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[Link] Revealed and Stated Identity

2 gworley 25 November 2016 08:17PM

A Weird Trick To Manage Your Identity

2 Gleb_Tsipursky 19 September 2016 07:13PM

I’ve always been uncomfortable being labeled “American.” Though I’m a citizen of the United States, the term feels restrictive and confining. It obliges me to identify with aspects of the United States with which I am not thrilled. I have similar feelings of limitation with respect to other labels I assume. Some of these labels don’t feel completely true to who I truly am, or impose certain perspectives on me that diverge from my own.


These concerns are why it's useful to keep one's identity small, use identity carefully, and be strategic in choosing your identity.


Yet these pieces speak more to System 1 than to System 2. I recently came up with a weird trick that has made me more comfortable identifying with groups or movements that resonate with me while creating a System 1 visceral identity management strategy. The trick is to simply put the word “weird” before any identity category I think about.


I’m not an “American,” but a “weird American.” Once I started thinking about myself as a “weird American,” I was able to think calmly through which aspects of being American I identified with and which I did not, setting the latter aside from my identity. For example, I used the term “weird American” to describe myself when meeting a group of foreigners, and we had great conversations about what I meant and why I used the term. This subtle change enables my desire to identify with the label “American,” but allows me to separate myself from any aspects of the label I don’t support.


Beyond nationality, I’ve started using the term  “weird” in front of other identity categories. For example, I'm a professor at Ohio State. I used to become deeply  frustrated when students didn’t prepare adequately  for their classes with me. No matter how hard I tried, or whatever clever tactics I deployed, some students simply didn’t care. Instead of allowing that situation to keep bothering me, I started to think of myself as a “weird professor” - one who set up an environment that helped students succeed, but didn’t feel upset and frustrated by those who failed to make the most of it.


I’ve been applying the weird trick in my personal life, too. Thinking of myself as a “weird son” makes me feel more at ease when my mother and I don’t see eye-to-eye; thinking of myself as a “weird nice guy,” rather than just a nice guy, has helped me feel confident about my decisions to be firm when the occasion calls for it.


So, why does this weird trick work? It’s rooted in strategies of reframing and distancing, two research-based methods for changing our thought frameworks. Reframing involves changing one’s framework of thinking about a topic in order to create more beneficial modes of thinking. For instance, in reframing myself as a weird nice guy, I have been able to say “no” to requests people make of me, even though my intuitive nice guy tendency tells me I should say “yes.” Distancing refers to a method of emotional management through separating oneself from an emotionally tense situation and observing it from a third-person, external perspective. Thus, if I think of myself as a weird son, I don’t have nearly as much negative emotions during conflicts with my mom. It enables me to have space for calm and sound decision-making.


Thinking of myself as "weird" also applies to the context of rationality and effective altruism for me. Thinking of myself as a "weird" aspiring rationalist and EA helps me be more calm and at ease when I encounter criticisms of my approach to promoting rational thinking and effective giving. I can distance myself from the criticism better, and see what I can learn from the useful points in the criticism to update and be stronger going forward.


Overall, using the term “weird” before any identity category has freed me from confinements and restrictions associated with socially-imposed identity labels and allowed me to pick and choose which aspects of these labels best serve my own interests and needs. I hope being “weird” can help you manage your identity better as well!

Identity map

7 turchin 15 August 2016 11:29AM

“Identity” here refers to the question “will my copy be me, and if yes, on which conditions?” It results in several paradoxes which I will not repeat here, hoping that they are known to the reader.

Identity is one of the most complex problems, like safe AI or aging. It only appears be simple. It is complex because it has to answer the question: “Who is who?” in the universe, that is to create a trajectory in the space of all possible minds, connecting identical or continuous observer-moments. But such a trajectory would be of the same complexity as all space of possible minds, and that is very complex.

There have been several attempts to dismiss the complexity of the identity problem, like open individualism (I am everybody) or zero-individualism (I exist only now). But they do not prevent the existence of “practical identity” which I use when planning my tomorrow or when I am afraid of future pain.

The identity problem is also very important. If we (or AI) arrive at an incorrect solution, we will end up being replaced by p-zombies or just copies-which-are-not-me during a “great uploading”. It will be a very subtle end of the world.

The identity problem is also equivalent to the immortality problem. if I am able to describe “what is me”, I would know what I need to save forever. This has practical importance now, as I am collecting data for my digital immortality (I even created a startup about it and the map will be my main contribution to it. If I solve the identity problem I will be able to sell the solution as a service http://motherboard.vice.com/read/this-transhumanist-records-everything-around-him-so-his-mind-will-live-forever)

So we need to know how much and what kind of information I should preserve in order to be resurrected by future AI. What information is enough to create a copy of me? And is information enough at all?

Moreover, the identity problem (IP) may be equivalent to the benevolent AI problem, because the first problem is, in a nutshell, “What is me” and the second is “What is good for me”. Regardless, the IP requires a solution of consciousness problem, and AI problem (that is solving the nature of intelligence) are somewhat similar topics.

I wrote 100+ pages trying to solve the IP, and became lost in the ocean of ideas. So I decided to use something like the AIXI method of problem solving: I will list all possible solutions, even the most crazy ones, and then assess them.

The following map is connected with several other maps: the map of p-zombies, the plan of future research into the identity problem, and the map of copies. http://lesswrong.com/lw/nsz/the_map_of_pzombies/

The map is based on idea that each definition of identity is also a definition of Self, and it is also strongly connected with one philosophical world view (for example, dualism). Each definition of identity answers a question “what is identical to what”. Each definition also provides its own answers to the copy problem as well as to its own definition of death - which is just the end of identity – and also presents its own idea of how to reach immortality.


So on the horizontal axis we have classes of solutions:

“Self" definition - corresponding identity definition - philosophical reality theory - criteria and question of identity - death and immortality definitions.


On the vertical axis are presented various theories of Self and identity from the most popular on the upper level to the less popular described below:

1) The group of theories which claim that a copy is not original, because some kind of non informational identity substrate exists. Different substrates: same atoms, qualia, soul or - most popular - continuity of consciousness. All of them require that the physicalism will be false. But some instruments for preserving identity could be built. For example we could preserve the same atoms or preserve the continuity of consciousness of some process like the fire of a candle. But no valid arguments exist for any of these theories. In Parfit’s terms it is a numerical identity (being the same person). It answers the question “What I will experience in the next moment of time"

2) The group of theories which claim that a copy is original, if it is informationally the same. This is the main question about the required amount of information for the identity. Some theories obviously require too much information, like the positions of all atoms in the body to be the same, and other theories obviously do not require enough information, like the DNA and the name.

3) The group of theories which see identity as a social phenomenon. My identity is defined by my location and by the ability of others to recognise me as me.

4) The group of theories which connect my identity with my ability to make plans for future actions. Identity is a meaningful is part of a decision theory.

5)  Indirect definitions of self. This a group of theories which define something with which self is strongly connected, but which is not self. It is a biological brain, space-time continuity, atoms, cells or complexity. In this situation we say that we don’t know what constitutes identity but we could know with what it is directly connected and could preserve it.

6) Identity as a sum of all its attributes, including name, documents, and recognition by other people. It is close to Leibniz’s definition of identity. Basically, it is a duck test: if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck. 

7) Human identity is something very different to identity of other things or possible minds, as humans have evolved to have an idea of identity, self-image, the ability to distinguish their own identity and the identity of others, and to predict its identity. So it is a complex adaptation which consists of many parts, and even if some parts are missed, they could be restored using other parts. 

There also a problem of legal identity and responsibility. 

8)  Self-determination. “Self” controls identity, creating its own criteria of identity and declaring its nature. The main idea here is that the conscious mind can redefine its identity in the most useful way. It also includes the idea that self and identity evolve during differing stages of personal human evolution. 

9) Identity is meaningless. The popularity of this subset of ideas is growing. Zero-identity and  open identity both belong to this subset. The main contra-argument here is that if we cut the idea of identity, future planning will be impossible and we will have to return to some kind of identity through the back door. The idea of identity comes also with the idea of the values of individuality. If we are replaceable like ants in an anthill, there are no identity problems. There is also no problem with murder.


The following is a series of even less popular theories of identity, some of them I just constructed ad hoc.

10)  Self is a subset of all thinking beings. We could see a space of all possible minds as divided into subsets, and call them separate personalities.

11)  Non-binary definitions of identity.

The idea that me or not-me identity solutions are too simple and result in all logical problems. if we define identity continuously, as a digit of the interval (0,1), we will get rid of some paradoxes and thus be able to calculate the identity level of similarity or time until the given next stage could be used as such a measure. Even a complex digit can be used if we include informational and continuous identity (in a Parfit meaning).

12) Negative definitions of identity: we could try to say what is not me.

13) Identity as overlapping observer-moments.

14) Identity as a field of indexical uncertainty, that is a group of observers to which I belong, but can’t know which one I am.

15) Conservative approach to identity. As we don’t know what identity is we should try to save as much as possible, and risk our identity only if it is the only means of survival. That means no copy/paste transportation to Mars for pleasure, but yes if it is the only chance to survive (this is my own position).

16)  Identity as individuality, i.e. uniqueness. If individuality doesn’t exist or doesn’t have any value, identity is not important.

17) Identity as a result of the ability to distinguish different people. Identity here is a property of perception.

18) Mathematical identity. Identity may be presented as a number sequence, where each number describes a full state of mind. Useful toy model.

19) Infinite identity. The main idea here is that any mind has the non-zero probability of becoming any other mind after a series of transformations. So only one identity exists in all the space of all possible minds, but the expected time for me to become a given person is dramatically different in the case of future me (1 day) and a random person (10 to the power of 100 years). This theory also needs a special version of quantum immortality which resets “memories” of a dying being to zero, resulting in something like reincarnation, or an infinitely repeating universe in the style of Nietzsche's eternal recurrence.  

20) Identity in a multilevel simulation. As we probably live in a simulation, there is a chance that it is multiplayer game in which one gamer has several avatars and can constantly have experiences through all of them. It is like one eye through several people.

21) Splitting identity. This is an idea that future identity could split into several (or infinitely many) streams. If we live in a quantum multiverse we split every second without any (perceived) problems. We are also adapted to have several future copies if we think about “me-tomorrow” and “me-the-day-after-tomorrow”.


This list shows only groups of identity definitions, many more smaller ideas are included in the map.

The only rational choice I see is a conservative approach, acknowledging that we don’t know the nature of identity and trying to save as much as possible of each situation in order to preserve identity.

The pdf: http://immortality-roadmap.com/identityeng8.pdf





The Useful Definition of "I"

4 ete 28 May 2014 11:44AM

aka The Fuzzy Pattern Theory of Identity

Background readingTimeless IdentityThe Anthropic Trilemma

Identity is not based on continuity of physical material.

Identity is not based on causal links to previous/future selves.

Identity is not usefully defined as a single point in thingspace. An "I" which only exists for an instant (i.e. zero continuity of identity) does not even remotely correspond to what we're trying to express by the word "I" in general use, and refers instead to a single snapshot. Consider the choice between putting yourself in stasis for eternity against living normally; a definition of "I" which prefers self-preservation by literally preserving a snapshot of one instant is massively unintuitive and uninformative compared to a definition which leads us to preserve "I" by allowing it to keep living even if that includes change.

Identity is not the current isolated frame.


So if none of those are what "I"/Identity is based on, what is?

Some configurations of matter I would consider to be definitely me, and some definitely not me. Between the two extremes there are plenty of border cases wherever you try to draw a line. As an exercise: five minutes in the past ete, 30 years in the future ete, alternate branch ete brought up by different parents, ete's identical twin, ete with different genetics/body but a mindstate near-identical to current ete, sibling raised in same environment with many shared memories, random human, monkey, mouse, bacteria, rock. With sufficiently advanced technology, it would be possible to change me between those configurations one atom at a time. Without appeals to physical or causal continuity, there's no way to cleanly draw a hard binary line without violating what we mean by "I" in some important way or allowing, at some point, a change vastly below perceptible levels to flip a configuration from "me" to "not-me" all at once.

Or, put another way, identity is not binary, it is fuzzy like everything else in human conceptspace.

It's interesting to note that examining common language use shows that in some sense this is widely known. When someone's changed by an experience or acting in a way unfitting with your model of them it's common to say something along the lines of "he's like a different person" or "she's not acting like herself", and the qualifier!person nomenclature that is becoming a bit more frequent, all hint at different versions of a person having only partially the same identity.


Why do we have a sense of identity?

For something as universal as the feeling of having an identity there's likely to be some evolutionary purpose. Luckily, it's fairly straightforward to see why it would increase fitness. The brain's learning is based on reward/punishment and connecting behaviours which are helpful/harmful to them, which is great for some things but could struggle with long term goals since the reward for making the right/punishment for wrong decision comes very distantly from the choice, so relatively weakly connected and reinforced. Creatures which can easily identify future/past continuations using an "I" concept of their own presence have a ready-built way to handle delayed gratification situations. Evolution needs to connect up "doing this will make "I" concept future be expected to get reward" to some reward in order to encourage the creature to think longer term, rather than specifically connecting each possible long term beneficial reward to each behaviour. Kaj_Sotala's attempt to dissolve subjective expectation and personal identity contains another approach to understanding why we have a sense of identity, as well as many other interesting thoughts.


So what is it?

If you took yourself from right now and changed your entire body into a hippopotamus, or uploaded yourself into a computer, but still retained full memories/consciousness/responses to situations, you would likely consider yourself a more central example of the fuzzy "I" concept than if you made the physically relatively small change of removing your personality and memories. General physical structure is not a core feature of "I", though it is a relatively minor part.

Your "I"/identity is a concept (in the conceptspace/thingspace sense), centred on current you, with configurations of matter being considered more central to the "I" cluster the more similar they are to current you in the ways which current you values.

To give some concrete examples: Most people consider their memories to be very important to them, so any configuration without a similar set of memories is going to be distant. Many people consider some political/social/family group/belief system to be extremely important to them, so an alternate version of themselves in a different group would be considered moderately distant. An Olympic athlete or model may put an unusually large amount of importance on their body, so changes to it would move a configuration away from their idea of self quicker than for most.

This fits very nicely with intuition about changing core beliefs or things you care about (e.g. athlete becomes disabled, large change in personal circumstances) making you in at least some sense a different person, and as far as I can tell does not fall apart/prove useless in similar ways to alternative definitions.


What consequences does this theory have for common issues with identity?

  • Moment to moment identity is almost entirely, but not perfectly retained.
  • You will wake up as yourself after a night's sleep in a meaningful sense, but not as quite as central example of current-you's "I" as you would after a few seconds.
  • The teleporter to Mars does not kill you in the most important sense (unless somehow your location on Earth is a particularly core part of your identity).
  • Any high-fidelity clone can be usefully considered to be you, however it originated, until it diverges significantly.
  • Cryonics or plastination do present a chance for bringing you back (conditional on information being preserved to reasonable fidelity), especially if you consider your mind rather than your body as core to your identity (so would not consider being an upload a huge change).
  • Suggest more in comments!

Why does this matter?

Flawed assumptions and confusion about identity seem to underlie several notable difficulties in decision theory, anthropic issues, and less directly problems understanding what morality is, as I hope to explore in future posts.

Thanks to Skeptityke for reading through this and giving useful suggestions, as well as writing this which meant there was a lot less background I needed to explain.

Identity and Death

9 Tenoke 18 February 2014 11:35AM

This recent SMBC comic illustrates the old question of what exactly is you by referencing the Star Trek Teleporter Problem. Do you actually get teleported or does the teleporter just kill you before making a copy of you somewhere else?

Well, the answer that a lot of rationalist seem to accept is Pattern Identity Theory proposed by Hans Moravec (skim the link or do a google search for the theory if you have no idea what I am referring to). I am very sympathetic to this view and it definitely ties with my limited understanding of physics and biology - elementary particles are interchangeable and do not have 'identity', at least some of the atoms in your body (including some of those who form neurons) get replaced over time etc.

This is all fine and dandy, but if you take this view to its logical extreme it looks like a sufficently modified version of you shouldn't actually qualify as you - the difference in the pattern might be as great or greater than the difference in the patterns of any two random people.

Let's say something happens to Eliezer and he gets successfully cryo-preserved in 2014. Then 80 years later the singularity hasn't arrived yet but the future is still pretty good - everyone is smart and happy due to enhancements, ageing is a thing of the past and we have the technology to wake cryopreserved people up. The people in that future build Eliezer a new body, restore the information from his brain and apply all the standard enhancements on him and then they wake him up. The person who wakes up remembers all that good old Eliezer did and seems to act like you would expect an enhanced Eliezer to act. However, if you examine things closely the difference between 2014!Eliezer and 2094!Eliezer is actually bigger than the difference between 2014!Eliezer and let's say 2014!Yvain due to having all the new standard enhancements. Does that person really qualify as the same person according to Pattern Identity Theory, then? Sure, he originates from Eliezer and arguably the difference between the two is similar to the difference between kid!Eliezer and adult!Eliezer but is it really the same pattern? If you believe that you really are the pattern then how can you not think of Eliezer!2014 as a dead man?

Sure, you could argue that continual change (as opposed to the sudden change in the cryo!Eliezer scenario) or 'evolution of the pattern' is in some way relevant but why would that be? The only somewhat reasonable argument for that I've seen is 'because it looks like this is what I care about'. That's fine with me but my personal preference is closer to 'I want to continue existing and experiencing things'; I don't care if anything that looks like me or thinks it's me is experiencing stuff - I want me (whatever that is) to continue living and doing stuff. And so far it looks really plausible that me is the pattern which sadly leaves me to think that maybe changing the pattern is a bad idea.

I know that this line of thinking can damn you to eternal stagnation but it seems worth exploring before teleporters, uploading, big self-enhancements etc. come along which is why I am starting this discussion. Additionally, a part of the problem might be that there is some confusion about definitions going on but I'd like to see where. Furthermore, 'the difference in the pattern' seems both somehow hard to quantify and more importantly - it doesn't look like something that could have a clear cut-off as in 'if the pattern differs by more than 10% you are a different person'. At any rate, whatever that cut-off is, it still seems pretty clear that tenoke!2000 differs enough from me to be considered dead.

As an exercise at home I will leave you to think about what this whole line of thinking implies if you combine it with MWII-style quantum immortality.

Thoughts on Death

6 BlackNoise 14 February 2014 08:27PM

Death sucks.

Today (14/2/2014) my mothers’ father died after struggling with cancer for about a year.
What pains me is the loss, but more so how it affects my mother, especially my imagination being ‘useful’ in imagining how losing her would be like.

The tragedy as I see it has a slightly different flavor than that of my other family members: For them it’s probably seen as an ultimately inevitable end, and few perhaps hold some hope/notion of an afterlife or maybe just never thought too hard about what death entails.

For me, as one who identifies with Transhuman ideas, and believes in at least the feasibility (if not high likelihood) of preservation and future restoration, this feels like an ultimately preventable tragedy. Where my mother will grieve, I will have uncertain regret and doubt.

With that as background, I’ve felt the need to write out some of my thoughts regarding identity, anthropics and existence and death.


First off, what is a person?

The way I see it, everything a person is, is the algorithm and information structure contained in some fashion within the brain (most likely in its structure), which means a person isn’t limited to biology as a substrate. If the functional relations and information structure is preserved, there is nothing preventing one from recreating them on a different substrate or even in a simulated environment as an upload.

Moreover, a person isn’t a single continuous entity; the ‘me’ of today is not quite the ‘me’ of yesterday, which in turn isn’t the ‘me’ of a year ago, Rather, a person is a series of ‘Person-instances’, connected causally between themselves and the world.

In this context/worldview, certain philosophical problems get obvious solutions:
Destructive teleport for example, preserves identity by virtue of maintaining the causal connection, even if the teleport is done by destructively scanning a person then recreating them years later; from inside it’d seem like one was teleported into the future.
For non-destructive teleportation or mind-cloning, the answer to “which is ‘you’” is ‘both’ (or ‘yes’), since both satisfy the condition of preserving the identity-information-structure while being causally related to the person-instance of before. However, from that point onward, both ‘you’ instances now have a nearly identical and slowly diverging clone/sibling that over time grows more distinct.
Looking at how the subjective experience would look like supports this, since both would feel like being the same person from before.

In general, identifying with separate person-instances of yourself should be a question of degree rather than a binary yes/no. Especially considering that person-instances can be separated by more than just time, if any multiverse-type ideas are true.


This brings me to the second point: Metaphysics.

Not too long ago, I’ve encountered the ideas of Max Tegmark about the nature of existence. The really short version is (if I understand correctly) that existence is, at its highest/lowest level, how intelligent-life-supporting mathematical structures look like from inside.
The idea struck me as a beautiful way to close the explanation chain, providing at least qualitatively a consistent model of existence and reality that contains a path explaining the existence of one to ask and understand it.

Combine that, and various simulation-type arguments with anthropic thinking, and you get an identity spread across the multiverse in a forest of causal trees, with the occasional Boltzmann brain containing the causal ‘back/forward’ links arising purely by chance, and you get a very peculiar view of how being a person looks like from inside, specifically at points close to branch-ends:
Like with quantum suicide, even if the measure of realities in which you die far outweighs those in which you don’t and assuming some smoothness in that there’s no lower probability/measure limit to what still feels like an existence, then ‘you’ still get a continuation of experience, even if at a much lower measure.

This requires a rethinking/reworking on the specifics of why death sucks and the fact is there are still branch-ends. Even if there is a last moment minor probability split and continuation corresponding to things like reality as given being an ancestral simulation or something, the loss of measure feels like a really bad thing in and of itself, beyond which there are the many realities in which you are now dead, which hurts any others that care about you in all those worlds, not to mention the circumstances surrounding branch-ends aren’t likely to be pleasant.

Overall though, it seems that there’s a subjective kind of immortality, combined with a gradual thinning out over realities, where death still sucks and should be avoided at all cost, and will probably happen to everyone besides you.
Note that horrific injury and survival are still very much a possibility, and the question of what you ought to expect is to me at least somewhat confusing, especially regarding things like cryonics in that you’ll only expect a continuation of identity in the events it works, but you’d only prefer it in the events it worked and the future doesn’t suck, and if you find yourself in the branch with the ‘future sucks’, getting to one where it doesn’t seems kind of... difficult.

Definitely recommend acting as if death = cessation of existence, which is objectively true within any single reality (unless that reality is extra weird), and think about the subjective continuation-of-identity thinking for special cases like when deciding for/against signing up for cryonics, and in general the whole measure thing is kind of confusing, though thinking about it in context of what to expect seems like a useful direction.


So, A bit of a mess of only somewhat coherent ideas, I’d appreciate any corrections regarding the metaphysics and any other oversights, but otherwise just thought I’d let this out. Hope at least someone besides myself derives some  use from it.



The Restoration of William: the skeleton of a short story about resurrection and identity

10 AlanCrowe 15 November 2013 05:59PM

Bill died. He never liked having dumps done. Each year he would make excuses, put it off. "Next year." he would say. Only after Bill's death do people realise just how long this has been going on for: thirty years. They will have to restore Bill from a 30 year old tape. Is "restore" even the right word? How about "roll-back"?

Worse still, there was a big change in Bill's life 25 years ago when he had a mid-life crisis. He joined a personal growth cult, dropped old friends, made new ones. Some of his new friends can remember encounters with the old Bill of 30 years ago. They didn't like him and avoided him. There was a lot of friction when he joined the personal growth cult 5 years later. Some members wanted to black ball him. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks. It might be true, but the personal growth cult could hardly admit it.

Those who dreaded Bill's return had a week of respite when it seemed that Bill's tape had been lost. Lost? Bill really dead and gone for ever? That was unthinkable. Losing some-ones only back up tape would be a huge scandal. Who would stake their life with a careless archiving company?

After an increasingly panicky search it was found. Found! And still readable, after all those years, with a bit of manual fixing of uncorrectable errors.

Restored Bill woke to find 30 years had gone by. When we think back to what we were like 30 years ago, we do so as a process of diffs. What changed last year. What changed the year before that. What changed between two and three years ago. So when we think back to what changed between year 29 and year 30 and find we cannot remember, what are we to do? No doubt there were a whole years worth of changes, but not knowing what they were, we are seduced by the lazy assumption that they didn't amount to much. Restored Bill did not have the option of making lazy assumptions. He had 30 years of change dumped on him. The genuine article, the whole ka-boodle, with little relation to the convenient fictions that human memory embroiders over 30 years of telling, forgetting, patching and re-telling.

People who remembered disliking Bill 30 years ago were never-the-less sympathetic to the bewildered and pathetic figure, uncertain who and when he was.  Phoning close friends to continue yesterday's conversation only to suffer them denying having know him was distressing. It wasn't people deny knowing him in retaliation for a falling out 25 years previously. It was worse than that. How many of your old friends from 30 years ago have you completely forgotten about? You'll soon find that you cannot remember any-one who you have completely forgotten about. The difference between tautology and fact is about a dozen dear old friends.

Restored Bill was struggling to cope with a huge disruption to the natural order of things. Was he acting out of character? Some of deceased Bill's new friends and some of his old friends tried the trick of getting a temporary hologram made from their own 30 year old dump tapes so that they could ask about Restored Bill. As usual this was a distressing experience as the hologram of ones old self turns out to be incompatible with ones own self image and personal narrative. People seeking an explanation for why Restored Bill was different from how they remembered him found instead a question: why were they so different from how they remembered themselves?

One reason was that "hologram" is a rather nasty euphemism, coined to disguise the harsh reality of the law that says "There can be only one." A "hologram" is actually a freshly down loaded flesh and blood person who must be euthanised after the consultation to ensure that there is only ever one copy of a person. The "hologram" is the origin of two genres of fiction. In the hologram-horror one is invited to share the chill of waking up and realising that one is only temporary with but an hour to live. In the hologram-thriller a copy of you has escaped and must be hunted down and killed before he can infiltrate society and impersonate you. There can be only one. If he succeeds you will die in his place, but he knows all about you, he is you!

So the hologram hasn't revolutionised the study of history in the way that you might at first imagine. A history student might try asking a hologram about the past, but pretty soon the hologram realises his predicament and lapses into sullen despair.

No such problem for Restored Bill. Previous Bill was dead and Restored Bill was the one. It all worked out right in the end. Restored Bill learned to rub along with most of deceased Bill's social circle, and the "clerical error" that had actually restored Fred-minus30 never came to light. Current Fred never learned against whom his deep loathing of Restored Bill was truly directed.

Patternist friendly AI risk

1 bokov 12 September 2013 01:00PM

It seems to me that most AI researchers on this site are patternists in the sense of believing that the anti-zombie principle necessarily implies:

1. That it will ever become possible *in practice* to create uploads or sims that are close enough to our physical instantiations that their utility to us would be interchangeable with that of our physical instantiations.

2. That we know (or will know) enough about the brain to know when this threshold is reached.


But, like any rationalists extrapolating from unknown unknowns... or heck, extrapolating from anything... we must admit that one or both of the above statements could be wrong without also making friendly AI impossible. What would be the consequences of such error?

I submit that one such consequence could be an FAI that is also wrong on these issues but not only do we fail to check for such a failure mode, it actually looks to us like what we would expect the right answer to look because we are making the same error.

If simulation/uploading really does preserve what we value about our lives then the safest course of action is to encourage as many people to upload as possible. It would also imply that efforts to solve the problem of mortality by physical means will at best be given an even lower priority than they are now, or at worst cease altogether because they would seem to be a waste of resources.


Result: people continue to die and nobody including the AI notices, except now they have no hope of reprieve because they think the problem is already solved.

Pessimistic Result: uploads are so widespread that humanity quietly goes extinct, cheering themselves onward the whole time

Really Pessimistic Result: what replaces humanity are zombies, not in the qualia sense but in the real sense that there is some relevant chemical/physical process that is not being simulated because we didn't realize it was relevant or hadn't noticed it in the first place.


Possible Safeguards:


* Insist on quantum level accuracy (yeah right)


* Take seriously the general scenario of your FAI going wrong because you are wrong in the same way and fail to notice the problem.


* Be as cautious about destructive uploads as you would be about, say, molecular nanotech.


* Make sure you knowledge of neuroscience is at least as good as you knowledge of computer science and decision theory before you advocate digital immortality as anything more than an intriguing idea that might not turn out to be impossible.


Three more ways identity can be a curse

40 gothgirl420666 28 April 2013 02:53AM

The Buddhists believe that one of the three keys to attaining true happiness is dissolving the illusion of the self. (The other two are dissolving the illusion of permanence, and ceasing the desire that leads to suffering.) I'm not really sure exactly what it means to say "the self is an illusion", and I'm not exactly sure how that will lead to enlightenment, but I do think one can easily take the first step on this long journey to happiness by beginning to dissolve the sense of one's identity. 

Previously, in "Keep Your Identity Small", Paul Graham showed how a strong sense of identity can lead to epistemic irrationally, when someone refuses to accept evidence against x because "someone who believes x" is part of his or her identity. And in Kaj Sotala's "The Curse of Identity", he illustrated a human tendency to reinterpret a goal of "do x" as "give the impression of being someone who does x". These are both fantastic posts, and you should read them if you haven't already. 

Here are three more ways in which identity can be a curse.

1. Don't be afraid to change

James March, professor of political science at Stanford University, says that when people make choices, they tend to use one of two basic models of decision making: the consequences model, or the identity model. In the consequences model, we weigh the costs and benefits of our options and make the choice that maximizes our satisfaction. In the identity model, we ask ourselves "What would a person like me do in this situation?"1

The author of the book I read this in didn't seem to take the obvious next step and acknowledge that the consequences model is clearly The Correct Way to Make Decisions and basically by definition, if you're using the identity model and it's giving you a different result then the consequences model would, you're being led astray. A heuristic I like to use is to limit my identity to the "observer" part of my brain, and make my only goal maximizing the amount of happiness and pleasure the observer experiences, and minimizing the amount of misfortune and pain. It sounds obvious when you lay it out in these terms, but let me give an example. 

Alice is a incoming freshman in college trying to choose her major. In Hypothetical University, there are only two majors: English, and business. Alice absolutely adores literature, and thinks business is dreadfully boring. Becoming an English major would allow her to have a career working with something she's passionate about, which is worth 2 megautilons to her, but it would also make her poor (0 mu). Becoming a business major would mean working in a field she is not passionate about (0 mu), but it would also make her rich, which is worth 1 megautilon. So English, with 2 mu, wins out over business, with 1 mu.

However, Alice is very bright, and is the type of person who can adapt herself to many situations and learn skills quickly. If Alice were to spend the first six months of college deeply immersing herself in studying business, she would probably start developing a passion for business. If she purposefully exposed herself to certain pro-business memeplexes (e.g. watched a movie glamorizing the life of Wall Street bankers), then she could speed up this process even further. After a few years of taking business classes, she would probably begin to forget what about English literature was so appealing to her, and be extremely grateful that she made the decision she did. Therefore she would gain the same 2 mu from having a job she is passionate about, along with an additional 1 mu from being rich, meaning that the 3 mu choice of business wins out over the 2 mu choice of English.

However, the possibility of self-modifying to becoming someone who finds English literature boring and business interesting is very disturbing to Alice. She sees it as a betrayal of everything that she is, even though she's actually only been interested in English literature for a few years. Perhaps she thinks of choosing business as "selling out" or "giving in". Therefore she decides to major in English, and takes the 2 mu choice instead of the superior 3 mu.

(Obviously this is a hypothetical example/oversimplification and there are a lot of reasons why it might be rational to pursue a career path that doesn't make very much money.)

It seems to me like human beings have a bizarre tendency to want to keep certain attributes and character traits stagnant, even when doing so provides no advantage, or is actively harmful. In a world where business-passionate people systematically do better than English-passionate people, it makes sense to self-modify to become business-passionate. Yet this is often distasteful.

For example, until a few weeks ago when I started solidifying this thinking pattern, I had an extremely adverse reaction to the idea of ceasing to be a hip-hop fan and becoming a fan of more "sophisticated" musical genres like jazz and classical, eventually coming to look down on the music I currently listen to as primitive or silly. This doesn't really make sense - I'm sure if I were to become a jazz and classical fan I would enjoy those genres at least as much as I currently enjoy hip hop. And yet I had a very strong preference to remain the same, even in the trivial realm of music taste. 

Probably the most extreme example is the common tendency for depressed people to not actually want to get better, because depression has become such a core part of their identity that the idea of becoming a healthy, happy person is disturbing to them. (I used to struggle with this myself, in fact.) Being depressed is probably the most obviously harmful characteristic that someone can have, and yet many people resist self-modification.

Of course, the obvious objection is there's no way to rationally object to people's preferences - if someone truly prioritizes keeping their identity stagnant over not being depressed then there's no way to tell them they're wrong, just like if someone prioritizes paperclips over happiness there's no way to tell them they're wrong. But if you're like me, and you are interested in being happy, then I recommend looking out for this cognitive bias. 

The other objection is that this philosophy leads to extremely unsavory wireheading-esque scenarios if you take it to its logical conclusion. But holding the opposite belief - that it's always more important to keep your characteristics stagnant than to be happy - clearly leads to even more absurd conclusions. So there is probably some point on the spectrum where change is so distasteful that it's not worth a boost in happiness (e.g. a lobotomy or something similar). However, I think that in actual practical pre-Singularity life, most people set this point far, far too low. 

2. The hidden meaning of "be yourself"

(This section is entirely my own speculation, so take it as you will.)

"Be yourself" is probably the most widely-repeated piece of social skills advice despite being pretty clearly useless - if it worked then no one would be socially awkward, because everyone has heard this advice. 

However, there must be some sort of core grain of truth in this statement, or else it wouldn't be so widely repeated. I think that core grain is basically the point I just made, applied to social interaction. I.e, optimize always for social success and positive relationships (particularly in the moment), and not for signalling a certain identity. 

The ostensible purpose of identity/signalling is to appear to be a certain type of person, so that people will like and respect you, which is in turn so that people will want to be around you and be more likely to do stuff for you. However, oftentimes this goes horribly wrong, and people become very devoted to cultivating certain identities that are actively harmful for this purpose, e.g. goth, juggalo, "cool reserved aloof loner", guy that won't shut up about politics, etc. A more subtle example is Fred, who holds the wall and refuses to dance at a nightclub because he is a serious, dignified sort of guy, and doesn't want to look silly. However, the reason why "looking silly" is generally a bad thing is because it makes people lose respect for you, and therefore make them less likely to associate with you. In the situation Fred is in, holding the wall and looking serious will cause no one to associate with him, but if he dances and mingles with strangers and looks silly, people will be likely to associate with him. So unless he's afraid of looking silly in the eyes of God, this seems to be irrational.

Probably more common is the tendency to go to great care to cultivate identities that are neither harmful nor beneficial. E.g. "deep philosophical thinker", "Grateful Dead fan", "tough guy", "nature lover", "rationalist", etc. Boring Bob is a guy who wears a blue polo shirt and khakis every day, works as hard as expected but no harder in his job as an accountant, holds no political views, and when he goes home he relaxes by watching whatever's on TV and reading the paper. Boring Bob would probably improve his chances of social success by cultivating a more interesting identity, perhaps by changing his wardrobe, hobbies, and viewpoints, and then liberally signalling this new identity. However, most of us are not Boring Bob, and a much better social success strategy for most of us is probably to smile more, improve our posture and body language, be more open and accepting of other people, learn how to make better small talk, etc. But most people fail to realize this and instead play elaborate signalling games in order to improve their status, sometimes even at the expense of lots of time and money.

Some ways by which people can fail to "be themselves" in individual social interactions: liberally sprinkle references to certain attributes that they want to emphasize, say nonsensical and surreal things in order to seem quirky, be afraid to give obvious responses to questions in order to seem more interesting, insert forced "cool" actions into their mannerisms, act underwhelmed by what the other person is saying in order to seem jaded and superior, etc. Whereas someone who is "being herself" is more interested in creating rapport with the other person than giving off a certain impression of herself.  

Additionally, optimizing for a particular identity might not only be counterproductive - it might actually be a quick way to get people to despise you. 

I used to not understand why certain "types" of people, such as "hipsters"2 or Ed Hardy and Affliction-wearing "douchebags" are so universally loathed (especially on the internet). Yes, these people are adopting certain styles in order to be cool and interesting, but isn't everyone doing the same? No one looks through their wardrobe and says "hmm, I'll wear this sweater because it makes me uncool, and it'll make people not like me". Perhaps hipsters and Ed Hardy Guys fail in their mission to be cool, but should we really hate them for this? If being a hipster was cool two years ago, and being someone who wears normal clothes, acts normal, and doesn't do anything "ironically" is cool today, then we're really just hating people for failing to keep up with the trends. And if being a hipster actually is cool, then, well, who can fault them for choosing to be one?

That was my old thought process. Now it is clear to me that what makes hipsters and Ed Hardy Guys hated is that they aren't "being themselves" - they are much more interested in cultivating an identity of interestingness and masculinity, respectively, than connecting with other people. The same thing goes for pretty much every other collectively hated stereotype I can think of3 - people who loudly express political opinions, stoners who won't stop talking about smoking weed, attention seeking teenage girls on facebook, extremely flamboyantly gay guys, "weeaboos", hippies and new age types, 2005 "emo kids", overly politically correct people, tumblr SJA weirdos who identify as otherkin and whatnot, overly patriotic "rednecks", the list goes on and on. 

This also clears up a confusion that occurred to me when reading How to Win Friends and Influence People. I know people who have a Dale Carnegie mindset of being optimistic and nice to everyone they meet and are adored for it, but I also know people who have the same attitude and yet are considered irritatingly saccharine and would probably do better to "keep it real" a little. So what's the difference? I think the difference is that the former group are genuinely interested in being nice to people and building rapport, while members of the second group have made an error like the one described in Kaj Sotala's post and are merely trying to give off the impression of being a nice and friendly person. The distinction is obviously very subtle, but it's one that humans are apparently very good at perceiving. 

I'm not exactly sure what it is that causes humans to have this tendency of hating people who are clearly optimizing for identity - it's not as if they harm anyone. It probably has to do with tribal status. But what is clear is that you should definitely not be one of them. 

3. The worst mistake you can possibly make in combating akrasia

The main thesis of PJ Eby's Thinking Things Done is that the primary reason why people are incapable of being productive is that they use negative motivation ("if I don't do x, some negative y will happen") as opposed to positive motivation ("if i do x, some positive y will happen"). He has the following evo-psych explanation for this: in the ancestral environment, personal failure meant that you could possibly be kicked out of your tribe, which would be fatal. A lot of depressed people make statements like "I'm worthless", or "I'm scum" or "No one could ever love me", which are illogically dramatic and overly black and white, until you realize that these statements are merely interpretations of a feeling of "I'm about to get kicked out of the tribe, and therefore die." Animals have a freezing response to imminent death, so if you are fearing failure you will go into do-nothing mode and not be able to work at all.4

In Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, Phd psychologist Heidi Halvorson takes a different view and describes positive motivation and negative motivation as having pros and cons. However, she has her own dichotomy of Good Motivation and Bad Motivation: "Be good" goals are performance goals, and are directed at achieving a particular outcome, like getting an A on a test, reaching a sales target, getting your attractive neighbor to go out with you, or getting into law school. They are very often tied closely to a sense of self-worth. "Get better" goals are mastery goals, and people who pick these goals judge themselves instead in terms of the progress they are making, asking questions like "Am I improving? Am I learning? Am I moving forward at a good pace?" Halvorson argues that "get better" goals are almost always drastically better than "be good" goals5. An example quote (from page 60) is:

When my goal is to get an A in a class and prove that I'm smart, and I take the first exam and I don't get an A... well, then I really can't help but think that maybe I'm not so smart, right? Concluding "maybe I'm not smart" has several consequences and none of them are good. First, I'm going to feel terrible - probably anxious and depressed, possibly embarrassed or ashamed. My sense of self-worth and self-esteem are going to suffer. My confidence will be shaken, if not completely shattered. And if I'm not smart enough, there's really no point in continuing to try to do well, so I'll probably just give up and not bother working so hard on the remaining exams. 

And finally, in Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David Burns describes a destructive side effect of depression he calls "do-nothingism":

One of the most destructive aspects of depression is the way it paralyzes your willpower. In its mildest form you may simply procrastinate about doing a few odious chores. As your lack of motivation increases, virtually any activity appears so difficult that you become overwhelmed by the urge to do nothing. Because you accomplish very little, you feel worse and worse. Not only do you cut yourself off from your normal sources of stimulation and pleasure, but your lack of productivity aggravates your self-hatred, resulting in further isolation and incapacitation.

Synthesizing these three pieces of information leads me to believe that the worst thing you can possibly do for your akrasia is to tie your success and productivity to your sense of identity/self-worth, especially if you're using negative motivation to do so, and especially if you suffer or have recently suffered from depression or low-self esteem. The thought of having a negative self-image is scary and unpleasant, perhaps for the evo-psych reasons PJ Eby outlines. If you tie your productivity to your fear of a negative self-image, working will become scary and unpleasant as well, and you won't want to do it.

I feel like this might be the single number one reason why people are akratic. It might be a little premature to say that, and I might be biased by how large of a factor this mistake was in my own akrasia. But unfortunately, this trap seems like a very easy one to fall into. If you're someone who is lazy and isn't accomplishing much in life, perhaps depressed, then it makes intuitive sense to motivate yourself by saying "Come on, self! Do you want to be a useless failure in life? No? Well get going then!" But doing so will accomplish the exact opposite and make you feel miserable. 

So there you have it. In addition to making you a bad rationalist and causing you to lose sight of your goals, a strong sense of identity will cause you to make poor decisions that lead to unhappiness, be unpopular, and be unsuccessful. I think the Buddhists were onto something with this one, personally, and I try to limit my sense of identity as much as possible. A trick you can use in addition to the "be the observer" trick I mentioned, is to whenever you find yourself thinking in identity terms, swap out that identity for the identity of "person who takes over the world by transcending the need for a sense of identity". 

This is my first LessWrong discussion post, so constructive criticism is greatly appreciated. Was this informative? Or was what I said obvious, and I'm retreading old ground? Was this well written? Should this have been posted to Main? Should this not have been posted at all? Thank you. 

1. Paraphrased from page 153 of Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard

2. Actually, while it works for this example, I think the stereotypical "hipster" is a bizarre caricature that doesn't match anyone who actually exists in real life, and the degree to which people will rabidly espouse hatred for this stereotypical figure (or used to two or three years ago) is one of the most bizarre tendencies people have. 

3. Other than groups that arguably hurt people (religious fundamentalists, PUAs), the only exception I can think of is frat boy/jock types. They talk about drinking and partying a lot, sure, but not really any more than people who drink and party a lot would be expected to. Possibilities for their hated status include that they do in fact engage in obnoxious signalling and I'm not aware of it, jealousy, or stigmatization as hazers and date rapists. Also, a lot of people hate stereotypical "ghetto" black people who sag their jeans and notoriously type in a broken, difficult-to-read form of English. This could either be a weak example of the trend (I'm not really sure what it is they would be signalling, maybe dangerous-ness?), or just a manifestation of racism.

4. I'm not sure if this is valid science that he pulled from some other source, or if he just made this up.

5. The exception is that "be good" goals can lead to a very high level of performance when the task is easy. 


Let's talk about politics

-14 WingedViper 19 September 2012 05:25PM

Hello fellow LWs,

As I have read repeatedly on LW (http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller/) you don't like discussing politics because it produces biased thinking/arguing which I agree is true for the general populace. What I find curious is that you don't seem to even try it here where people would be very likely to keep their identities small (www.paulgraham.com/identity.html). It should be the perfect (or close enough) environment to talk politics because you can have reasonable discussions here.

I do understand that you don't like to bring politics into discussions about rationality, but I don't understand why there shouldn't be dedicated political threads here. (Maybe you could flag them?)

all the best



Making computer systems with extended Identity

0 whpearson 08 March 2012 01:29AM

We often assume that an AI will have an identity and goals of its own. That it will be some separate entity from a human being or group of humans.

In physics there are no separate entities, merely a function evolving through time. So any identity needs to be constructed by systems within physics, and the boundaries are arbitrary. We have been built by evolution and all the cells in our body have the same programming so we have a handy rule of thumb that our body is "us" as it is created by a single replicating complex. So we assume that a computational entity, if it develops a theory of self, will only include its processing elements or code and nothing else in its notion of identity. But what an system identifies with can be controlled and specifed.

If a system identifies a human as an important part of itself it will strive to protect it and its normal functioning, as we instinctively protect important parts of ourselves such as the head and genitals.

continue reading »

Religious dogma as group identity

7 uzalud 28 December 2011 10:12AM

I was reading the "Professing and Cheering" article and it reminded me about some of my own ideas about the role of religious dogma as group identity badges. Here's the gist of it:

Religious and other dogmas need not make sense. Indeed, they may work better if they are not logical. Logical and useful ideas pop-up independently and spread easily, and widely accepted ideas are not very good badges. You need a unique idea to identify your group. It helps to have a somewhat costly idea as a dogma, because they are hard to fake and hard to deny. People would need to invest in these bad ideas, so they would be less likely to leave the group and confront the sunk cost. Also, it's harder to deny allegiance to the group afterwards, because no one in their right minds would accept an idea that bad for any other reason.

If you have a naive interpretation of the dogma, which regards it as an objective statement about the world, you will tend to question it. When you’re contesting the dogma, people won’t judge your argument on its merits: they will look at it as an in-group power struggle. Either you want to install your own dogma, which makes you a pretender, or you’re accepted a competing dogma, which makes you a traitor. Even if they accept that you just don’t want to yield to the authority behind the dogma, that makes you a rebel. Dogmas are just off-limits to criticism.

Public display of dismissive attitude to your questioning is also important. Taking it into consideration is in itself a form of treason, as it is interpreted as entertaining the option of joining you against the authority. So it’s best to dismiss the heresy quickly and loudly, without thinking about it.

Do you know of some other texts which shed some light on this idea?


Russ Roberts and Gary Taubes on confirmation bias [podcast]

4 fortyeridania 04 December 2011 05:51AM

Here is the link. The context is nutritional science and epidemiology, but confirmation bias is the primary theme pumping throughout the discussion. Gary Taubes has gained a reputation for contrarianism.* According to Taubes, the current nutritional paradigm (fat is bad, exercise is good, carbs are OK) does not deserve high credibility.

Roberts brings up the role of identity in perpetuating confirmation bias--a hypothesis has become part of you, so it has become that much harder to countenance contrary evidence. In this context they also talk about theism (Roberts is Jewish, while Taubes is an atheist). And, the program being EconTalk, Roberts draws analogies with economics.

*Sometime between 45 and 50 minutes in, Roberts points out that given this reputation, Taubes is susceptible to belief distortion as well:

What's your evidence that you are not just falling prey to the Ancel Keys and other folks who have made the same mistake?

I do not think Taubes gives a direct answer.

How good an emulation is required?

8 whpearson 14 August 2011 01:15PM

Reading this article on requiring lots of processing power to emulate the snes accurately, made me think that we will likely have similar issues when emulating humans. 

I'd imagine weird timing and chemical interactions being used by the brain as it is an adaptable system and might be able adapt to use them if they turn out to be helpful.

This suggested to me a few issues with no easy answers that I could see.

  • Is it better to emulate 1 human faithfully or 10 humans with occasional glitches (for example could no longer appreciate music in the same way)
  • How glitch free would you want the emulation to be before you gave up your body. 
  • How glitch free would you want the emulation to be before letting it use heavy machinery.
  • How glitch free would you want the emulation to be before you had it working on FAI.
Also please ignore the 3Ghz vs 25Mhz comparison, it perpetuates the myth that computational power is about clock speed and not operations per second and memory bandwidth.

The Nature of Self

3 XiXiDu 05 April 2011 10:52AM

In this post I try to fathom an informal definition of Self, the "essential qualities that constitute a person's uniqueness". I assume that the most important requirement for a definition of self is time-consistency. A reliable definition of identity needs to allow for time-consistent self-referencing since any agent that is unable to identify itself over time will be prone to make inconsistent decisions.

Data Loss

Obviously most humans don't want to die, but what does that mean? What is it that humans try to preserve when they sign up for Cryonics? It seems that an explanation must account and allow for some sort of data loss.

The Continuity of Consciousness

It can't be about the continuity of consciousness as we would have to refuse general anesthesia due to the risk of "dying" and most of us will agree that there is something more important than the continuity of consciousness that makes us accept a general anesthesia when necessary.


If the continuity of consciousness isn't the most important detail about the self then it very likely isn't the continuity of computation either. Imagine that for some reason the process evoked when "we" act on our inputs under the control of an algorithm halts for a second and then continues otherwise unaffected, would we don't mind to be alive ever after because we died when the computation halted? This doesn't seem to be the case.

Static Algorithmic Descriptions

Although we are not partly software and partly hardware we could, in theory, come up with an algorithmic description of the human machine, of our selfs. Might it be that algorithm that we care about? If we were to digitize our self we would end up with a description of our spatial parts, our self at a certain time. Yet we forget that all of us possess such an algorithmic description of our selfs and we're already able back it up. It is our DNA.

Temporal Parts

Admittedly our DNA is the earliest version of our selfs, but if we don't care about the temporal parts of our selfs but only about a static algorithmic description of a certain spatiotemporal position, then what's wrong with that? It seems a lot, we stop caring about past reifications of our selfs, at some point our backups become obsolete and having to fall back on them would equal death. But what is it that we lost, what information is it that we value more than all of the previously mentioned possibilities? One might think that it must be our memories, the data that represents what we learnt and experienced. But even if this is the case, would it be a reasonable choice?

Indentity and Memory

Let's just disregard the possibility that we often might not value our future selfs and so do not value our past selfs either for that we lost or updated important information, e.g. if we became religious or have been able to overcome religion.

If we had perfect memory and only ever improved upon our past knowledge and experiences we wouldn't be able to do so for very long, at least not given our human body. The upper limit on the information that can be contained within a human body is 2.5072178×1038 megabytes, if it was used as a perfect data storage. Given that we gather much more than 1 megabyte of information per year, it is foreseeable that if we equate our memories with our self we'll die long before the heat death of the universe. We might overcome this by growing in size, by achieving a posthuman form, yet if we in turn also become much smarter we'll also produce and gather more information. We are not alone either and the resources are limited. One way or the other we'll die rather quickly.

Does this mean we shouldn't even bother about the far future or is there maybe something else we value even more than our memories? After all we don't really mind much if we forget what we have done a few years ago.

Time-Consistency and Self-Reference

It seems that there is something even more important than our causal history. I think that more than everything we care about our values and goals. Indeed, we value the preservation of our values. As long as we want the same we are the same. Our goal system seems to be the critical part of our implicit definition of self, that which we want to protect and preserve. Our values and goals seem to be the missing temporal parts that allow us to consistently refer to us, to identify our selfs at different spatiotempiral positions.

Using our values and goals as identifiers also resolves the problem of how we should treat copies of our self that are featuring alternating histories and memories, copies with different causal histories. Any agent that does feature a copy of our utility function ought to be incorporated into our decisions as an instance, as a reification of our selfs. We should identify with our utility-function regardless of its instantiation.

Stable Utility-Functions

To recapitulate, we can value our memories, the continuity of experience and even our DNA, but the only reliable marker for the self identity of goal-oriented agents seems to be a stable utility function. Rational agents with an identical utility function will to some extent converge to exhibit similar behavior and are therefore able to cooperate. We can more consistently identify with our values and goals than with our past and future memories, digitized backups or causal history.

But even if this is true there is one problem, humans might not exhibit goal-stability.

An Abortion Dialogue

10 gwern 12 February 2011 01:20AM

A few years ago, I wrote a little dialogue I imagined between 2 materialists, one of whom was for and one against abortion, centering on the personal identity question. I recently cleaned it up and added a number of references for the biological claims.

You can read it at An Abortion Dialogue.

Early feedback from #lesswrong is that it's a 'nicely enjoyable read' and 'quite good'. I hope everyone likes it, even if it doesn't exactly break new philosophical ground.

Notion of valued Identity — Physically

7 HoverHell 03 February 2011 08:53AM

Let's locally define “VI” as “whatever you want to preserve by the means of personal immortality” (“means” such as anti-aging, cryonics, mind uploading, etc.)

Question is: how do you define your VI physically, in a way that makes physical sense?

* Note: Please avoid using the bare term “identity” unless you can define it non-vaguely (and even then it's better to apply some different identifier.)

* Edit: If you cannot (quite expectedly) give a precise answer, please at least point to the direction where, you think, it might be (i.e. way of finding and verifying that answer).

Copying and Subjective Experience

5 lucidfox 20 December 2010 12:14PM

The subject of copying people and its effect on personal identity and probability anticipation has been raised and, I think, addressed adequately on Less Wrong.

Still, I'd like to bring up some more thought experiments.

Recently I had a dispute on an IRC channel. I argued that if some hypothetical machine made an exact copy of me, then I would anticipate a 50% probability of jumping into the new body. (I admit that it still feels a little counterintuitive to me, even though this is what I would rationally expect.) After all, they said, the mere fact the copy was created doesn't affect the original.

However, from an outside perspective, Maia1 would see Maia2 being created in front of her eyes, and Maia2 would see the same scene up to the moment of forking, at which point the field of view in front of her eyes would abruptly change to reflect the new location.

Here, it is obvious from both an inside and outside perspective which version has continuity of experience, and thus from a legal standpoint, I think, it would make sense to regard Maia1 as having the same legal identity as the original, and recognize the need to create new documents and records for Maia2 -- even if there is no physical difference.

Suppose, however, that the information was erased. For example, suppose a robot sedated and copied the original me, then dragged Maia1 and Maia2 to randomly chosen rooms, and erased its own memory. At this point, neither either of me, nor anyone else would be able to distinguish between the two. What would you do here from a legal standpoint? (I suppose if it actually came to this, the two of me would agree to arbitrarily designate one as the original by tossing an ordinary coin...)

And one more moment. What is this probability of subjective body-jump actually a probability of? We could set up various Sleeping Beauty-like thought experiments here. Supposing for the sake of argument that I'll live at most a natural human lifespan no matter which year I find myself in, imagine that I make a backup of my current state and ask a machine to restore a copy of me every 200 years. Does this imply that the moment the backup is made -- before I even issue the order, and from an outside perspective, way before any of this copying happens -- I should anticipate subjectively jumping into any given time in the future, and the probability of finding myself as any of them, including the original, tends towards zero the longer the copying machine survives?


Gender Identity and Rationality

37 lucidfox 01 December 2010 04:32PM

Not sure if I would be better off posting this on the main page instead, but since it's almost entirely about my personal experiences, here it goes.

Two years ago, I underwent a radical change in my worldview. A series of events caused me to completely re-evaluate my beliefs in everything related to gender, sexuality, tolerance, and diversity -- which in turn caused a cascade that made me rethink my stance on many other topics.

Coincidentally, the same events caused me to also rethink the way I thought of myself. This was, as it turned out, not very good. It still makes it difficult for me to untangle various consequences, correlated but potentially not directly bound by a cause-effect relation.

To be more blunt: being biologically male, I confessed to someone online about things that things that "men weren't supposed to do": my dissatisfaction with my body, my wish to have a female body, persistent fantasies of a sex change, desires to shave my body, grow long hair and wear women's clothes, and so on and so forth. She listened, and then asked, "Maybe you're transsexual?"

Back then, it would never even occur to me to think of that -- and my first gut response, which I'm not proud of, was denying association with "those freaks". As I understand now, I was relying on a cached thought, and it limited the scope of my reasoning. She used simple intuitive reasoning to arrive at the hypothesis based on what I revealed to her; I didn't know the hypothesis was even there, as I knew nothing about gender identity.

In the events that unfolded, I integrated myself into some LGBT communities and learned about all kinds of people, including those who didn't fit into notions of the gender binary at all. I've learned to view gender as a multidimensional space with two big clusters, rather than as a boolean flag. It felt incredibly heartwarming to be able to mentally call myself by a female name, to go by it on the Internet, to talk to like-minded people who had similar experiences and feelings, and to be referred by the pronoun "she" -- which at first bugged me, because I somehow felt I had "no moral right" or had to "earn that privilege", but quickly I got at ease with it, and soon it just felt ordinary, and like the only acceptable thing to do, the only way of presentation that felt right.

(I'm compressing and simplifying here for the sake of readability -- I'm skipping over the brief period after that conversation when I thought of myself as genderless, not yet ready to accept a fully female gender identity, and carried out thought experiments with imaginary conversations between my "male" and "female selves", before deciding that there was no male self to begin with after all.)

Nowadays, gender-wise, I address people the way they wish to be address. I also have some pretty strong opinions on the legal concept of gender, which I won't voice here. And I've learned a lot, and was able to drive my introspection deeper than I ever managed before... But that's not really relevant.

And yet... And yet.

As gleefully as I embraced a female role, feeling on the way to fulfilling my dream, I couldn't get out the nagging feeling of being somehow "fake". I kept thinking that I don't always "think like a real woman would", and I've had days of odd apathy when I didn't care about anything, including my gender presentation. Some cases happened even before my gender "awakening", and at those days, I felt empty and genderless, a drained shell of a person.

How, in all honesty, can I know if I'm "really a woman on the inside"? What does that even mean? I can speak in terms of desired behavior, in terms of the way I'm seen socially, from the outside. But how can I compare my subjective experience to those of different men and women, without getting into their heads? All I have is empathic inference, which works by building crude, approximate models of other people inside my head, and is so full of ill-defined biases that I have a suspicion I shouldn't rely on it at all and don't say things like "well, a man's subjective experience is way off for me, but a woman's subjective experience only weakly fits".

And yet... transpeople report "feeling like" their claimed gender. I prefer to work with more unambiguous subjective feelings -- like feeling I have a wrong body -- but I have caught myself thinking at different times, "This day I felt like a woman, and that day I didn't feel like a woman, but more like... nothing at all. And that other day my mind was occupied with completely different matters, like writing a Less Wrong post." It helps sometmes to visualize my brain as a system of connected logical components, with an "introspection center" as a separate component, but that doesn't bring me close to solving the mystery.

I want to be seen as a woman, and nothing else. I take steps to ensure that it happens. If I could start from a clean slate, magically get an unambiguously female body, and live somewhere where nobody would know about my past male life, perhaps that would be the end of it -- there would be no need for me to worry about it anymore. But as things stand, my introspection center keeps generating those nagging thoughts: "What if I'm merely a pretender, a man who merely thinks he's a woman, but isn't?" One friend of mine postulated that "wanting to be a gender is the same as being it"; but is it really that simple?

The sheer number of converging testimonies between myself and transpeople I've met and talked to would seem to rule that out. "If I'm fake, then they're fake too, and surely that sounds extremely unlikely." But while discovering similarities makes me generically happy, every deviation from the mean -- for example, I consciously discovered my gender identity at 21, a relatively late age -- stings painfully and brings up the uncertainty again. Could this be a case of failing to properly assign Bayesian weights, of giving evidence less significance than counterevidence? But every time I discovered a piece of counterevidence, my mind interpreted it as a breach of my mental defenses and tried to route around it, in other words, rationalize it away.

Maybe I could just tell myself, "Shut up and live the way you want to."

And yet...

I caught myself in thinking that I really, deeply didn't want to go back, to the point that I didn't want to accept the conclusion "I'm really a man and an impostor", even that time when it looked like evidence weighted that way. (It's no longer the case now that I've learned more facts, but the point still stands.) It was an unthinkable thought, and still is. Even now, I fail to apply the Litany of Tarski. "If I'm really a man, then I desire to bel--" Wait, doesn't compute. If that were true, it would cause my whole system of values to collapse, and it feels like stating an incoherent statement, like "If sexism is morally and scientifically justified, then..." It feels like it would cause my entire system of values to collapse, and I can't bring myself to think that -- but isn't that the danger of "already knowing the answer", rationalizing, etc.?

It also bugs me, I guess, that despite relying on rational reasoning in so many aspects of my daily life, with this one case, about an aspect of myself, I'm relying on some subjective, vague "gut feeling". Granted, I try to approach it in a rational way: someone used my revelations to locate a hypothesis, I found it likely based on the evidence and accepted it, then started updating... or did I? Would I really be able to change my belief even in principle? And even then, the root cause, the very root cause, comes from feelings of uneasiness with my assigned gender role that I cannot rationally explain -- they're just there, in the same way that my consciousness is "just there".


When I heard about p-zombies, I immediately drew parallels. I asked myself if "fake transpeople" were even a coherent concept. Would it be possible to imagine two people who behave identically (and true to themselves, not acting), except one has "real" subjective feelings of gender and the other doesn't? After applying an appropriately tweaked anti-zombie argument, it seems to me that the answer is no, but it's also prossible that the question is too ill-defined for any answer to make sense.

The way it stands now, the so-called gender identity disorder isn't really something that is truly diagnosed, because it's based on self-reporting; you cannot look into someone's head and say "you're definitely transsexual" without their conscious understanding of themselves and their consent. So it seems to me outside the domain of psychiatry in the first place. I've heard some transpeople voice hope that there could be a device that could scan the part of the brain responsible for gender identity and say "yes, this one is definitely trans" and "no, this one definitely isn't". But to me, the prospect of such a device horrifies me even in principle. What if the device conflicts their self-reporting? (I suspect I'm anxious about the possibility of it filtering me, specifically.) What should we consider more reliable -- the machine or self-reporting? On one hand, we know how filled human brains are with cognitive biases, but on the other hand, it seems to me like a truism that "you are the final authority in your own self-identification."

Maybe it's a question of definitions, like the question about a tree making a sound, and the final answer depends on how exactly we define "gender identity". Or maybe -- this thought occurred to me right now -- my decision agent has a gender identity while my introspection center (which operates entirely on abstract knowledge rather than social conventions) doesn't, and that's the cause of the confusion that I get from looking at things in both a gendered and genderless way, in the same way as if I would be able to switch at will between a timed view from inside the timeline and a timeless view of the entire 4D spacetime at once. In any case, so far, for those two years since the realization I've stuck with the identity and role that I at least believe is the only one I won't regret assuming.