current "you" a new instance of consciousness? As far as defining instance: I apologize. I lack the skills to define exactly what I mean by this, perhaps someone else who gets what I was implying can field this one.


I do not quite understand your emphasis on the word 'you'.

Question by question:
I guess I have to say I would be "me", which is physically connected to my own body.
If I look at my 'twin', literally, I would see my twin get punched.

I am guessing the question is if consciousness is transferred over, right? From my knowledge of your thought experiment, "I" would indeed see my twin get punched, with little idea the other 'twin' has 'my' brain.

Consciousness, in my opinion, would simply stay in the same body. Create two brains, and you create two 'identically' thinking bodies, indistinguishable(See Indistinguishable Particles in Physics, for example). I think there is little reason to see why 'consciousness' would transfer over, both scientifically and philosophically for me.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby sje46 » Wed Sep 02, 2009 4:54 pm UTC

kromagnon wrote:They aren't connected. What I was trying to ask was: "Which one are you?" When you look at your "twin" do you get punched or are you seeing your twin get punched? By what arbitrary means are you in that specific body thinking your thoughts, instead of in the other body thinking those thoughts, feeling that pain?
Of course if you believe that consciousness is just an illusion, than this question is meaningless.

It's not as though there will be two identical bodies with Person A agreeing that he is the "real one" and Person B agreeing that he is the fake one. It's two different people who happen to have the same exact memories and thoughts and feelings.

I don't believe consciousness is just an illusion. It's a valuable concept that helps us understand our minds. It's very difficult to define, and has a lot of meanings, but the one I prefer is simply "awareness". Consciousness means being aware of your environment and yourself, or just your environment, with differing levels and types of consciousness for different species of animals (or perhaps computers)
The nuance I was trying to impart was "has your stream of consciousness continued, or is the current "you" a new instance of consciousness? As far as defining instance: I apologize. I lack the skills to define exactly what I mean by this, perhaps someone else who gets what I was implying can field this one.
I would say your stream of consciousness split like a cell. One consciousness is having a stream of thoughts, and then it splits into two, and both of those have their own streams which diverge.

I was asking you to define what "instance of consciousness" means because I was being non-cognitivist. Like how an ignostic believes that the concept of God can't be true or false because the concept is meaningless.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby Flagpole Sitta » Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:54 pm UTC

The problem with this is that we don't understand what conciseness is at all. There is no guarantee that if we disassembled and then reassembled someone atom by atom that the result would have the same kind of consciousness. Or even a conciseness at all. As far as we can tell when a person dies their atomical structure remains the same.

Are you asking if an exact duplicate of me, including memories, would be me? No. I maintain a separate cognitive plane then the duplicate. An outsider would be unable to tell the difference, but I always would. Even if I am the duplicate, I'm still me and different then the orginal.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby Philwelch » Fri Sep 04, 2009 1:12 am UTC

This problem is well known as Theseus's ship. It's discussed in these SEP articles: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/identity-relative/ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/material-constitution/

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby IWantSomethingAwesome » Wed Sep 09, 2009 7:43 pm UTC

Here's my thoughts on the matter:

Everything is just an arrangement of matter. "You"-ness is just a concept made up by humans, and doesn't really exist. If we just ignore this false idea, all the problems go away. I don't believe in any sort of "soul" or anything else.

"You" don't exist. Matter exists. Energy exists.

That's all I have to say.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby derick » Thu Sep 10, 2009 2:14 am UTC

Well, there's facets to this here, depending on whether there's a non-material conscious (what most people I think would call being a "dualist" but I don't think that's quite accurate).

If there isn't a non-material conscious, it's a simple matter of categorization. If I take the screen, mouse, and harddrive from one computer, but the motherboard, keyboard, and processor from another, and put them together, which computer is it? If the answer is "obviously both" well, if I took one key from the other computer the answer would be obvious; where do we draw the line? If I melt my clock and use the plastic to build a differently shaped clock, is it the same clock? Whenever we oddly or unintuitively rearrange the elements of something we've labeled it's sometimes confusing how to categorize and label the results, but we know exactly where the concretes are; so long as we label them in a cognitively efficient way that we all agree on, it doesn't matter.

If there is a non-material conscious, then it depends on the nature of that non-material conscious and how it relates to its physical manifestation. And in that case, the answer is simply that we don't know yet, but there would I imagine be a fairly binary answer.

Pedantic side:

"If I decide to punch one of you in the stomach, do you feel the pain, or do you see your new twin double over?"

Isn't the answer to this without a doubt that you wouldn't, and irrelavent?

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby NoodleIncident » Sun Sep 13, 2009 2:21 am UTC

I see your thought experiment and raise you a thought experiment. Imagine a set of chess pieces that is missing a white knight. Can you still play the same chess game using a saltshaker as the missing knight? I say yes, as long as everyone agrees that it follows the same rules as a knight. Obviously you can replace all of the pieces with something else, and still play the same game of chess. Now, replace piece with neuron, rules with the laws of physics a neuron obeys, and you will see why I believe that the teleported/cloned me is still conscious. (I totally stole this example from someone, maybe Hostadfer. Or the guy who wrote On Intelligence). Also, I believe that the two different people would be the same when they were created, but they will diverge over time due to new experiences being different.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby guyy » Sun Sep 13, 2009 4:57 am UTC

Teleportation problem: Externally, the person is obviously the same, since you can't tell by any known means that they are any different. As for consciousness, I don't think we know enough to say whether they're still the same consciousness; that is, whether or not you would "reconnect" with the reassembled body if you were the person being teleported. That depends on how the brain creates consciousness (assuming it does), which, for now, is something we really can't explain.

Brain surgery problem: As others already said, there's no loss in continuity: presumably the rest of your brain can maintain its consciousness while each piece gets replaced. So, you should remain "you" for the whole process, unless some tiny but somehow critical piece gets taken out. Given how overengineered the brain is, that's not too likely.

The brain-cut-in-half thing has actually been done to some people, usually to stop excessive seizures. It's possible this divides a consciousness into two new ones (the two brain halves seem functional, but mostly unaware of each other), but it's still a controversial topic with not a whole lot of test subjects.

Elvish Pillager wrote:None of this is a problem if you assume that sameness isn't transitive (which I do.) In (2), both of the resulting humans are the same person as the original one, but they are not the same person as each other.

Let's bring in the multiple-universes hypothesis: I see no evidence that all of us (including our consciousnesses) aren't constantly bifurcating.


I don't think that really works for consciousness. If you got teleported or duplicated, you couldn't be the reassembled person and also not be the reassembled person, or be both of the duplicated people. You can't be and not be at the same time, or be one thing while also being something else; you can only experience one brain at a time.

As for the multiverse idea, I see no evidence that anything is bifurcating in that way; and given that there's no way to test either idea, since the hypothetical duplicates are totally separated from us forever, it makes sense to go with the simpler of the two ideas.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby EdgarJPublius » Mon Sep 14, 2009 4:04 am UTC

wouldn't effects such as Entropy and Heisenberg uncertainty tend to inhibit the ability to create an arbitrarily accurate duplicate?
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby Josephine » Mon Sep 14, 2009 5:58 am UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:wouldn't effects such as Entropy and Heisenberg uncertainty tend to inhibit the ability to create an arbitrarily accurate duplicate?

that's why it's a thought experiment.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby Elvish Pillager » Thu Sep 17, 2009 11:31 pm UTC

guyy wrote:
Elvish Pillager wrote:None of this is a problem if you assume that sameness isn't transitive (which I do.) In (2), both of the resulting humans are the same person as the original one, but they are not the same person as each other.

Let's bring in the multiple-universes hypothesis: I see no evidence that all of us (including our consciousnesses) aren't constantly bifurcating.


I don't think that really works for consciousness. If you got teleported or duplicated, you couldn't be the reassembled person and also not be the reassembled person, or be both of the duplicated people. You can't be and not be at the same time, or be one thing while also being something else; you can only experience one brain at a time.

This doesn't make sense to be, probably because we're using the language in different ways. Allow me to clarify something: My concept of sameness is that sameness is simply a function of two human-at-a-particular-time. So, call the function S, call the version of me before duplication M, and the two duplicates D1 and D2 - you get S(M,D1) = true, S(M,D2) = true, and S(D1,D2) = false. This is merely a function of reality, and I do not assume any part of reality to depend on it (so there can't be any contradictions as you seem to be suggesting.)

Further - what are you referring to by "you" and "be someone"? If "be [X person]" just means "be the same person as [X person]" and "you" just means M, then I can certainly be both of the duplicated people. If "you" means M but "be" means "be identical to" then I can't be either of the duplicated people, but of course then I can't ever be any of my past or future selves.

The only meaning of "you" that I can understand to make sense in your post is "your single-strand consciousness", which of course assumes that consciousness must be single-stranded and thus isn't a logically valid argument against what I've said.

guyy wrote:As for the multiverse idea, I see no evidence that anything is bifurcating in that way;

Of course you don't. Evidence is a concept that exists within the world and within time, and this is an idea about the existence/nature of the world and time. When I said "I see no evidence", I should properly have said something like "there can exist no evidence", as it's silly to say that you see no evidence for a thing for which "evidence" is meaningless.

guyy wrote:and given that there's no way to test either idea, since the hypothetical duplicates are totally separated from us forever, it makes sense to go with the simpler of the two ideas.

The bifurcation idea is a way to work around the idea of pure chance existing in the universe, which I don't have a position on, but which some people have famously been opposed to on simplicity-related grounds. I think one could make a strong argument that a constantly bifurcating universe is simpler than one which contains pure chance.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby afarnen » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:41 am UTC

First of all, I'm assuming that by the atoms in the person's body when disassembling/reassembling them you mean all particles, including atoms, free electrons, and photons, etc. And that you mean not only position, but momentum of these particles as well. In other words, the complete physical configuration of their body.

In each of the examples, the person's physical body was reconfigured back to its original state. But is it physical configuration by which we should define if someone is the "same" person? Certainly it is not scientific to believe that there's something beyond the physical universe that determines one's actions, gives one consciousness, etc., but a person can still be considered the same person if their body has changed, and realistically, they do all the time (if I cut my hair, I'm still "me," though I've changed physically).

One hole in the definition of the physical body I can see is that a body is not a closed system, so where ever you draw the line when, for instance, choosing which particles to teleport and which not to, one could argue you have disregarded particles that functioned as a physical system with the body (e.g. the light and air particles surrounding them), thus you changed their body. So I guess one's body (or any physical system, for that matter) is never physically configured the same unless, well, everything in their light cone is configured the same relative to them as well. I hope that makes sense.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby RealityPlusPlus » Sat Sep 19, 2009 12:18 am UTC

Apart from my pointless semantic issue on the word "is" this is a great question and idea.

In the theory of teleportation, dissassembling a person is by nature (i think) killing them, and we have more than enough theory on that. This idea of reassembling them, though, is not something that to my knowledge has ever been done except in the conventional ways, and since that involves time and the teleportation issue need not, I'm going to assume we're ignoring conventions for now. Since assembling a person has never been done before in the manner you described you must first acknowledge that there may be more than just the atoms, particles, speeds, velocitities, accelerations, and so forth amongst all the known physical properties that make us up. My question becomes, how do you know that if all the aforementioned were correct and in place, we would still be living? This however becomes a non-issue because I'm going to assume that you were assuming that it would all work out. There is however more than makes us us. In fact we can go back in time (assuming that sometime in the future we will design and fix teleportation) to the now and look at cloning. Sadly no one has yet made two perfect clones and brought them up in identical living conditions (weather, parents, imprints, so on and so forth) to see if they with their identical genetics and upbringing emerge philosophically identical. This is an important experiment and needs to be done. Nor however has anyone cloned someone and seen exactly how much of our identity is nature and how much is nurture, this also needs to be done.

I personally believe that by the very nature of physics, since two people (I think) cannot be in the same place, they therefore must be in different places, and since we do not know the full extent to which nature or nuture governs our identity we cannot assume that they will be identitcal. So if they do have the same instance of consciousness this tells us some interesting things about ourselves.

I think in order to answer your question more fully, we the human race are going to have to do some hard experimentation on ourselves.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby doogly » Sat Sep 19, 2009 12:43 am UTC

nbonaparte1 wrote:
EdgarJPublius wrote:wouldn't effects such as Entropy and Heisenberg uncertainty tend to inhibit the ability to create an arbitrarily accurate duplicate?

that's why it's a thought experiment.

But it's quite possible you want to think about the world as it exists. Entropy and uncertainty aren't technical limitations that you can imagine a significantly advanced civilization one day overcoming; they are fundamental features of nature.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sat Sep 19, 2009 4:07 am UTC

doogly wrote:
nbonaparte1 wrote:
EdgarJPublius wrote:wouldn't effects such as Entropy and Heisenberg uncertainty tend to inhibit the ability to create an arbitrarily accurate duplicate?

that's why it's a thought experiment.

But it's quite possible you want to think about the world as it exists. Entropy and uncertainty aren't technical limitations that you can imagine a significantly advanced civilization one day overcoming; they are fundamental features of nature.

Indeed.

In fact, these fundamental effects of our universe may also serve in part to define the limits of an individuals existence or consciousness.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby BlackSails » Sat Sep 19, 2009 4:21 am UTC

kromagnon wrote:2)Disassemble a person atom by atom. Save the data of location, spin etc. Disregard original atoms. Assemble the person from a "pile" of "new" atoms. Is this the same person? They certainly believe they are the same person, they have all the same memories, feelings, and dreams.


Aha, but this process is fundamentally impossible! According to the no-cloning theorem it is impossible to clone quantum information, so you can never have a teleportation machine that works like this.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby RealityPlusPlus » Sat Sep 19, 2009 6:54 pm UTC

BlackSails wrote:
kromagnon wrote:2)Disassemble a person atom by atom. Save the data of location, spin etc. Disregard original atoms. Assemble the person from a "pile" of "new" atoms. Is this the same person? They certainly believe they are the same person, they have all the same memories, feelings, and dreams.


Aha, but this process is fundamentally impossible! According to the no-cloning theorem it is impossible to clone quantum information, so you can never have a teleportation machine that works like this.

We're assuming physics works itself out, impossibilities aside.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby doogly » Sat Sep 19, 2009 7:45 pm UTC

RealityPlusPlus wrote:We're assuming physics works itself out, impossibilities aside.

What do you mean by this? Are you assuming all features of physics that you are personally unaware of could not possibly effect the thing you are considering? That seems unlikely.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby RealityPlusPlus » Sat Sep 19, 2009 8:57 pm UTC

doogly wrote:
RealityPlusPlus wrote:We're assuming physics works itself out, impossibilities aside.

What do you mean by this? Are you assuming all features of physics that you are personally unaware of could not possibly effect the thing you are considering? That seems unlikely.

No, I'm saying that the entire point of this thread was to assume the impossible was possible. However, I'm never in the habit of assuming anything is impossible, and neither should you. You should merely say that it SHOULD be impossible.

Also, saying it's impossible is just an easy way of not dealing with the implication of the real question he was asking.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sat Sep 19, 2009 9:12 pm UTC

RealityPlusPlus wrote:Also, saying it's impossible is just an easy way of not dealing with the implication of the real question he was asking.

Not at all, the fundamental nature of the universe limits the implications the real question can have.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby RealityPlusPlus » Sat Sep 19, 2009 9:47 pm UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:
RealityPlusPlus wrote:Also, saying it's impossible is just an easy way of not dealing with the implication of the real question he was asking.

Not at all, the fundamental nature of the universe limits the implications the real question can have.

You mean what you think is the fundamental limits of the universe.

Just because that's what we know now, doesn't mean that that couldn't very well be horribly horribly wrong. Look at mobunall the major scientists, newton, einstein and so forth. And they were all just as dogmatic and nearsighted as you. Merely because gravity has held constant for 2000 years doesn't mean that it won't suddenly stop working. We may have the true theory completely wrong. Maybe every 20000 years gravity reverses and expels things away from them, you don't know, at least not for sure. So it's always good to be ready to be wrong, and think of the implications.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby doogly » Sat Sep 19, 2009 9:57 pm UTC

RealityPlusPlus wrote:
EdgarJPublius wrote:
RealityPlusPlus wrote:Also, saying it's impossible is just an easy way of not dealing with the implication of the real question he was asking.

Not at all, the fundamental nature of the universe limits the implications the real question can have.

You mean what you think is the fundamental limits of the universe.

Just because that's what we know now, doesn't mean that that couldn't very well be horribly horribly wrong. Look at mobunall the major scientists, newton, einstein and so forth. And they were all just as dogmatic and nearsighted as you. Merely because gravity has held constant for 2000 years doesn't mean that it won't suddenly stop working. We may have the true theory completely wrong. Maybe every 20000 years gravity reverses and expels things away from them, you don't know, at least not for sure. So it's always good to be ready to be wrong, and think of the implications.

It's a good thing nobody invented telescopes that can look an awful lot more 20,000 light years away and can determine to an insane degree of accuracy that there are no time dependent changes in gravity, or else you'd be forced to admit you said foolish things.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby BlackSails » Sun Sep 20, 2009 2:04 am UTC

RealityPlusPlus wrote:
doogly wrote:
RealityPlusPlus wrote:We're assuming physics works itself out, impossibilities aside.

What do you mean by this? Are you assuming all features of physics that you are personally unaware of could not possibly effect the thing you are considering? That seems unlikely.

No, I'm saying that the entire point of this thread was to assume the impossible was possible. However, I'm never in the habit of assuming anything is impossible, and neither should you. You should merely say that it SHOULD be impossible.

Also, saying it's impossible is just an easy way of not dealing with the implication of the real question he was asking.


And what I am saying is that your question is akin to asking "Lets say there were colors not in the visual spectrum - what do they look like?" Its a nonsensical question. Or "If pigs could fly, how fast would they fly?"

Also, the no cloning theorem follows directly from the uncertainty principle which is mathematically proven, not experimentally. Meaning there isnt any chance it is wrong. Seriously, the only fact you need to prove this is that the position and momentum operators dont commute (or equivalently, position and momentum are the fourier transforms of each other)

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sun Sep 20, 2009 6:46 am UTC

RealityPlusPlus wrote:
EdgarJPublius wrote:
RealityPlusPlus wrote:Also, saying it's impossible is just an easy way of not dealing with the implication of the real question he was asking.

Not at all, the fundamental nature of the universe limits the implications the real question can have.

You mean what you think is the fundamental limits of the universe.

Just because that's what we know now, doesn't mean that that couldn't very well be horribly horribly wrong. Look at mobunall the major scientists, newton, einstein and so forth. And they were all just as dogmatic and nearsighted as you. Merely because gravity has held constant for 2000 years doesn't mean that it won't suddenly stop working. We may have the true theory completely wrong. Maybe every 20000 years gravity reverses and expels things away from them, you don't know, at least not for sure. So it's always good to be ready to be wrong, and think of the implications.


There are things we know about the universe with absolute certainty, there aren't many of these things (I don't know all of them off the top of my head, but I believe there are less than ten of them) these are things such that, if they weren't true, the universe as we experience it couldn't exist. the Uncertainty Principle (from which the No Cloning Theorem arises naturally) is one of those things.

There's a difference between being skeptical and being so open minded your brain falls out. Even Descartes 'Discourse on the Method' eventually concludes that you must be able to trust your own senses if you wish to understand anything outside yourself.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby guyy » Sun Sep 20, 2009 10:54 am UTC

My late response flying several posts backward (again)...

Elvish Pillager wrote:This doesn't make sense to be, probably because we're using the language in different ways. Allow me to clarify something: My concept of sameness is that sameness is simply a function of two human-at-a-particular-time. So, call the function S, call the version of me before duplication M, and the two duplicates D1 and D2 - you get S(M,D1) = true, S(M,D2) = true, and S(D1,D2) = false. This is merely a function of reality, and I do not assume any part of reality to depend on it (so there can't be any contradictions as you seem to be suggesting.)

Further - what are you referring to by "you" and "be someone"? If "be [X person]" just means "be the same person as [X person]" and "you" just means M, then I can certainly be both of the duplicated people. If "you" means M but "be" means "be identical to" then I can't be either of the duplicated people, but of course then I can't ever be any of my past or future selves.

The only meaning of "you" that I can understand to make sense in your post is "your single-strand consciousness", which of course assumes that consciousness must be single-stranded and thus isn't a logically valid argument against what I've said.


Well...if you have two people, and each of them is conscious, then they can't be considered "the same," (as in, identical in every detectable way) because if "you" (by which I literally mean you, because a person can only see this effect from their own point of view) were one of those people, you could easily tell them apart: one of them is the one you experience things through, the other is the one you don't experience things through. Outside observers can't see the difference, of course, but certain observers inevitably will see a difference, so unless that's an illusion somehow, the difference must exist. It is kind of a circular argument, but if you have two conscious observers, then they are different by definition; to be the same, they would have to be only one conscious observer.

At the point in time when your consciousness splits into two, it has to go one way or the other, or be destroyed; it can't go both ways, because then what would determine which universe/reality/thing you experience from then on? Saying the split-universe copies of an atom are both the same as the original is probably right; but that can't be true of consciousness, because unlike atoms, consciousnesses are unique observers.

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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby Elvish Pillager » Sun Sep 20, 2009 1:59 pm UTC

guyy wrote:At the point in time when your consciousness splits into two, it has to go one way or the other, or be destroyed; it can't go both ways, because then what would determine which universe/reality/thing you experience from then on?

(bold mine) This has the same problem as the last time you used "you".

guyy wrote:Saying the split-universe copies of an atom are both the same as the original is probably right; but that can't be true of consciousness, because unlike atoms, consciousnesses are unique observers.

Huh? What's a "unique observer"? That is, what are the observable properties of something that makes it a "unique observer" (i.e. how can you tell that an atom isn't a "unique observer") - and what property of a "unique observer" makes it impossible to bifurcate?

Right now, it sounds to me like you're saying "Consciousness can't bifurcate because consciousness is a thing-that-can't-bifurcate."
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby RealityPlusPlus » Mon Sep 21, 2009 5:44 pm UTC

@ EdgarJPublius
"There are things we know about the universe with absolute certainty" No there aren't, because there's no way to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the univserse even exists, or that your particular universe is merely completely misperceived. The only way we could know something about the universe with absolute certainty is if we were ourselves absolutely sure that our perceptions were ironlaw. However, in fact, we know exactly the opposite, our perceptions are anything BUT ironlaw. Truth be told our perceptions are the most finicky and unreliable things in the universe, if it exists, or so I have perceived them to be. Certainly you've come across the phenomenon that when presented with the same stimulus two people will almost always have different perceptions of said stimulus, at least in the ideological sense that their connotation and feelings about it are almost always never the same, and even if they are change the stimulus and now they probably aren't. The point is that you have to recognize that nothing is completely objective, ever. Or at least if it is you will never know because you will always be limited to your own perspective on it.

Just because SO FAR every time we've had two apples and two apples and put them together we've gotten four apples, don't mean that one day we'll get three, or fifty, or two apples and two peaches, or six ants and two trumpets. Obviously this sounds surreal and unsensible, and I suppose that it is, but what'll you do when it actually happens? Declare yourself to be hallucinating? Go insane? Not give a crap? Just let yourself allow the idea of the impossible to become possible, and then in your own personal objective reality, it already has. At least in the idea. Who cares about the actual universe when we're dealing with nonactual questions?

Descartes had no idea what he was talking about when he said that. The only way to understand anything at all is to make it within yourself, which you do automatically. By perceiving something you have turned whatever actual object you perceived into an idea, that idea now exists only within you and you understand the object through the idea (which is of course based on your own tricky perceptions, and therefore quite possibly and likely wrong). Admittedly, you have nothing else to go on but your perceptions, and so that becomes the definition for your universe, but it's important to recognize that.
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Re: Instance of consciousness: A series of thought experiments

Postby EdgarJPublius » Mon Sep 21, 2009 8:41 pm UTC

no, you clearly don't understand the principles at work here.
Descartes surmised that, because he is able to doubt his existence, there must exist something capable of doubt (that is, his doubt didn't spring into existence fully formed of it's own volition, something is doing the doubting, and that something is him)

Cogito Ergo Sum, I think, therefore I am. This is an unassailable truth.

Then Descartes considers his perceptions. because his perceptions exist, independent of his will, that is because he does not consciously will his perceptions, but perceives independently of his thought, his perceptions therefore exist outside his mind.
I think Therefore I am, I perceive against my will, therefore something outside myself exists. These are unassailable truths.

Now, and here's where you I believe are stuck, Descartes considers the fallibility of his senses. Because they exist outside of himself, and he has no control over them, he has no way of knowing that his senses are trustworthy.
Descartes posits the 'Evil Mastermind', an entity who is capable of manipulating his senses and who therefor has created the world of perception.
Now, Descartes reasons, that because there is a caring god, that a caring god would not allow such a mastermind to manipulate his senses and deny him an true perception. But we have a better tool for this job than something as uncertain and capricious and a 'caring god', we remember a humble Monk from Surrey who lived just two hundred years earlier than Descartes (if only such individuals could be found in that neighborhood today!) Friar William of Ockham and his famous razor.
One should not needlessly multiply entities, that is, given to explanations for something, one should not believe the one that is more complex, or requires more steps, without reason.
Or, as another excellent philosopher and believer-in-objective-reality Isaac Newton put it shortly after Descartes, "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Therefore, to the same natural effects we must, so far as possible, assign the same causes."
The fallibility of our senses is in question, lacking proof for some mechanism which manipulates our senses to produce the world we perceive, we can safely dismiss such a mechanism from our reasoning. There's no reason to believe it exists, so why believe it?

This is all very well and good you say, but I don't believe in any such evil mastermind or other mechanism that deceives me!

Ah, then you are a dreamer.
That is, you believe our senses are inherently fallible and that you can't prove anything you perceive without begging the question of whether or not your senses are fallible.
This again is territory covered by Descartes, who likened it to dreaming, How can we know anything if we don't even know if we are dreaming or not? Are you right now, reading this argument? Or are you only dreaming that you are reading this argument?
Descartes would say that, of course, in a dream you can't tell that you are dreaming, but in retrospect it is possible to tell the difference between dream and reality, and by that very separation it is possible to trust your perceptions.
But some might take the argument a step farther, are you ever not dreaming? how do you know you can tell the difference between dreaming and wakefulness, and are not just dreaming that such a separation exists? Therefor, you can't really know or prove anything, because none of your senses can be trusted.
Luckily, shortly after Descartes invented the Matrix, a Scotsman named Morpheus Thomas came along to set the record straight.
Thomas Reid figured that, his perception is just one of his cognitive functions, if one is faulty, then they all, having been metaphorically forged on the same anvil as it were, must also be faulty, Also among his cognitive functions, besides perception, is reason. And well, if reason is faulty (and why not, if all other of our faculties are?) then we can't really argue anything, not even that our senses are faulty, because in doing so, we are bound to fall prey to some fault in our faculty of reason!

In short, believing in the fallacy of your senses is nothing more than foolishness, if you can't trust your own perceptions, then you can't even trust that you really exist (Cogito Ergo Sum is only an unassailable proof if your faculty of reason is infallible).
If anything is objectively true (that is, if you can be said to exist) then your senses must be trustworthy.

I think, therefore I am, I dunno about you though, do you think? Or are you just a figment of your own fallible reason?
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