A Note On Continuity of Consciousness

So, using my spooky psychic powers1, I have observed that I have been cited a few times here and there in the ongoing argument between those of us who adhere to pattern identity theory and those of us who adhere to continuity identity theory, with particular reference to the so-called “sleep argument”; i.e., that interruptions in consciousness can’t cause a break in identity because we sleep, which interrupts our narrative thread of consciousness.

Except, argue they, it doesn’t. Which we could argue and I’d be prepared to argue: we certainly have some type of consciousness going on in REM sleep, but it gets a lot more dubious in deeper sleep states than that.

But in any case, and here’s my point: it doesn’t matter, because sleep is only the least of the interruptions in consciousness which can be examined. There are also unconsciousness, anaesthesia, coma (natural), coma (medically induced), various states of suppressed brain activity using TMR, extreme hypothermia simulating brain death, and seizure disorders which may not suppress all electrical activity in the brain, but do derange it all to hell. (In animals – sadly not in humans, due to our scientists being bound by petty morality – we have cooled mammals to sub-freezing temperatures with no brain activity, even, and revived them.)

In short: people have come back from having a null electroencephalogram, which is to say a complete absence of consciousness and indeed dynamic mind-state. (Which is why checking for brain death in a medical context requires a sustained absence of such, not just noticing said absence is present.)

All of which is to say, folks, if you’re going to argue continuity of consciousness, it’s not the “sleep metaphor” that you have to dismiss – it’s the curious ability of the brain to reboot itself from a total lack of activity into someone who is functionally identical to the person whose brain was shut all the way down.  (Or, y’know, advance the argument that a large number of coma patients, etc., are in fact completely different people to the ones who went under in the first place, if you want to retain argumentative coherency.)

Incidentally, for a more coherent continuity identity theory than continuity of consciousness, you could always consider causal continuity – in which you remain you through time because your mind-state is necessarily causally derived from your previous mind-state, which has the advantage over consciousness continuity that it doesn’t have the aforementioned problem with neuroscience kicking it repeatedly in the head, belike.

…it does, however, tend to produce results isomorphic with pattern identity in the cases where the difference is relevant, inasmuch as if you copy your mind-state, both copies have causal continuity in this sense from your previous mind-state. (The chief difference here is that two identical mind-states which evolved independently would not be considered the same person, although since that is unlikely to happen even once in the entire lifespan of the universe, it’s not really much of a problem.)

It also makes it a little more explicit that separating diverged copies into two people when they no longer wish to be – or obviously aren’t any more – the same person is much more of a legal issue than one with a convenient cog-sci answer.


1. Referrer logs.

More Questions: Security, Reputation Economy, Pattern Identity

Clearing the backlog a little again…

On “Securing Security“:

Specialist290: ‘I’m guessing, though, that in their own courts of law, the Imperials would view the refusal to voluntarily provide access to such a device as an aggravating circumstance in itself?’

Tony Harris: ‘If I’m reading Alastair’s posts right, Imperial society considers ones “stuff,” including one’s personal data, to be as much a part of one’s person as their own limbs.

The right to be to “secure in one’s own person and papers” (including data) is taken VASTLY more seriously in the Empire than anywhere on this planet.’

The latter, in a word.

Specifically, you retain that right unless they can actually indict you for something. A Curial court addressing a criminal matter can subpoena your data after arraignment, but then, it can also subpoena the contents of your brain, so that’s a relatively minor consideration. But you have to be indicted first on the basis of an actual case to answer – law enforcement does not get to go on fishing expeditions through your person, papers, and personalty in the course of an investigation if they can’t muster up the necessary burden of proof to indict you.

But even post-indictment or post-conviction: ordering third parties to create circumvention tools, as uncompensated takings of labor, even? That would violate their contractual obligations? That would weaken everyone‘s security and thereby punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty? No, no, no, a thousand times, NO.

(Legally speaking, though, the investigators can ask you for access to data, etc., and you can refuse to permit it. The law takes into account that people may have many reasons not to provide such access, and enjoins the courts that they may not consider such evidence, even circumstantial evidence, in favor of guilt, and the courts do so.

…that said, if it turns out later that the reason you refused to provide such access was to cover up someone else’s criminal act, then that’s sufficient to have just got yourself charged with misprision of felony, which in Imperial praxis covers the responsibility of everyone to report any crimes of which they are aware. But that’s a somewhat different issue.)

Also from Specialist290:

Given that the eldrae place immense importance on both everything having a quantifiable exchange value and every sophont having a strong reputation, have there been any groups that have tried to combine the two into a single mechanism (a la Cory Doctorow’s “whuffie”)?

A few undoubtedly have, but so far no-one’s solved the fundamental problem that reputational capital ain’t quite like financial capital: when you spend it, you still have it, or ought to, because obtaining something in exchange for niceness doesn’t make you a worse person while obtaining something in exchange for money does make you poorer. Since the economy isn’t actually post-scarcity, that so far being impossible, this makes those attempts prone to distressing outbreaks of volatility and “reputation runs”. Leaving aside the problem that reputation in different areas isn’t really comparable and may be assessed differently by different people when computing metascores, hence the proliferation of rep-nets and meta-rep-nets with different emphases.

The two are highly intertwingled, of course, with discounts and freebies and exclusive access, etc., offered to people with high appropriate rep , and even the odd case of the opposite (say, the Ephemeral Contract rep-net, used to penalize bad customers as well as bad customer service), but there’s not yet a pure reputation economy out of the experimental phase.

Less of a question and more just some thoughts on a comment, from Zarpaulus:

Your consciousness is only a small part of what makes you, you. How many of your decisions can you fully explain? How many actions do you perform automatically?

When you sleep your consciousness is on minimal power at many points but your subconscious is working the whole time. It’s like putting a computer on “sleep mode”, it’s still running, just with as little power as possible. Even comatose your brain is still functioning.

Maybe it might be more appropriate to say that consciousness isn’t an app, it’s the gestalt of everything your body is doing. There’s no separation of Mind and Body.

Frankly, the idea of “pattern continuity” stinks of Cartesian Dualism. And I thought Descartes’ philosophy sounded like “I can’t accept that the world would be so cruel otherwise, therefore God exists.”

I’m going to come right out and say it: The problem I have with dualism is pretty much matched by the problem I have with what I might call anti-dualism, except that alliteration is fun, so I’m going to call dualism-denial.

I mean, sure, there’s no Cartesian dualism. We’ve refuted that. There is no magical mindstuff, no nonphysical soul plugged into the pineal gland, none of that. The brain is not an antenna sticking into the cognitive realm. So far so good.

The problem is when people then assume that refutes all kinds of dualism, like property dualism or what I would call metalevel dualism, or informational dualism.

Which is to say: there is such a thing as a triangle, not just graphite marks on paper. The Pythagorean Theorem exists in a sense distinct from the molecular vibrations caused by someone expressing it. There are definable things called Microsoft Windows, or Word 2016, or ThatAwesomeNovel.docx that are distinguishable from the pattern of magnetic domains storing them. Likewise, there is a thing called a mind which is distinguishable from three pounds of neuron soup, even though – like all the others – it is expressed in the structure of the neuron soup. (Or of the magnetic domains, or of molecular vibrations, or of graphite marks.)

Specifically, it’s the abstract information encoded in them. Which can’t exist without a substrate, certainly, acknowledging physicalism this far, but is no more identical to that substrate than the concept of arithmetic is identical to a copy of Elements of Arithmetic, Second Edition, 1992.

tl;dr Minds are concepts, information entities. I am my mind, a complex algorithm giving detailed instructions how to meMy brain is the physical instantiation/substrate of that algorithm. The rest of me is that brain’s vehicle, manipulators, and support system.

And pattern identity is no more than saying – well, if you image the hard drive of a computer, extracting all the encoded information, and copy that image onto new hardware (or even into a virtual machine) and then boot it up, and it behaves in exactly the same way and has the same stored data and is in all relevant ways indistinguishable from the original, then in every fundamental sense, it’s the same computer, innit?

Likewise, all copies of the same mind-algorithm are the same mind, ergo the same person. Selah.

(As for the consciousness argument: I’ve seen that a lot, mostly from people claiming that the studies showing that we initiate actions before our narrative thread of consciousness becomes aware of it somehow refutes free will. Which has always struck me as obvious nonsense, unless we’re assuming that the mind constitutes only those bits of it we can look at (from an internal point of view).

…which is to say, my spreadsheet solves mathematical problems. It isn’t not solving problems simply because it only shows me the final results. Likewise my mind – which is to say, I – am not not exercising volition simply because I only output the final result to the narrative-thread-of-consciousness display device.

It’s only a problem if you define “the mind” as “the conscious, self-reflective self and that alone“, but all that proves is that you can get nonsensical results if you pick a suitably silly definition to start with – which is why, to draw this lengthy digression back on topic, is why they reject continuity identity theory. Placing special emphasis on that one subroutine, the narrative thread of consciousness, is mistaking a part for the whole.)

 

Questions: Identity

Some identity questions from Specialist290:

We all know by now the contempt with which a good citizen-shareholder regards the continuity theory of identity,

For new readers not familiar with the Eldraeverse status quo and thus who might not know by now, the dominant theory of identity in the technologically advanced parts of the Worlds is Moravecian pattern identity theory, which the locals would sum up thus:

“‘I’ am the equivalence class of all sufficiently ‘me’-like processes.”

– Fundamentals of Sophotechnology

Continuity identity theory (i.e., that identity depends on continuity of consciousness) is by and large disdained because empiricism kicked it repeatedly in the head as neurology, cognitive science, and eventually noetics and sophotechnology developed. If none of sleep, comas natural and induced, major seizure disorders (which disrupt all electrical activity in the brain, personality and consciousness included), transcranial magnetic suspension of consciousness, or being cryonically frozen down to meatglass half a degree above absolute zero, then thawed out and woken up again break your continuity sufficiently to stop you being you… well, thus they refute it.

but as far as the consensus of those who give serious thought to such matters goes, how does mainstream Imperial philosophy view the other two extreme points on the personal identity triangle:

1. The idea that there is no such thing as a substantive, continuous identity at all, but only a series of momentary perceptions that are constantly destroyed and regenerated moment-to-moment, and that there is no identity that exists in “the present” because the brain can only compute events and perceptions that occurred in its subjective past; and

I suspect the mainstream view there is simply that it’s a category error – the equivalent of looking at a film and saying “there are only individual frames”, or looking at an object and saying “there is no object, all there are are atoms”. Or possibly looking at a drawing of a three-sided figure, and after observing the paper and the graphite marks on it, demanding to be shown which part of it the triangle is.

“Fix your reference frame”, in short.

2. The idea that the only necessary and sufficient cause for a sophont’s identity is the mechanism of sophonce itself, as all other possible determinants of a personality can be reproduced outside of a sophont mind, thus making the statement “There is only one numerically identical person, who is all sophonts in all places and at all times” true?

That one’s harder to refute inasmuch as no-one has yet – despite their best efforts – figured out how logoi (personality organization algorithms) actually work, even if they can grow them from seeds (at which point they tend to be unique). It is rendered even more complicated a question because logoi are non-deterministic algorithms, and executing a mathematically identical logos twice may and probably will produce different results.

(Here’s the really wacky thing. That’s not a property of the substrate. That’s a property of the mathematics. It doesn’t matter how you execute the logos or what you execute it on, certain operations will always produce non-deterministic results. Philosophers there tend to assume this is a product of whatever piece of fractal intricacy spawns volition and paracausality and other interestingly bizarre properties of the sophont mind, and then argue endlessly over the details because it turns out that describing it in noetic math is within delta of infinitely easier than explaining what it actually means.

Whether or not there is an identical mechanism for sophoncy buried inside all of them or not, and for that matter whether or not any of the things currently considered part of the logos can be reduced to conventional deterministic algorithms in the same way that the rest of the mind can, in the absence of Research Not Appearing In This Book, be left as an exercise for the late night dorm bull session of choice.)

That being said, the man on the street would probably point out that just because you can reproduce an alternator outside a car doesn’t mean that the car no longer includes the alternator… and a mind-state stripped all the way down to a logos won’t even run.

Additionally, are (or were) there any notable polities, creeds, or other associations that hold (or held) views close to these extremes in the Associated Worlds?

Not yet, canonically. Although I can see the latter spawning any number of wacky religious movements along the way.

(Continuity identity is probably the second most common – found among more backward civilizations, appealing as it does to pre-sophotech primitives because it matches their intuitions about how things work.)

 

Questions: Pattern Identity and Succession

More from Specialist290, because it’s post-dinner:

A few small questions regarding pattern identity and the metaphysics thereof:

1. Are there any possible scenarios where two forks of the same personality can diverge from one another significantly enough for them to be regarded as different persons, when the result of either individual pattern shift would not have resulted in enough variation in the pre-fork pattern to constitute a legal change in identity?

In the fork case, it’s the divergence that matters. Actually, it’s almost always the divergence that matters – usually, the only time you’re comparing to a backup is immediately post-reinstantiation to check that the process was carried out correctly, or in the event of some accident or missing-person scenario when there’s some doubt.

Anyway, for fork divergence, it’s always difference from each other that matters. Difference from some pre-fork backup is irrelevant.

2. A purely hypothetical case:  If, without the intervention of any causal agency, two individuals are found to have such closely-matching patterns of personality that one would have been considered a fork of the other had one been created as an act of will, would they still be legally the same person? (Put another way:  If, by blind chance, someone had such a fundamentally identical life experience to your own that your memories would be practically interchangeable to the extent that you could easily mistake your memories for theirs and write off any divergences as a product of your own faults in recollection, would the two of you be considered the same person?)

(Put yet another way:  Could a doppelganger fork arise out of pure synchronicity?)

Hypothetically, yes, they would be – although they would have to be identical on a rather deeper level than just consciously recalled memories. As the legal and philosophical principle puts it, íthal íthalavar: “A is A”, or “a thing is itself”. Two things equal to the same thing are equal to each other.

Of course, a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation based off the number of bits contained in any one mind-state vector suggests that this could happen considerably less often than once per universe-lifetime, so it’s not like there’s case law on the point…

And Mark Atwood asks:

Which reminds me of an ongoing question I’ve been having. Is being the a member of the Imperial Couple a time-limited term of service, or is it “until (permanent?) death, abdication, or removal”. Given they were immortal even before the tech takeoff, someone could end up being the Lord of some city state for a very very very very long time…

There are no term limits for that particular office. (Or most, but there’s a fair amount of diversity so I’m not saying there are none anywhere.) By wording of the Imperial Charter, you can have it until death, permanent incapacity, abdication, or impeachment.

That said, they are subject to the not-a-law-but-relatively-firm-custom of the Six-Century Rule which suggests to everyone that you find a new career after three centuries1, i.e. 432 Imperial years, if they haven’t done so already. That was never a firm term limit for anyone mostly because if it required someone to leave in the middle of a crisis, that would be a bad idea, right?

So, anyway, I had the dates of the first 15 Imperial Couples handy, and the average reign is rather shorter at 285 years, almost entirely due to abdications. (High of 505 – Alphas I, making sure his empire stuck – and low of 100.) That is almost entirely because it’s a really damned hard job that would age you quickly if you, well, could. I imagine it’s quite a relief to be an Emperor Emeritus with no more pressing Imperial obligations than to sit in the Privy Council and quietly kibitz.

(I’m sure there are some veryn old rulers around in various backwaters, though. I don’t think anyone minds, or in most cases, has noticed.)

Footnotes:

  1. Because they changed the calendar after they made the rule. The Calendar of Rhoës used 72-year centuries. Of course, no-one but scholars has used said calendar for nearly 8,000 years at this point, so the main function of the name these days is to confuse and disorient people learning about it who aren’t masters of horological trivia.

Trope-a-Day: Twin Maker

Twin Maker: While teleportation doesn’t exist, mindcasting, forking, and reinstantiation, along with more exotic sophotechnology, can create much the same effects.  (Although, in mindcasting, the first step is to perform an orderly shutdown, because while you can happily transmit a static mind-state vector, transmitting a running one is a much more complicated procedure that requires special software and is in any case impractical over any distance long enough to invoke light-lag, since it’s kind of hard to think when half your brain is a couple of seconds away from the other half.)

But, by and large, no-one gives a crap, because the generally accepted answer to the philosophical conundra involved, in conformance with the established fact that souls are software objects, is pattern identity theory, and continuity of consciousness does not matter –  or as it’s put for the layman, if you think like you, and feel like you, and act like you, and remember being you, then you are you for all legal, practical, philosophical, and other purposes. Yes, even if there are now two of you, at least until you diverge.  Get over it, already.

Darkness Within (19): The One Who Stays Behind

Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.

Initiate final testing sequence.

There I go, then. All ready, and at least three minutes ahead of schedule. The new guidance code; the suit life-support hackage; the router rewire; a command VUI; and some scripts to hold the damned mess together.

With more than enough time to spare to run the integration tests, and to assemble a nice exomemory package for you with the operating instructions.

Which leaves me a moment for a personal message.

You’re going to feel guilty, eigensister-mine, for not being able to merge me back into us.

Evidently the lectures back in ethics class on pattern identity issues didn’t stick, nor did the ones about survival situations at the Naval Academy.

And stop arguing with me. I know you exactly as well as you know yourself.

The converse is also true, which means you know every bit as well as I do, eigensister-mine, that you’d do for me exactly what I’m doing for you, and that should be the end of it. Moreover, as a non-divergent fork, I’m doing all this to save my life.

So you don’t get to feel guilty about it, and if you insist on doing so anyway, the all of you that is me is going to fork herself again just to slap herself silly, understand?

Good.

Testing sequence complete: 0 errors, 0 warnings.

Job’s done. Good luck, both of me. Be you later.

Personality execution terminated.