Personal Identity

I’m loosely associating this with survival, but I am really just going back to some philosophy that I’ve looked at before. It is also somewhat playful. I take an idea and run with it for a while. I’m not sure if I am going to keep it with me forever.

There are various interesting ideas about the future such as emulated humans and AIs that copy themselves. Emulated humans are people that have had their brains scanned and then computers run an emulation (one of the biggest proponents of the idea is Robin Hanson, his scenario may be found here). Emulated humans are also implicit in some peoples thoughts on cryonics. People contend that if the emulation has the same responses to the same stimuli, or output to input, they are the same person. It doesn’t matter if they have a body or are a brain-in-a-vat they are still the same. It is a functional/computational view of self-hood.

So what happens if you copy someone? Lets assume they are atomically identical, just in a different space. By this view you have two of the same person. Both have the same function, both are the same person! What do you do with their bank account? What would their lovers do (this would depend a lot upon the people involved!)?

My view is more pragmatic. Self-hood is fragment-able and pragmatic. You are the same person when it helps to think of yourself as the same person as you were. That you still prefer certain foods, other people have certain dispositions to you,  you have skills at certain video games or the way you handle your money are moderately stable and help you predict yourself and your world. If these things stay the same, then you are the same person. The sum of the way you think about yourself defines your personal identity. Creating another exact copy of you won’t change things too much, except how the rest of the world relates to you.

It will vastly change the social aspect of your pragmatic identity. As well as personal identities, we all have identities in other peoples minds that they use to predict us. Part of the identity of other people is the number of bodies they have! So copying me would change a very large aspect of peoples conception of me.  Due to the way fact that they interact with me is part of my identity, so my self-identity would have to change. I would now have to be whpearson1 or whpearson2 so that other people could relate to the mes.

Another aspect that might change is your relation to the physical world. If you own only one pre-copying you suddenly find yourself having to share or steal a car. If you found it useful to define yourself by your possessions before hand, then you would lose that ability to predict yourself.

People grieve about lost possessions and relationships, so I don’t think it too much of stretch to say they represent small parts of your personal death. Grieving being a period of reconfiguration of what it means to be you.

So ironically copying me functionally would in some ways make me cease to exist. It depends how much of my identity was wrapped up in social or physical interactions.

By the pragmatic view


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