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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