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People who divide like an amoeba thought experiment (thoughtexperiments.net)
40 points by yoaviram on Nov 15, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 16 comments



> ”Will I survive?” seems, I said, equivalent to “Will there be some person alive who is the same person as me?”

Although taking these two questions as equivalent does simplify the thought experiment, it goes so strongly against my intuition that I find it incredibly unsatisfying. Of course, I know that doesn’t make me right. But, If the stream of consciousness that my mind is currently experiencing ceases to exist, it gives me no comfort to think that someone exactly like me would live on. However, I recognize that this statement is filled with a ton of metaphysical baggage, and Occam’s razor may suggest Parfit is correct to eliminate the concept of personal identity. I do wonder though if we really can properly describe our reality without the concept of personal identity.


Let me add, how do we know that this situation isn't already the case? How do we know that other people's stream of consciousness is distinct from our own? Why do we ascribe importance to that?


The Ship of Theseus was gaining and losing mass at a molecular level constantly.

So from a scientific analysis, it is the concept that remains, and the materials/constituency of the whole are details that must be abstracted (unless you have a way to diff at the molecular and/or subatomic level).

From an philosophical view of identity, I don't see much in past works that recognize how a person changes through their life path - I would most certainly make some different decisions than the 20y ago self - does that mean I am a different person? If not, then how do you determine identity? For every moment could it possibly be that you are a different person, and there are infinite instances of "you"?


From a physics standpoint every single electron is the same electron they have the same identity and that's not a problem.

Which is why I think this argument is ridiculous. People approach philosophy trying to get their mutually contradictory assumptions to work out rather than accept some assumptions are wrong. Human identity is a social construct not a physical one, so it only needs to work in human terms.

PS: Yes, that means I and You have no well defined meaning, they also don't need a well defined meaning to be useful.


> From a physics standpoint every single electron is the same electron they have the same identity and that's not a problem.

Cite? This is an unproven hypothesis.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identical_particles

I don't mean there is only one electron ever or something like that, just you can't actually distinguish them. There is also math which works better if Electrons have no identity.

"The fact that particles can be identical has important consequences in statistical mechanics. Calculations in statistical mechanics rely on probabilistic arguments, which are sensitive to whether or not the objects being studied are identical."


I think it's useful to think about this issue from an Effective Field Theory perspective. This implies that there are hierarchical descriptions about the world and higher level descriptions may not apply to lower level phenomena (though they are derived from lower level). E.g. a roomful of air has temperature and pressure but a single air molecule has none of those properties. Here. temperature and pressure are higher level properties which arise from a large number of molecules. Similarly, the concept of personal identity is very useful in everyday circumstances, but it breaks down when we consider amoeba/teletransporter like thought experiments.


The story reminds me of something my grandfather told me when I was young. He used to shave with a straight razor because, "a straight razor will last you forever, I've only had to change the blade once and the handle twice."

That might have been the first time I recognized identity as a construct, though it wasn't until much later that I began to think of "things", including people, as constantly changing.


Eliezer has a fun version of the amoeba: beings with two-dimensional (but highly folded) sheet brains who reproduce like DNA - at what point in the process are there two consciousnesses rather than one? http://lesswrong.com/lw/ps/where_physics_meets_experience/


In the Ship of Theseus case, no-one is disputing the facts of the matter, and, for the most part, this is so for the other thought experiments presented here. The issue seems to be one of language - yet language does not seem to be deficient, given that we agree on the facts, and that agreement is reached through language. Perhaps the issue is in our intuitions about what we expect language to be able to do.

As is always the case, someone (in this case, Parfit) says 'we have to give up the notion of X', where X in this case is personal identity, but that seems to me to be an over-reaction; instead, all we have to do is to accept that there are corner cases where our intuitions about the universality of language do not work. For the most part, we can talk about personal identity without problems, but in the corners, we have to be more specific.

We have lived our lives with ambiguous language, so is it that much of a stretch to accept that that's all there is, that there is no Platonic-ideal, complete-and-sound language no matter how careful we are with definitions and usage?


Take the House of Commons, which is the lower house of parliament in the UK. It is made of constituent members (whom some liken to planks...), which are routinely replaced. It remains the lower house of parliament, despite switching out all components on a routine basis. If you collected the ex-members of the House of Commons and made an identical grouping of people out of them, you would not have a second House of Commons - you'd just have a gathering of people. Abstract concepts don't nail themselves to physical objects.

Besides, create an entirely new ship out of the discarded planks, and the question becomes not "is that Theseus's ship?", but "why is Theseus removing perfectly functional planks from his ship and replacing them with identical ones?". :)


I know there is no scientific evidence of a spirit or soul inside a person. But, given that most world religions teach that every person has a spirit/soul which is somehow connected to your identity/consciousness, I think it will be really interesting to see if any of these thought experiments do (or don't) actually happen experimentally.

What does it mean for religion if conscious AI emerges, or someone has half of their brain implanted into a second body, and both bodies are conscious entities that think they are the original?

What does it mean for religion if even in 1000 years conscious AI never emerges, and if it's impossible to get two halves of a brain to "wake up" in two different bodies?



Very tempted to order that - do you mind telling me a little more if you have the time? Thanks, either way.


Ok, here goes, I'm a layman so I'll do my best...It proposes a different evolutionary path by looking at the origin of functions and postulates that our consciousness may be a whole body construct created by our organs in concert. For example he looks at the origin of the eye and traces it back to the first creatures exhibiting the ability to move towards light, he hypothesizes that within that creature there is a form of consciousness in that the decision to move towards the light is one that can only be made from within a conscious entity. So as humans we are a mish mash of signals being sent from all around our body and what we call consciousness is the brain's ability to not only receive the signals but also adjust what signals are being sent closing the loop, it's disruptive literature from a very intelligent scientist with a very impressive track list of achievements in the creation of artificial organs.


The notion of self identity or “sameness” is fundamental to our understanding of the world. Or is it? This post explores how philosophy makes use of thought experiments to demonstrate how problematic our notion of self identity really is.




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