Archive for the ‘human replication’ Category

Hazlitt’s Insight

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

The least pain in our little finger gives us more concern and uneasiness, than the destruction of millions of our fellow-beings. – William Hazlitt

As early as 1796, when he was just eighteen, the English essayist William Hazlitt may have become the first Westerner to see that self-concern is not rationally required.

Hazlitt published his insight in 1805, in his Essays on the Principles of Human Action.  Introducing the 1990 edition, John Price informs us that “The reading public and the reviewing journals regarded it, for the most part, with indifference or hostility.”   Hazlitt’s Essays and the idea they contain fell into obscurity for the best part of two centuries, after which the idea re-emerged independently as part of a new wave of thought about personal identity (more…)

The Anatomy of Self-Concern

Friday, May 21st, 2010

 

Published in 1998, Raymond Martin’s Self-Concern set a new direction for the philosophical discussion of personal identity by shifting the focus from “the normative question of whether this or that should matter in survival to the largely descriptive question of what…actually does…matter.”  Martin questions the philosophical goal of trying to show that we all should (rationally) respond in the same way to the puzzle cases – a goal shared by Parfit and his opponents – calling the attempt “survival-value imperialism.”  In examining how people actually value their own survival, his book goes a long way towards characterizing the conditions that make it difficult or easy for people to self-identify across time.  It is largely about the psychology of self-concern. (more…)

Life Insurance as Game Changer

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Who would have predicted that boring old life insurance would become the ‘killer app’ that makes human replication technology truly transformational?  But that does seem to follow from the logic of the situation.

The arguments for information-based life insurance are even more compelling than the arguments for teleportation.  The advantages of travelling as information are speed, convenience, cost, and sustainability (in the form of lower carbon emissions).  The final product is the same as conventional travel – the customer is (to all intents and purposes) transported from place A to place B.  But in the case of life insurance, the product is radically transformed.  Whereas traditional insurance merely mitigates the damage of death by providing monetary support to surviving family, the new insurance warrants the life of the policyholder by – in the event of his death – restoring him from a backup file.   It changes our relationship to death, which is no small matter. (more…)

Phoenix – episode 3

Friday, March 26th, 2010

This is the third and final episode of “Phoenix,”  a short story about an improved kind of life insurance.  If you haven’t read episode 1, start here.

(video on – metallic cylindrical interior)

Frank here.  So here I am in the itravel pod on Olympus Station, Mars orbit, which is home, heading out to Prince Rupert BC.  Who the heck was Prince Rupert, anyhow?  This system’s running slower than ever.  I’ve been sitting doing dick for five minutes, bored out of my skull, listening to Eleanor Rigby on their crappy sound system.  Okay. here we go, I’m finally getting a tingle…a-a-a-and…must be there!

Welcome to Prince Rupert, Canada’s Pacific Rim deep-water port. (more…)

Phoenix – episode 2

Friday, March 19th, 2010

This is the second episode of “Phoenix,”  a short fiction about an improved kind of life insurance.  If you haven’t read episode 1, start here.

That was my first taste of problems involved with using my life insurance policy.  I didn’t think they were all that bad, considering the alternative.  It was only after I died a second time that I felt a tiny bit concerned, because it was so stupid.  Even now, now that the pattern is obvious, I have trouble understanding how I could have done it.  Back then, I couldn’t begin to understand.  My log entry after I saw the evidence is pure confusion – just screaming question marks.

I’d survived a year and a half since the volcano.  By that time I had lots of experience and was diving safely.  In fact I was getting bored, and looking at other sports.  Anyway, this is what happened, as well as I’ve been able to reconstruct it.  I needed the cruiser for a date with a girl on some other station so I asked Dad well in advance and he agreed.  Fine.  Eight o’clock Friday night I climbed in and the fuel-oxygen was down to zip.  Almost.  The spare tank was empty too.  How could Dad let that happen?  I was probably late, probably frustrated.  I drove that thing into a station and traded in the spare.  The attendant was pretty young – I saw him at the inquest later – didn’t know much.  He gave me a tank with the wrong fitting.  And I didn’t notice. (more…)

Phoenix – episode 1

Friday, March 12th, 2010

“Phoenix” is a short story about a young guy who found freedom in a life insurance policy.  Here is the first of three episodes.

This is Frank Forster speaking on January 7, 2092.  This is a confidential message for Frank Forster.

Frank…if anybody’s around, save this for another time.   You’re going to have to make a decision, and you don’t need anybody’s advice except your own.

You’re probably wondering why there’s no video.  I turned it off.  I’ll explain why later.  Just keep listening, Frank, I need you to hear this through to the end without any interruption.  Arrange that, okay?  I don’t want somebody like Georg dropping in for a cold one in the middle of this.  Not that Georg will, ‘cause he’s dead.  I assume you heard.  God, I hope you did – I’m not trying to be brutal.  Yeah, Georg’s dead, permanently…yeah, permanently…and that’s a lot of what this message is about, so pay attention, hamhead!   Oops, sorry, sorry, I, uh…Frank, I’m not trying to offend you.  I don’t want you to stop listening.  Don’t stop listening.  Understand that I have strong feelings.  You will understand, if you just listen to this.  So, if I start to get abusive, just go with it, okay?  Do that for me.  Shit, do it for yourself.  I don’t want to edit this, I’d mess it up.  So some parts may be a bit raw, so what?  I care about you, Frank, so no bullshit.  You’re my future – all the future I’ve got.

I’m going to ask you to do something you won’t like.  It’s about life insurance, Frank.  I’m going to ask you to cancel your policy. (more…)

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…)

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…)

Parfit on What Matters

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Parfit's Division1Part Three of Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons is titled “Personal Identity”.  One of its central claims is what Parfit calls the Reductionist View: that persons are not “separately existing entities” over and above their brains and bodies.  What is important about being the same person at different times consists primarily in psychological continuity and connectedness.

Another, related claim is that being the same person is not in itself very important.  In particular, it is not a rational justification for self-concern.  If I know that someone in the future will not be myself, that is not a good reason not to anticipate having that person’s experiences.  What is important are the underlying, real relations of psychological continuity and connectedness.  And even they do not have exactly the same importance that we tend to believe personal identity has.

Part Three of Reasons and Persons contains 150 pages of closely-reasoned arguments which are by and large original, compelling, and illuminating.  I will not try to restate all of Parfit’s arguments, or to comment on them all; instead, I strongly recommend his book to anyone interested in this subject.   In this post, I will review one of Parfit’s more important lines of argument in Chapter 12, “Why Our Identity is Not What Matters.”

Brain-Splitting

Parfit begins this chapter by making a refreshing break from the philosophical practice of thought-experiments, building instead on actual cases documented in medical literature.  These are the famous ‘split-brain’ cases, in which surgeons severed the corpus callosum, the main bundle of nerve fibres connecting the left and right hemispheres of the human brain, as a treatment for epilepsy.  Cutting the connection reduces the severity of epileptic attacks by preventing seizures from spreading from one hemisphere to the other.  But there are side-effects.

The effect, in the words of one surgeon, was the creation of ‘two separate spheres of consciousness’.  (p 245) (more…)

Forking – episode 4

Monday, November 16th, 2009

This is the fourth and last episode of Forking, a short story in the ‘philosophy fiction’ genre.  If you haven’t yet read Episode 1, start here.

Forking 4 composite 3Roger Beethey shows up late, with a blonde.  Elliot gives him a pleading look.  “Relax,” says Beethey.

“You said it would be a skeleton crew,” Elliot complains, gesturing to a clump of technicians.

“It is.”  Beethey nudges the blonde.  “This is Sylvan.  He’ll do your faces.”

The Elliots exchange glances, and stand up.  “This isn’t a game,” one says angrily. 

“You’re right, it’s no game,” Beethey hisses.  “You chose us, a US major network, over your socialized Canadian TV, because you wanted the exposure.  Well if you want our exposure, you’ve got to get us our ratings.  The network doesn’t even know what it’s invested in, because of your paranoia about leaks.  They’ll be watching with interest, and if I don’t come up with a professional product” – he draws a line across his throat – “I’ll have to pull your stunt right after you. (more…)