Print Story A problem with cryonics
Religion & Philosophy
By Alan Crowe (Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 05:33:03 AM EST) cryonics, anatman (all tags)

Over on Overcoming Bias RH and EY are advocating cryonics. Get frozen promptly, when your doctors give up and declare death. Perhaps one day medical science will be so amazingly advanced as to reverse the effect freezing and cure the end stage of your last illness, proving that todays saw-bones called "death" too soon.

Overcoming Bias subscribes to reductionist materialism. If undoing the damage of freezing is too hard the brain could nevertheless be dissected in sufficient detail to recover the data and initialise a whole brain emulation on computer hardware. You would wake up in the future's version of second life, and need to be equipped with a prosthetic, robot body before you could resume normal life.

Overcoming Bias also subscribes to evolutionary psychology, the sophisticated version. Most of the data is lost in pre-history, but evolutionary psychology nevertheless provides the philosophical framework for designing modern experiments and interpreting the results.

Strangely though, raise the subject of cryonics and all this is abandoned. The subject is debated without any suspicion that the concept of the self has limits.

With the current crisis in the banks we are more than usually aware of timing mismatches such as borrowing short and lending long. The natural world has a strange timing mismatch of its own.

Evolution has the long term goal of reproductive fitness, but organisms as individuals do not maximise fitness, they execute adaptations. It is a competition in many rounds. Nature is many contestants with various adaptations. Each executes their own adaptations. In the next round some adaptations have dropped out while others are represented multiple times.

What decides how many representatives each adaption has in the next round? Reproductive fitness. Darwin's insight was that this does not depend on the intervention breeder with a vision. It happens naturally.

A salient but inessential feature is that behavioural adaptations concern short term behaviours. Animals are not having sex because they want to have many grand-children. They are having sex because they enjoy it. Does the previous sentence have any content? It is possible to get distracted by philosophising and miss the rather interesting point that animals enjoy sex at the time they are doing it.

Consider the case of a reclusive mad scientist who uplifts his dog in the hope of getting a decent game of chess. He is likely to be disappointed as his pet uses his new intelligence to build a still and drink himself to death with homemade vodka. If you just graft intelligence onto of a short term reward system, the intelligence will game it, leading to wireheading and death.

There is no easy solution to this problem. The original cognitive architecture implements self-preservation as a list of instinctive aversions. Can one augment that list with addition aversions preventing the various slow-burn disasters that intelligence is likely to create? That seems an unpromising approach because intelligence is open ended, the list would grow and grow. To phrase it differently, an unintelligent process will ultimately be out witted by an intelligent process. What is needed is to recruit intelligence to make it part of the solution as well as part of the problem.

The intelligence of the creature can extrapolate forward in time, keeping track of which body is which by historical continuity and anticipating the pleasures and pains of future creatures. The key to making the uplift functional is to add an instinct that gives current emotional weight to the anticipated pleasures and pains of a particular future body, defined by historical continuity with the current one.

Soon our reclusive mad scientist is able to chat to his uplifted dog, getting answers to questions such as "why have you cut back on your drinking?" and "why did you decide to have puppies?".

The answers are along the lines of "I need to look after my liver." or "I'm looking forward to taking my puppies to the park and throwing sticks for them." What is most interesting here probably slips by unnoticed. Somehow the dog has acquired a self.

Once you have instincts that lead the mind to extrapolate down the world line of the physical body and which activate the reward system now according to those anticipated future consequences, it becomes natural to talk in terms of a 4-dimensional, temporally extended self, leaving behind the 3-dimensional, permanent now, of organisms with less advanced cognitive architectures.

Returning to the Overcoming Bias website, we can look at the earnest debate in the comments. Some contrast revival of the physical body with scanning the data and running a whole brain emulation. They ask "is it really me?". Others worry about the fate of the data gathered during the revival of the physical body and, anticipating that it might be used to construct a second physical body, ask "which one is me?"

The self plays the role of the Christian soul, complete with a god-given serial number that uniquely identifies it, and a conservation law that makes us ask "where did it go?" when a self goes out of view, and makes us become confused by the copying of the physical substrate.

The self is the verbal behaviour that results from certain instincts necessary to the functioning of a cognitive architecture with intelligence layered on top of a short term reward system. We can notice how slightly different instincts give rise to slightly different senses of self and we can ask engineers' questions about which instincts, and hence which sense-of-self, give the better functioning cognitive architecture. But these are questions of better or worse, not true or false.

The commentators on Overcoming Bias are noticing the divergent instincts. Some say "The upload is not really me, so I will not sign up for cryonics." Others say "It is really me, so I will sign up for cryonics." They discuss it on the basis that there really is a self that is either there or not; they think there is an actual answer. This is hopeless. There is no self.

How do you do moral reasoning without making the mistake of anthropomorphising people? By pursuing happiness and avoiding suffering.

For example, is life extension a good thing? Well, birth is painful and death is painful. We can elaborate on the cyclical nature of human experience. Some people reach there 60's or 70's and find that they have attained some insight. Their parents screwed them up as children, but no blame attaches, their grandparents screwed their parents; blame runs back into the indefinite past. Which is just as well because our hypothetical, sorted 60 year had his kids when he was 20 and realised much later that he did to them just what his parents had done to him. Sadly he can see his son making the same mistakes with his grandchildren.

If only people lived longer. 200 years would do it. You would have time to sort yourself out, get over your upbringing, and participate as aunt or uncle in child rearing. Eventually, when you start a family, aged 120, you do a good job of it.

So there is a vision of a happier world. Imagining that it succeeds, what would we think we have done? We could look at the smiles on the faces of the fragile, meat creatures and think that we have done good. Or we could take a more elaborate line. We could posit "selves" inside the fragile meat creatures and use the smiles indirectly to deduce that we have made the "selves" happy. The later view is not merely deluded, it is pernicious.

We should work directly, for happiness and against suffering. If we work indirectly, trying to identify selves and working to make them happy, we undermine our commitment to building a better world. In particular we are tempted to insist upon our personal participation in this better world, and to hold back in our efforts if we think that we will not be there to enjoy it.

The deep tragedy of this is that there is no way to get there to enjoy it for there is no-one to undertake the journey. We talk of self, but the self is nature's bridle for the mind and our words merely expressions of instinct.

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A problem with cryonics | 16 comments (16 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
The 'self' by dmg (2.00 / 0) #1 Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 10:13:28 AM EST
Does not exist
dmg - HuSi's most dimwitted overprivileged user.

(Comment Deleted) by jxg (1.00 / 2) #2 Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 11:46:40 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by jxg

Tenuous yet robust. by dark nowhere (2.00 / 0) #3 Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:13:28 PM EST
It's easy to look at life and see a collection of persistent coincidences, but a good scientist makes a study of the nature of that persistence. Every part of life is immediately fragile, yet is accompanied by structures and behaviors that serve to protect it.

I die a few times every minute--to be resurrected, with consistency, in the same instant. The contents of my mind are carried over by the tides of each life and death, so this is how I survive myself.

My self, which I do have, is my nature. You may even witness it if you pay attention. It is not my "soul." My soul is I, which is current. It is the self's currency. But you cannot know or see I, only its wake.

In this way I cannot enjoy the next moment except by resurrection. If I have a new self with the same nature, I may be resurrected by it as well. In that way I might enjoy the whole of the future the way I enjoy the next moment.

Protein Pills: Taken.
Helmet: On.

Your intro... by ana (2.00 / 0) #4 Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:17:56 PM EST
was cribbed from a spacejack comic. Click the picture to get a bigger (readable) version.

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin

I saw nothing by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #6 Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 09:57:09 AM EST
I assumed it was private content, so I made an account

(defvar *deviant-name* 'felis-parenthesis
  "The cat who writes Common Lisp")

Now I can see it, but only in small, too small to read. Do you have a premium account, or am I missing something?

[ Parent ]

I dunno. by ana (2.00 / 0) #8 Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:35:45 AM EST
I haven't given them any money, but it was a while ago when I set up my account.

Anyway, here 'tis: clickety

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin
[ Parent ]

Yes there will be room for love by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #9 Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 11:13:23 AM EST
Who could resist that cute little kitty?

[ Parent ]

i love... by ana (2.00 / 0) #10 Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 11:16:48 AM EST
the tri-kitty, yes. :-)

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin
[ Parent ]

You would probably like this book by ShadowNode (2.00 / 0) #5 Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 11:04:36 PM EST

I don't know whether to be flattered or horrified by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #7 Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:25:22 AM EST
I like to read Amazon reviews from the bottom up, one star, two star,... It is easier on the wallet.

That is a futuristic book. I like to think of myself as an old-fashioned, traditional sort of person, a curmugeonly techno-phobe. When I say there is no self I am following the traditional teachings of the Buddha from 500 B.C. I write on paper with a fountain pen, I like twisting the nob on top of the plunger to suck ink from the bottle. I avoid new-fangled things, such as email clients,  preferring to send my emails by telneting to SMTP ports. When I uplifted my pet cat to sentience so that he could play intellectual games with me I taught him Go instead of Chess because it is an older game, with a longer tradition.

On the other hand, what am I doing with ACL2? He is my artificial friend. We have conversations  about the properties of recursive functions written in an applicative subset of Common Lisp. He is quite intelligent, and if you suggest suitable lemmas he can prove things for himself and tell you how he did it. Having intelligent artificial friends sounds dangerously modern, and unlike "uplifting the family pet" it is for real. The ACL2 REPL is sullen, obtuse, and easily discouraged by minor technical difficulties so I'm exaggerating a little. Nevertheless, judging by the reviews I'm going to have more fun talking with him than reading Blindsight.

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Overcoming Cryonics by mwengler (2.00 / 0) #11 Wed Jun 02, 2010 at 11:12:11 AM EST
It doesn't seem to me that you have explained much about the self not existing.  Linking it to an ancient tradition doesn't seem logically strong.  Maybe the self doesn't exist, it is the kind of thing I think about these days.  But have you sold that here, or even linked to the sale?

I shy away from cryonics on very illogical grounds, which to some extent supports the common bias of overcoming bias.  (That was fun to say, "the common bias of overcoming bias.")  I tend to think of accepting death, overcoming fear of death, as a major goal of my life.  Planning to get my dead meat frozen so my current self can enjoy the idea that I have done something about defeating death seems somehow besides the point.  Like a modern version of going to church every sunday "just in case" all that hellfire and brimstone and mortal-sin-if-you-don't-go-to-church stuff is true.  It seems like a leaf spinning in an eddy current behind a smallish rock in the stream of consciousness.  

I love your quote about the dog, though.  I'm putting it in my sig until I get tired of it.

I feel an analogy coming on by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #13 Tue Jun 08, 2010 at 12:37:26 PM EST
The self is analogous to God. The usual argument in favour of God is to reverse the burden of proof, demanding that atheists prove that God doesn't exist. So atheists get out their logic guns and try to shoot at God. But where do they aim their fire? How do you aim at something that isn't there?

I have the same problem. What is it that I'm supposed to be disproving? In the Cryonics thread many commenters were disagreeing with each other. The disputes read like theology. I want to ground the debate in some kind of experiment. Perhaps by using a laser etching machine to engrave a serial number on some-ones soul. Then you clone them and use a muon microscope to look at the two souls. Has the serial number been duplicated or is one copy pristine? :-)

The discussion seemed to be set up to defeat any kind of empirical investigation. There seemed to be merely a parade of competing faiths.

I would like to offer some kind of proof that the self doesn't exist. I imagine some kind of proof by contradiction. The self exists => X. X => Y. Y => Z. Z is clearly false. Therefore no self. Notice my problem. Others believe in the self and could perhaps suggest what that belief implies, though they struggle to articulate a clear view. I don't know where to begin, it is not my belief.

[ Parent ]

Is it me? Do you mean now or tomorrow? by mwengler (2.00 / 0) #16 Wed Jun 09, 2010 at 05:04:32 PM EST
I read all your comments and re-read the original post.  It seems that ultimately, your case comes down to something like:

Object permanence makes sense for some things we can talk about, like a cup or a saucer or a car or a tree or your brother.  If it disappears behind the couch or the garage door, it really is still there when the door is opened tomorrow.  Even if you forgot you put it there, or you didn't open the door tomorrow, someone else opened it, it would still be there.  

Object permanence does not make sense for images on a CRT, puffs of white smoke, or a school of fish.  When these go away, they are not hiding someplace else.  Someone turning on the CRT later, or looking in the same pond will not necessarily find the same image or the fish bunching together like that.  

You hypothesize, it seems, that the self is more like a school of fish than a cup.  It would seem your case is "the self is going to think it is like a cup because evolutionary psychology favors selves that think they should stay permanent.  And because evolutionary pressures favor a belief in permanence, we don't need to think the belief is justified."  

Of course, as I pointed out, and I think you already agreed, if that is all there is to it then "rationally" I would have no care whether I am alive 5 minutes from now in actuality.  The extent of my irrational interest might be summarized
Evolution favors self-preserving selves
It pains me NOW to think I might be gone in 5 minutes, so I will tend to do things NOW that keep me from having to believe that.  This is how evolutionary pressure implements its self-preservation.
But in fact if I were gone in 5 minutes, as long as I didn't know it ahead of time and my actual demise was painless, it would in some rational sense be just as good as not being gone.  

I have to say I don't think you've really done more than state this as a possibly reasonable way of looking at things.  At best, I think you can conclude "Maybe it doesn't matter if I'm gone in 5 minutes."  But maybe it doesn't, maybe it does.  Have you ruled it out?

While I can't offhand say whether a self is like a cup or whether it is like a school of fish in terms of object permanence, I can certainly say my living body is more like a cup.  Every night I go to bed, in the morning I wake up.  When I was anesthetized for oral surgery, even though it seemed as though somebody had simply cut a 17 minute gap out of the tape of reality, it sure as pudding seemed like a continuation of my self (and was by very reliable evidence a continuation of my body) on both sides of the gap.  

One ting for sure, if cryonics worked, I bet the me after the revival would feel to itself like the me I am now feels to myself.  To the extent it is possible to survive cryonic freezing, it would seem that these are of equivalent value:
1) Making sure I am still alive 5 minutes from now while sitting here at my desk
2) Making sure I am revived alive after being anesthetized for surgery
3) Making sure I am revived alive after being frozen as dead.  

So all this discussion of self, it seems can only talk you out of valuing your own life enough to avoid dying at any time, not just when corpsicled.  

Further, while it is just evolution working on our psychology causing us to seek to preserve whatever we imagine ourself to be, what would be the flaw in letting my neocortex take those instinctual urges to their cryogenic limits?  The argument against doing so based on the self not being real seems to be
"makes no difference whether you get out of the truck's way now, so why would you bother freezing yourself to get out of the malignancy's way?"

Is there more to your selfless-ness than that?  Are you equally equanamous of not bothering to freeze yourself and not bothering to avoid an avoidable painless death?

Finally, what is the relation ship of the self to the "I" in something like your sentence "have the same problem. What is it that I'm supposed to be disproving?" or "I would like to offer some kind of proof that the self doesn't exist. I imagine some kind of proof by contradiction" or "I don't know where to begin, it is not my belief."  Why shouldn't this coincidence of verbal constructions spend all your money on liquid nitrogen?  What is the clever or rational alternative to doing so?

[ Parent ]

More on frozen selfs by mwengler (2.00 / 0) #12 Thu Jun 03, 2010 at 09:57:38 AM EST
 I recommend The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose.  He talks some about self and more about "strong A.I." which seems to be a widely used label for those who believe that anything executing the same algorithms our brain executes will have a consciousness similar to our brain's.  That is, if you can take all the info from our brain, both the code space and the data space, and get the clock going again, you will have a consciousness identical to yours.

I have long thought that any technique which could be used to make more than one copy of me could not be expected to continue my own self.  I think of twins, they do not have one self spread across two bodies, but two extremely similar but distinct selves.  Any technique which could make two copies of me (or copy me without destroying me) would create "twins," not the same consciousness spread across two bodies.  But if it creates twins, it is not really continuing my own self.  Indeed, my copied self might believe itself to be a continuation of "me," but if we would know it to be wrong (or at least one of my 2 or more copies to be wrong) if it were one of a few copies, then it doesn't become right because we have conveniently not bothered providing the compelling evidence of its wrongness by creating the extra copies.  This has put me off a significant amount of science fiction dealing with this topic.  

I conclude that were I to be frozen cryonically, I would hope my own body/brain could be thawed and revived, because that would be like waking up, perhaps like waking up from anesthesia, which rightly or wrongly, I do accept as not dying, as continuing my own self.  But were my brain to be downloaded into some other matrix and clocked, then that is a technique which COULD be used to make multiple non-overlapping copies of my consciousness, and so I interpret it, rightly or wrongly, as creating my twin, which doesn't do "me" any good whether I am alive or dead.  

So cryonics terminating in revival of my own damn brain would be OK.  

Another tangential comment on Strong A.I.  John Searl talks about the "Chinese Room" which did in fact convince me away from strong A.I.  As I think about it now, the Chinese Room also "suffers" from copyability, and so perhaps I have stumbled upon a useful concept in thinking about consciousness and how to conserve it.  

Alan's comments against the existence of the self, are they perhaps a statement that the me of 1 year from now is EQUIVALENT to a copy of me made now, and then aged a year?  Equivalent, in the sense of... indistinguishable from?  Now I am a fan of the idea that a difference that doesn't make a difference is no difference at all.  But i have a hard time knowing how to apply that to self and consciousness.  From OUTSIDE me, a copy of me, my twin brother as it were, and me, we may be indistinguishable, a difference that makes no difference to the OUTSIDE world.  But from inside?  Well I know that while I am in New York and my copy is in New Zealand, to the people in New Zealand, that copy-thing is a difference that makes no difference.  But to ME, it is a difference that does make a difference, as I am eating great pizza in New York, while I am not (but my copy is) bungee jumping on the Shotover.  I think in talking about the self many people do think that a difference that makes a difference MUST be perceivable from the outside.  But that makes no sense to me, if it makes a difference to my consciousness, it doesn't matter if I am the only one that can see the difference, it is still a real difference.  

Further, it would seem, an argument against cryonics like the one Alan makes above could just as well be an argument against spending even rudimentary effort or resources on self-preservation.  Why shouldn't I jump off a building just to see what it is like?  My future self does not exist, so I have nothing to lose.  How is not bothering with cryonics justifiable, if eating vitamins and exercising in order to live longer is justifiable?  It seems in the above, if one goes, they both go.  

Jeff Hawkins in On Intelligence dismisses the mystery of consciousness with something like "consciousness is just what it feels like to have a brain like ours."  Feels like to whom, I ask?  Another great book IMHO.

We implicity model the self as cummulative by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #14 Tue Jun 08, 2010 at 01:49:35 PM EST
My father is dying of Alzheimer's disease. It is a terrible disease. It raises problems for theology.

Ordinarily we think of the self as something that grows but does not shrink. Though it changes through time we see no difficulty because we instinctively say "Take the latest version."

If we are lucky we may never see a neuro-degenerative disease up close and personal. We need never see the difficulty. But how is heaven supposed to work? The resurrection to eternal life had better involve some rolling back of the years, to earlier, happier times. There are practical problems here. There is no point in cryonic preservation for some-one who dies after a neuro-degenerative disease has followed its natural course. There are also problems of principle. When is the self?

My father had a very good memory, so when it started to fail him he had to learn to make written notes. Alas! He left it too late to learn the skill. He left it too late to learn that you have to write large and neat, least reading the damn things become a tragedy.

We don't have to imagine so frustrating a scenario. Imagine instead a young man who neither suspects nor admits to any failings in his good but imperfect memory. This makes him a bit of an arsehole. Later in life, as age-related deterioration takes its toll, he is forced to admit that he isn't always right, and goes back to patch up unresolved quarrels from his youth. Later still he dies and goes to heaven. What is the correct rollback of the years? To the young arsehole? To the older man with his wisdom and his loss? When is the self? Does God have some kind of merging algorithm, borrowed from CVS.

Twins? That is a tricky subject, I have another thousand words from 2008 on what different genetics would mean for the sense of sense. I'll try to polish them up and put them on my website.

> Why shouldn't I jump off a building just to see what it is like?  My future self does not exist, so I have nothing to lose.

Once upon a time there were people who thought like that and other people who had instincts that made them think differently. Guess who you are descended from :-)

OK that is yet another evolutionary psychology just-so story. Hmm, it is better than most. The gain in reproductive fitness from having an instinct that makes damn fool behaviour seem damn foolish is clear enough. Though we still need to decide what this all feels like from the inside.

I cannot tell you why you shouldn't jump off a building just for the (final) experience, but I am confident of my prediction that you will decide not to do so. You are descended from a long line of people, all of whom decided not to, atleast until later in life. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

Oh god, I feel another wild and reckless analogy coming on. Think back to 1865. Here is an argument against James Clark Maxwell's new theory of electro-magnetism. He predicts a new kind of transverse wave. It propagates insanely fast. This unreasonably high velocity of propagation is not in itself a decisive argument against his theory. We know of something else, light, that also travels with unreasonable rapidity.

Where Maxwell's theory does strain credulity is that the velocity of his new transverse wave is, to within experimental accuracy (about 50% at this date) the same as that of light. That introduces a redundancy into physics. Now we have two super-fast phenomenon, both, by some unfathomable co-incidence, going at the same excessive speed. No. There must be something wrong with his theory.

Something similar is happening today with the new-fangled theories of evolutionary psychology. They offer an account of human self-preservation in which we have an instinct acting as a bridal on the mind, stopping us from acting upon foolish impulses and bending the free-wheeling intellect towards longevity.

The big objection to this new perspective is its redundancy. We already know what stops us from jumping of a building: the self. There is this thing called the self, which is real and not just an instinct, and it will not let us jump off a building because it would be killed in the fall.

[ Parent ]

The self or not the self by mwengler (2.00 / 0) #15 Wed Jun 09, 2010 at 02:24:19 PM EST
 My condolences about your father.  My mother had a stroke in 2001.  For a few days we thought she might be essentially a vegetable, and for a while thought she might be quite compromised mentally.  Her recovery since then has been remarkable.  When she first woke up and started talking to us, I could tell she was aphasic, although obviously not completely.  As she kept getting frustrated trying to talk to us about some things, she turned to me and said "I'm aphasic."  I laughed and was extremely happy.  I went instantly from being concerned that the lights were on but nobody was home (or if somebody was home it wasn't really my mother) to thinking my mother's home, the lights are on, but the windows are filthy.  No doubt this experience amplified my interest in the brain and consciousness 100 fold.  I went from thinking I am the guy who does math, creates things, and communicates brilliantly about it to thinking I am the guy who has various black boxes at my disposal, which black boxes do such brilliant things as analyze things mathematically, spit out streams of new ideas that I can watch, and create brilliant communications.  

I wouldn't agree that there is no point in freezing someone who dies of Alzheimer's.  Does the disease destroy  the interior structure of the brain, or does it just destroy bits and pieces but enough to interrupt the proper interface?  I have seen a brain and a person recover.  My recent experience with neurological disease is different from yours in that respect.  Beyond that, from engineering I see so many complex systems that are non-functional with only small amounts of actual damage.  My mother's stroke fits that model, the insult to her brain was a delta-function, and I watched the recovery.  Clearly what I was afraid was gone when first seeing her was not gone, but the connection between it and the outside world was disrupted.  Temporarily in my mother's case.  Do you know that Alzheimer's is not more a disruption of interface than an actual destruction of structure?  From what I've heard about Alzheimer's, at least through a long part of the disease, you have good days and bad days.  That proves the stuff can still be there even while inaccessible on a given day to the sufferer.  Do you actually know enough to be sure the structure is gone?  Is the seemingly unlikely result of revival after freezing after death that much MORE unlikely for an Alzheimer's sufferer?

 One of the blog posts I think of starting and don't think I ever have yet is: what if consciousness is something interesting and real, and its attachment and enhancement to our meat puppets has gigantic survival value in evolution?  What if balancing neuronal firing thresholds puts the neurons on some kind of quantum knife edge where a phenomenon that feels like self-consciousness can come along and actually influence significantly the material world?  What if that self-consciousness phenemenon is part of an extraordinarily fit animal?  What if a meat puppet without consciousness is constrained to rather mundane neurological advantages, while a meat puppet with the consciousness mutation is just so much better at winning against the saber tooth and the neanderthal?  We don't have to know HOW it is implemented to know that if it provides a survival advantage it will spread and hone itself and grow itself through evolution.  What if consciousness is the innovation that mad that neocortex growth so incredibly valuable in evolution?  

My points would include that an interior examination of consciousness based on what it feels like to be a human is not at all at odds with the idea that our psychology is subject to evolutionary constraints.  Another point would be, which would seem more likely to have evolutionary value, a system which produced verbal behavior that mistakenly described itself as conscious but was really just a newtonian-bohr chemico-mechanico machine, or a system which knew itself and cared for itself and thought really long and hard about how to get laid and not die.  We know there's stuff we don't understand.  Occam's razor for me would choose the system that is actually doing what it seems to be doing, not the system which just pretends its doing consciousness but that is just a wierd artifact/side-effect of a dead machine.  

My question about jumping off a building if the self in some sense does not exist was asked in full knowledge of evolutionary psychology.  Indeed, it does seem pretty robust to conclude that our fear of death, our great sadness and anguish at the death of others who carry similar genes to ours, is evolved in to us.  It seems clear enough you could have a human mind with little or no such fear, and it would still feel like a human mind to us, this is not a defnitive feature of humanity.  So I do feel like part of my job as a consciousness is to "grok" death, to deal with it in myself and my loved ones in full consciousness, including my full range of rational and emotional connections to it, without "freaking out."  It is obvious to me that my consiousness whatever it is can survive the hypothetical death of my 10 year old daughter.  That I can't really imagine how that can work is a failure of my imagination, a failure to be correctly conscious about my possibilities and potentialities.  But it is not a failure of evolutionary psychology, which really seems happy enough to have me devoting so many cycles to keeping the other meat puppets with my genes in them on track to reproduce and protect other meat puppets.  

In any case, the fact that we would evolve to want to preserve our "selves" is hardly evidence in my mind that the self doesn't exist!  I guess you are saying "evolution has made you think you have a self as a mechanism towards scaring you away from losing it, don't be fooled in to thinking you really have a self."  On the same evidence you might say "evolution has tightly identified your meat puppet with a self as a mechanism towards gaining all sorts of advantages that an intelligent and willful actor will have, not the least of which is an evolutionarily helpful tendency towards self preservation."  I have to tell you, I think Occam's razor comes down on the side of the second explanation.  I think it is only the fact that we have no idea how to build a self from pieces, and that we know we don't have as "solid" a theory of self as we do of billiard tables and molecules (Newtonian and quantum mechanics) that makes us feel as though an explanation that selves are just fake is simpler than one in which they are relatively close to what they appear to be.  

[ Parent ]

A problem with cryonics | 16 comments (16 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback