Archive for the ‘identity’ Category

What We Are

Friday, February 26th, 2010

What are we, if we are informational entities?

Like most people (and unlike some philosophers) I will stick to the view that we are persons.  In this post I will try to state clearly what persons are according to the theory of persons I recommend, which I call the Information Theory.  I will begin to flesh the theory out, by drawing out some of its consequences.

The Information Theory

Here are some claims of the Information Theory of Persons.

  1. Persons are entities that can be multiply instantiated, like tunes, dances, literary works, electronic files, computer programs, and genes.
  2. Like all those things, persons are entities that can be expressed as information.  A person can cross a spatio-temporal gap in the form of information carried by any convenient medium, such as electronic files.
  3. Persons are distinct from the living biological organisms they depend on, as software is distinct from the hardware it runs on. (more…)

The Self Illusion

Monday, February 1st, 2010


To find the right answers, ask the right questions.  I have skated around the question, “Is there a rational justification for self concern?” without coming up with a solid argument that settles it one way or the other.  But there is a related question which can be answered.

Two Views of Teleportation

As we have seen, teleportation by means of information transfer can be viewed in two ways.  The facts of the case are: I am scanned in North Vancouver and my information is sent to Omaha, where it is used to construct a living replica of me.  Meanwhile, the original in North Vancouver is destroyed.  Two views of these events are:

SURVIVE: I am transported from North Vancouver to Omaha.

DIE: I am killed in North Vancouver, and someone else – my replica – is constructed in Omaha.

People who think about teleportation disagree about whether SURVIVE or DIE is an accurate description of the case.  How can it be settled which view is true – or whether neither is true?

People who disagree about SURVIVE and DIE do not disagree about the facts of the case.  The facts are not in question.  No scientific experiment can be devised to settle which of SURVIVE and DIE is an accurate description of the facts. (more…)

Gappy Things That Branch and Change

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

IdentityImagine, in the early days of books, a small library consisting entirely of original manuscripts.  Some of them are very old, and have been attacked by mice.  Some have deteriorated so much that their pages crumble to dust when the custodian of the library tries to read them.  He mourns the loss of these books, and contemplates the inevitable decay of the remaining books with sorrow.  To be sure, new manuscripts are occasionally added to the library, but they cannot replace the volumes that are lost forever.  This goes on until, one day, the young assistant librarian has an idea.  “This book will be unreadable in five years,” he tells his elder.  “But I can read it now.  If I copy the words of this book onto sheets of new vellum, and bind them in a strong new binding, we will be able to read it for many decades to come.”  The old librarian tenderly strokes the cracked spine of the crumbling volume, and shakes his head.  “What good is a copy?  It wouldn’t be the same book.”

In the previous post, I summarized one of Derek Parfit’s main arguments that personal identity – being the same person over time – is not what matters in survival.

Human fission – one person ‘splitting’ into two – is clearly imaginable.  It is physically possible, and is not far from being technically possible.  Parfit argues compellingly that fission would preserve what is important in survival.  Specifically, if Parfit knew that both of his cerebral hemispheres were about to be separately transplanted into two separate bodies, he would have the same rational justification for anticipating the experiences of both of the post-op survivors as each of us has for anticipating his or her own future experiences.  This, despite the fact that the original Derek Parfit ceased to exist when he was divided.  In this case, ceasing to exist is very unlike ordinary death.  Ceasing to exist just consists in the fact that the two post-op survivors are different persons from one another, and neither one is the same person as the pre-op Derek Parfit.  Loss of identity of this kind does not matter. (more…)