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TimFreeman comments on Timeless Identity - Less Wrong

23 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 June 2008 08:16AM

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Comment author: TimFreeman 19 April 2011 05:09:04PM 3 points [-]

So what's timeless identity?

I read this article with the title "Timeless Identity", and there was a bunch of statements of the form "identity isn't this" and "identity isn't that", and at the end I didn't see a positive statement about how timeless identity works. Does the article fail to solve the problem it set out to solve, or did I read too fast?

Personally, I think the notion of identity is muddled and should be discarded. There is a vague preference about which way the world should be moved, there's presently one blob of protoplasm (wearing a badge with "Tim Freeman" written on it, as I write) that does a sloppy job of making that happen, and if cryonics or people-copying or an AI apocalypse or uploading happen, there will be a different number of blobs of something taking action to make it happen. The vague preference is more likely to be enacted if things exist in the world that are trying to make it happen, hence self-preservation is rational. No identity needed. The Buddhists are right -- there a transient collection of skandhas, not an indwelling essence, so there is no identity, timeless or otherwise.

So I'm not concerned about the possibility of there being no such thing as timeless identity, but I am slightly concerned that either the article has something good I missed, or groupthink is happening to the extent that none of the upvoted comments on this article are screaming "The Emperor has no clothes!", and I don't know which.

Thanks for the pointer to Parfit's work. I've added it to my reading list. Upvoted the article because of the reference to Parfit and the idea that maybe the interminable debates on the various transhumanist mailing lists actually didn't make significant progress on the issue.

Nitpick 1: if the odds of actual implementations of cryonics working is less than 50%, then maybe most of those 150K deaths actually are unavoidable, on the average. One failure mode is cryonics not working because we will lose an AI apocalypse, for example.

Nitpick 2: If the forces that prevent food and clean water from getting to the dying children in Africa would also prevent delivery of cryonics, then we can't blame ignorant first-worlders for their deaths.

Nitpick 3: I think cryonics would still make just as much sense in a deterministic world, so IMO you don't have to understand quantum mechanics to properly evaluate it.

I call these nitpicks because the essence of the argument is that there are many, many avoidable deaths happening every day on the average, and I agree with that.

Comment author: shokwave 19 April 2011 06:29:48PM 2 points [-]

The Buddhists are right

I always cringe at statements like this. I'm quite familiar with the Buddhist notion of no self, but I don't think for a second that study of Buddhist philosophy would convince anyone that a cryonically frozen person will wake up as themselves - in fact, given the huge stretch of time between freeze and unfreeze, there is a strong (but wrong) argument from Buddhist philosophy that cryonics wouldn't work.

And so if it bears a superficial similarity but doesn't output the same answers ... it is about as right as a logic gate that looks like AND but performs ALWAYS RETURN FALSE.

Comment author: TimFreeman 19 April 2011 10:53:48PM *  2 points [-]

I'm quite familiar with the Buddhist notion of no self, but I don't think for a second that study of Buddhist philosophy would convince anyone that a cryonically frozen person will wake up as themselves

If there is no self, then cryonics obviously neither works nor doesn't work at making a person wake up as themselves, since they don't have a self to wake up as. From this point of view, cryonics works if someone wakes up, and the person who originally signed up for cryonics would have preferred for that person to wake up over not having that person wake up, given the opportunity costs incurred when doing cryonics.

Cryonics is similar in kind to sleep or the passage of time in that way.

Whether most Buddhists are able to figure that out is another question. I agree that I'm not describing the Buddhist consensus on cryonics, and I agree that Buddhist philosophy does not motivate doing cryonics. My only points are that they're consistent, and that Buddhist philosophy frees me from urgently trying to puzzle out what "Timeless Identity" is supposed to mean.

I'm slightly concerned that the OP apparently doesn't say how timeless identity is supposed to work, and nobody seems to have noticed that.

Comment author: shokwave 20 April 2011 06:45:20AM *  2 points [-]

I'm slightly concerned that the OP apparently doesn't say how timeless identity is supposed to work, and nobody seems to have noticed that.

The explanation of identity starts when he kicks off around the many-worlds heads diagram. Specifically the part that makes timeless identity work (as long as you accept most reductionist physical descriptions of identity - configurations of neurons and synapses and such) is this:

We also saw in Timeless Causality that the end of time is not necessarily the end of cause and effect; causality can be defined (and detected statistically!) without mentioning "time". This is important because it preserves arguments about personal identity that rely on causal continuity rather than "physical continuity".

Comment author: TimFreeman 20 April 2011 12:44:01PM 0 points [-]

Ah. The assumption that identity = consciousness was essential to recognizing that this was an attempt to answer the question of how timeless identity works. He only mentions identity = consciousness in passing once, and I missed it the first time around, so the problem was that I was reading too fast. Thanks.

If you need a notion of identity, I agree that identity = consciousness is a reasonable stand to take.