Thursday, August 20, 2015

Choosing to Be That Fellow Back Then: Voluntarism about Personal Identity

I have bad news: You're Swampman.

Remember that hike you took last week by the swamp during the electrical storm? Well, one biological organism went in, but a different one came out. The "[your name here]" who went in was struck and killed by lightning. Simultaneously, through freak quantum chance, a molecule-for-molecule similar being randomly congealed from the swamp. Soon after, the recently congealed being ran to a certain parked car, pulling key-shaped pieces of metal from its pocket that by amazing coincidence fit the car's ignition, and drove away. Later that evening, sounds came out of its mouth that its nearby "friends" interpreted as meaning "Wow, that lightning bolt almost hit me in the swamp. How lucky I was!" Lucky indeed, but a much stranger kind of luck than they supposed!

So you're Swampman. Should you care?

Should you think: I came into existence only a week ago. I never had the childhood I thought I had, never did all those things I thought I did, hardly know any of the people I thought I knew! All that is delusion! How horrible!

Or should you think: Meh, whatevs.

[apologies if this doesn't look much like you]

Option 1: Yes, you should care. If it turns out that certain philosophers are correct and you (now) are not metaphysically the same person as that being who first parked the car by the swamp, then O. M. G.!

Option 2a: No, you shouldn't care, because that was just a fun little body exchange last week. The same person went into the swamp as came out. Disappointingly, the procedure didn't seem to clear your acne, though.

Option 2b: No, you shouldn't care, because even if technically you're not the same person as the one who first drove to the swamp, you and that earlier person share everything that matters. Same friends, same job, same values, same (seeming-)memories....

Option 3: Your call. If you choose to regard yourself as one week old, then you are correct in doing so. If you choose to regard yourself as much older than that, then you are equally correct in doing so.

Let's call that third option voluntarism about personal identity. Across a certain range of cases, you are who you choose to be.

Social identities are to a certain extent voluntaristic. You can choose to identify as a political conservative or a political liberal. You can choose to identify, or not identify, with a piece of your ethnic heritage. You can choose to identify, or not identify, as a philosopher or as a Christian. There are limits: If you have no Pakistani heritage or upbringing, you can't just one day suddenly decide to be Pakistani and thereby make it true that you are. Similarly if your heritage and upbringing have been entirely Pakistani to this day, you probably can't just instantly shed your Pakistanihood. But in vague, in-betweenish cases, there's room for choice and making it so.

I propose taking the same approach to personal identity in the stricter metaphysical sense: What makes you the same being, or not, in philosophical puzzle cases where intuitions pull both ways, depends to a substantial extent on how you choose to view the matter; and different people could legitimately arrive at different choices, thus shaping the metaphysical facts (the actual metaphysical facts) to suit them.

Consider some other stock cases from the literature on personal identity:

Teleporter: On Earth there is a device that will destroy your body and beam detailed information about it to Mars. On Mars another device will use that information to create a duplicate body from local materials. Is this harmless teleportation or terrible death-and-duplication? On a voluntaristic view, that would depend on how it is viewed by the participant(s). Also: How similar must the duplicate body be for it a qualify as a successful teleportation? That too, could depend on participant attitude.

Fission: Your brain will be extracted, cut into two, and housed in two new bodies. The procedure, though damaging and traumatic, is such that if only one half of your brain were to be extracted, and the other half destroyed, everyone would agree that you survived. But instead, there will now be two beings, presumably distinct, who both see themselves as "you". Perhaps whether this should count as death or instead as fissioning-with-survival depends on your attitude going in and the attitudes of the beings coming out.

Amnesia: Longevity treatments are developed so that your body won't die, but in four hundred years the resulting being will have no memory whatsoever of anything that happened in your lifetime so far, and if she has similar values and attitudes it will only be by chance. Is that being still "you"? How much amnesia and change can "you" survive without becoming strictly and literally (and not just metaphorically or loosely) a different person? Again, this might depend on the various attitudes about amnesia and identity of the person(s) at different temporal stages.

Here are two thoughts in support of voluntarism about personal identity:

(1.) If I try to imagine these cases as actual, I don't find myself urgently wondering about the resolution of these metaphysical debates, thinking of my very death or survival as turning upon how the metaphysical arguments play out. It's not like being told that if a just-tossed die has landed on 6 then tomorrow I will be shot, which will make me desperately curious about whether the die did land on 6. It seems to me that I can, to some extent, choose how to conceptualize these cases.

(2.) "Person" is an ordinary, folk concept arising from a context lacking Swampman, teleporter, fission, and (that type of) amensia cases, so the concept of personhood might be expected to be somewhat indeterminate in its application to such cases. And since important features of personhood depend in part on the person in question thinking of the past or future self as "me" -- feeling regrets about the past, planning prudently for the future -- such indeterminacy might be partly resolved by the person's own decisions about the boundaries of her regrets, prudential planning, etc.

Even accepting all this, I'm not sure how far I can go with it. I don't think I can decide to be a coffee mug and thereby make it true that I am a coffee mug, nor that I can decide to be one of my students and thereby make it so. Can I decide that I am not that 15-year-old named "Eric" who wore the funny shirts in the 1980s, thereby making it true that I am not really metaphysically the same person, while my sister just as legitimately decides the opposite, that she is the same person as her 15-year-old self? Can the Dalai Lama and some future child (together, but at a temporal distance) decide that they are metaphysically the same person, if enough else goes along with that?

(For a version of that last scenario, see "A Somewhat Impractical Plan for Immortality" (Apr. 22, 2013) and my forthcoming story "The Dauphin's Metaphysics" (available on request).)

36 comments:

Pete Mandik said...

This is very interesting stuff and a lot of it is very much up my alley. Several random-ish thoughts this inspires:

1.
I wonder if it’s worth considering an Option 3b. It would be a less individualistic version of your original Option 3. Instead of leaving PI matters to the will of the individual in question, there might be a more social version, modeled on certain views of what social identities consist in. So, you alone can’t stipulate your ability to survive teleportation, but if you were a member of a sufficiently large group of pro-teleportationists, then you could. Not saying I buy this, but worth putting on the table.

2.
One thing worth separating out is what I myself think about my own persistence conditions and what attitude I have about the opinions of others. Regardless of whether my credence in the survivability of teleportation is high enough to subject myself to it, insofar as there can be uncertainty about the right answer, there might therefore be grounds for respecting someone else’s wishes to teleport. Some principle of erring on the side of not harming or on the side of not limiting autonomy of others might support allowing us to endorse, on ethical grounds, something that would look a lot like a metaphysical voluntarism. It’s your life, so you get to say what happens to it, including, to some degree, saying what “your” and "life” means.

3.
One of the things that appeals to me about a kind of voluntarism in this neck of the woods is the thing I spell out in my “Metaphysical Daring as a Posthuman Survival Strategy” paper, and that is that having certain views about the survivability of e.g., teleportation, mind-uploading, will be more fit in the sense of increasing the number of entities that share a certain trait connected to having that view. Maybe it might be more survival conducive, in the relevant sense of “survival”, to *really* believe one’s metaphysical views and thus not adopt the meta-view of voluntarism. The worry I’m trying out here is that if one does subscribe to the meta-metaphysical view of voluntarism, then one will be less fervent in their first-order metaphysical beliefs, and thus, perhaps, be less poised to reap the benefits that would be available to a “true believer,” who rejects voluntarism in favor of a metaphysical realism.

Roman Altshuler said...

What's the advantage of voluntarism over 2b? Or a version of 2b where "person" tracks "what maters"? Also, I'm wondering if I can really be a voluntarist about issues that I am indifferent about. I really couldn't care less about whether or not I am swampman; so I would find it hard to take a stand on the issue, or to commit one way or another. Of course I can *say* that I am not the same person. And I can produce arguments for it. But I can't imagine actually *caring* about it one way or the other (I might care, of course, about whether or not others agree with my claim, but that's a different issue). This makes me wonder whether volundtarism is feasible in cases this far removed from any practical considerations.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the interesting comments, Pete and Roman!

Pete: Yes -- all of those comments seem right to me. I thought about mentioning your Point 1, but the post was already a bit complicated. In the Mnemonist / Dauphin's Metaphysics case, it is both individual and social structures together that seem to make survival into the new body possible. (The case involves hypnotizing an infant with veridical memories of a deceased person's life and convincing the child and all of society to see the child as a new embodiment of the same person, including all the obligations, etc., that go with that.) On Daring: At some point, it becomes the coffee-cup case, right? Or are there no limits?

Roman: 2b is more restrictive, I think, because it says you shouldn't care whereas 3 allows you to choose to care. Now maybe if we land hard on "what matters" we can justify 2b by saying that you shouldn't care about what doesn't matter -- but then I might still prefer 3 since 3 highlights (consistently with 2b but not as visible in it) that it is to an important extent up to you to decide about what matters to you in such cases. What is subject to conscious choice might vary quite a bit between people, also: For some range of cases, people might just find it so irresistible to think of the entity as "me" or "not me" that it doesn't feel like they have any control over how to think about it. (It might still be voluntaristic in a weaker sense familiar from the literature on making up one's mind in matters of belief.) The unlikely cases like Swampman are nice, from my perspective, because anti-realist or voluntarist reactions there can be used to open the door to similar possibilities for less far-fetched cases like elderly dementia cases and future technology cases.

Pete Mandik said...

I have a strong pull toward saying "no limits" and allowing the coffee cup case. If someone announces a mystical identification with their "I hate Mondays" mug, who am I to try to talk them out of it? (However, I would have a different attitude if it were a child, or an adult exhibiting independent evidence of mental impairment...) Relatedly, if someone has the mystical or quasi-scientific belief that they *just are* the energy contained in the mass of their bodies, and thus will survive *all* transformations, distributions, and dissipations of that energy, then if they really believe that, they will do things like step down elevators shafts or leap off cliffs without any real care for any particular form of that energy. There's nothing, in my view, to say against such beliefs beyond pointing out the propensity of such believers to select themselves out of the pool. Rest In Peace, energy dude.

James DiGiovanna said...

I've been working around a pretty similar concept (my "Literally Like a Different Person," upcoming in Southern Journal of Philosophy, covers a lot of this.) It seems to me that when you say "What makes you the same being, or not, in philosophical puzzle cases where intuitions pull both ways, depends to a substantial extent on how you choose to view the matter; and different people could legitimately arrive at different choices, thus shaping the metaphysical facts (the actual metaphysical facts) to suit them," maybe misses out on something: it's not just what the person in question decides, but what has been socially determined to be the case. For example, say I owe you fifty dollars. I can't decide that I'm not the guy who borrowed the money. I can't even decide that if I've lost my memory and become a new person: debt inheres to bodies. Same for ownership. If I have a stock certificate, and I have total memory loss, it's still my stock certificate. But let's say I commit a crime and then have total memory loss and undergo a radical change of personality, such that I'm now appalled by, and would never engage in, criminal activity. If it was found out that I committed the crime, it would be odd to punish me for it. It seems like the criminal "died" with the memory and personality loss. I think that's because ownership and property are understood in physical terms, whereas crime involves a mental component (for example, for most crimes we have to prove mens rea.)

On this account, we could say, for example, "John over there is not the man I married," and "John over there is the man who owes me fifty dollars," even if I married him after I lent him the money, because the criteria for the two forms of identity are different.

I like the idea of voluntarism, but, for example, in the teleporter case, suppose I decide, voluntaristically, as it were, that I'm the same person. I can't necessarily compel other people to treat me as the same. So my wife might decide that I died, and that the teletransporter end-product is a gross simulacrum of me. It would depend, to some extent, on how others treated me whether I could *successfully* claim to be the same person.

I think this is a complex issue, but to make this post reasonably short, I'll just note that some combination of my choice, my psychological state, social reactions, and existing conventions might determine identity in any given situation, depending upon specific context.

James DiGiovanna said...

oh, I should add that I agree very strongly with this point, which is underappreciated in the personal identity literature:
""Person" is an ordinary, folk concept arising from a context lacking Swampman, teleporter, fission, and (that type of) amensia cases, so the concept of personhood might be expected to be somewhat indeterminate in its application to such cases. And since important features of personhood depend in part on the person in question thinking of the past or future self as "me" -- feeling regrets about the past, planning prudently for the future -- such indeterminacy might be partly resolved by the person's own decisions about the boundaries of her regrets, prudential planning, etc." I just want to stress the "partly" in the last sentence, and add, "and partly (sometimes decisively) by already established conventions, and by the attitudes of friends, loved ones, debtors, those seeking legal retribution, etc.; that is, all the cases where we actually care about sameness of persons over time."

Kathleen Wallace said...

I'm with Gendler in thinking that the thought experimental cases are not a very good test of whether there is a person, the same person, before and after the swap. Also, the voluntarist account seems to me another type of psychological account, and I'm not sure that either psychological or animal accounts of personal identity are satisfactory bases for resolving questions about personal identity, for many of the usual reasons one might be dissatisfied with psychological accounts. My own take is that one needs a different model of the self than either the psychological or the animal account to make some sense of why it might make sense to think that personal identity is not disrupted by the Swmapman (or the teleporter case, at least in singular replication). The model I prefer is what I think of as a network model.

Callan S. said...

Not really #1 - it shows how our thinking breaks down once it leaves our normal area of operation. If you were dealing with luggage that had a tag on it with your name, you wouldn't assume luggage that looked exactly the same but with a different name on the tag was yours.

Here the thing that comes out, if each atom was tagged, would have a different name on the tag (or different ID numbers for each atom, if you prefer).

David Duffy said...

"amensia" should of course be amentia, and I recognized the allusion in the title, where disagreements between past and future selves are extremely common. Many _disown_ a former incarnation as not being truly representative of who they are now. It depends on society in some cases whether they are allowed to get away with it.

chinaphil said...

Am I officially a killjoy if every one of my comments tries to strip the SF parts out of your philosophical stories?

I just thought I'd mention statutes of limitations as a formal social system which can be read as saying something about whether you still are the same person. (It doesn't have to be, of course, limitations might just arise out of concerns for practicality or other beliefs about how moral blame works.) For minor crimes, the limitations are relatively short; for crimes against humanity, they are longer. Perhaps committing a worse crime says more about what kind of a person you are than a minor crime? Or perhaps it makes you a worse person? And so to get rid of that stain - to be no longer "the guy who did that" - takes longer for murder than it does for theft.

Another real-world version: expats. Some do attempt (or succeed, or do it unintentionally) to reinvent themselves when they enter a new social environment.

While I agree with this sentence: ""Person" is an ordinary, folk concept arising from a context lacking Swampman, teleporter, fission, and (that type of) amensia cases, so the concept of personhood might be expected to be somewhat indeterminate in its application to such cases."

I think it doesn't tell us as much as we might hope, because we don't know how our folk concepts arose. Were they discovered, invented, or generated? It may well be that when teleporting starts, we will discover objective answers to these questions of teleport identity, leaving no space for voluntarism. Or it may be that we will generate answers through poorly-understood social processes, in which case individual decisions will still have little impact. Voluntarism will only work if (a) the laws of nature do not decide these questions for us; and (b) we are able to create a social space in which voluntarism can function.

Scott Bakker said...

I've been laid up all week watching Battlestar Galactica, so I've extensively pondered this issue in visuo-narrative guise. In fact, this whole comment was written with the BSG theme humming in the back of my brain...

It seems safe to suppose that our ancestors required some means to recognize others, and some means to recognize themselves. It also seems safe to suppose that they would do this as cheaply as possible, which means, by taking as much for granted as possible. As you say, the artificiality of the examples and the folk affiliations of personal identification suggests we should run afoul indeterminacy in these cases. In my own idiom, Swampman type examples exploit the 'crash space' of our capacity to self-identify. Every example you provide imports what might be called 'deep information,' information neglected in ancestral environments, into 'shallow information' ecologies.

This way of looking at it suggests a couple departures from your view, I think. First, it suggests we should start looking at these problems as data points, adopt an attitude of 'quasi-empirical ascent,' relevant to a certain thesis regarding the limits theoretical cognition.

Second (and apropos of comments above), it suggests that 'metaphysical personal identity' is simply chimerical, and as such, not something that can be 'chosen.' Say the lightning struck the instant after you *murdered* your neighbour's grandfather. Anyone can deny identification with any past incarnation of oneself: it's not as though we get to choose our social identity at any point in our lives. Why should this instance be any different? The social function of identity will be as blind to your sentiments on the matter as it would be to metaphysical matters.

In which case, you 'be' as you are told.

When you see the debate as a crash space, then it cannot be the case that 'anything goes' (opening the door to voluntarism), but rather that nothing goes, save by the grace of our fellows, who will tend to err on the side of social utility, I think, just as they should, since this is what we require from personal identity.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Very interesting continuing comments, folks! This is very helpful. I spent the day in a flurry of writing, and I try to prioritize the family on weekends -- so more specific reactions on Monday.

Unknown said...

Eric...Your, 'Here are two thoughts in support of voluntarism about personal identity'

(1.) 'it seems to 'me' that I can, to some extent, choose how to conceptualize these cases.'

(2.) 'And since important features of personhood depend in part on the person in question ......thinking of the past or future self as 'me'---'

These thoughts turn some of us toward Identity, in... the activity of Me...the passivity of Personhood...the neutrality of Meaning...

James said...

Quick one: suppose a man knows he's gonna be swampmanned, and tells people that the future swampman is not to be treated as him, and he refuses to identify with this coming swampman. But then the swampman demands to be treated as continuous with the man. We can only respect the voluntaristic self-determination of one of them, so we have a voluntarism conflict. (We can assume that if this happens enough a pre-swampman person might know that he'll be disrespected in this regard and thus feel the absence of self-determination even before the swampman appears.)

Callan S. said...

Interesting one, James! And the bracketed part - are you saying the person (before being swampmanned) will feel his wishes wont be listened to and thus feel a loss of control/self determination?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the terrific comments folks – and sorry for the slow reply to some of them.

Pete: Would you take the same attitude toward “water”? If someone says, by “water” I mean to include deer, pencil sharpeners, and decomposing banana peels, have they got something factually wrong? You could say “use the word however you like, and good luck!” – but still there’s something that the ordinary use of the word “water” is getting at that doesn’t include those things. *Maybe* similarly with “same person”?

James: “it's not just what the person in question decides, but what has been socially determined to be the case” Yes, that seems right to me! I regret not adding more of a social angle to the original post. On your conflicting pre- and post-Swampers – I’m good with that, in fact I like it, because it breaks the yes/no dichotomy that is a problem in most of the literature. For me it will be an almost immovable desideratum of a final account of personhood that it doesn’t force a simple “yes” or “no” on every case. I’d love to see a copy of your forthcoming paper, if you don’t mind!

Kathleen: I confess to leaning toward something like a psychological account, though with social dimensions too (as James nicely emphasizes in his comment above). What do you mean by a “network model” – forgive me for not knowing!

Callan: Ah, but the tags, too, look the same! They were just printed somewhere else.

David: Yes, I agree with that – and also with the point about society, which now a few people have made.

Chinaphil: “Voluntarism will only work if (a) the laws of nature do not decide these questions for us; and (b) we are able to create a social space in which voluntarism can function.” Yes – I agree with that. Not so such about statutes of limitations and expats. I suspect that in the most common sense of “person” used in Anglophone countries there is no literal change of personhood here, though there’s probably a minority sense in which there is. I take the common sense to roughly track the acceptable use of “I” (bracketing some complications like about what to do with “me” after I am dead), so that if I say, “I used to live in Boston” that creates a default presupposition that I regard the person in Boston as the same person as the person now.

Scott: “The social function of identity will be as blind to your sentiments on the matter as it would be to metaphysical matters.” Yes, lots of people bringing up versions of this point. I allow that the social decisions of those around us will also matter, maybe even matter more (depending on the case). I broadly agree about the “crash space”, I think – but I’m not sure that anything goes, if society says it goes. I’m inclined to think that folk usage points toward a space of possibilities, but if you stray *too* far – like in the coffee mug case – you’re not really talking about personal identity anymore.

Unknown: I have a hunch that you’re referring to some particular person’s work on those issues, but I’m not sure who. Could you explain a bit?

Unknown said...

"I have a hunch that you’re referring to some particular person’s work on those issues, but I’m not sure who. Could you explain a bit

Love to know more about your hunch; thank you for keeping track of so many commentors..
I have been working with others in Gurdjieff's ideas for exercise and work on myself;
been at fifty years, am retired and through work like yours have found I may have some things
in common with philosphy as entertaiment...I wish you guys were less dicriptive some times...

Uziel Awret said...

Thanks Eric, another good one. A few comments:
1) In his blog Scott Aaronson finds the paradoxes that result from the copying (Bostrom) of persons, gradual and destructive uploading (Chalmers), fission and others (even Lewis’ version of the sleeping beauty paradox in which actualization is indexical), to be so baffling that the only way to deal with them is to show that they are impossible even in principle. This leads him to conclude that the physics of the brain must rely on quantum mechanics that forbids such scenarios because of the ‘No Cloning’ theorem. That still leaves open teleportation scenarios which are a form of destructive uploading but those have their own problems.
2) The voluntarism option is a bit strange (I think that today I am going to be a horse ) but compatible in some sense with strongly non-deterministic approaches to QM such as closed system measurements and the one that Aaronson relates to volition.
3) These scenarios are great tools for exploring the self. Consider the next ‘Turing Test’, you ask a computer whether it is willing to undergo destructive uploading. What kind of an honest computer (ideal reasoner that reaches its own conclusions) would refuse to be uploaded? That is, what kind of architecture would possess it to refuse? How do you design such synthetic subjectivity? I think that these operational questions are less intractable than the ones attempting to capture the essence of the self directly and yet hard enough to teach us something important about this thing we call the self.
4) If you land on a planet with kind and intelligent organometallic creatures and not a single one refuses destructive uploading, watch out! If you design the computers that will design the singularity scenario computers that will run this planet (Chalmers’ AI+ machines) and you install software safeguards ensuring that AI+ will love us and only act in our interests, make sure it understands our reluctance to be destructively uploaded as well as we do.
Uzi.

James DiGiovanna said...

Callahan: yes, the person will feel a loss of self-determination if he knows he won't be listened to, undermining his voluntarism. Also:

Eric: here's a real world correlate. Suppose John wants everyone to know how manly he is, and wants to be treated only and always as a man. And suppose John says, "look, this is weird, but if I ever get a sex change, that's not me! I'm a man! I will always be a man!" Because this is a thought experiment, John of course eventually gets a sex change and becomes Johanna. Johanna asks that when we refer to her, we use female pronouns, even when referring to what she did prior to the sex change. But John specifically asked us not to! Johanna can tell us that she (in the John days) was just overcompensating, and please use "she" when referring to her on that fishing trip ten years ago, but still, is this disrespectful of John's clearly stated wishes? And yet, shouldn't we respect Johnanna's wishes, as she's the current inheritor of all that John had, including his stories and reputation? Or isn't she? I'm with you in that there's not a clear yes-or-no answer here, but I thought we could use a slightly less sci-fi case.

I'm taking up some of these issues in my writing now: thanks for the conversation! Your voluntarist approach is definitely fruitful and there isn't much in the literature like it!

Callan S. said...

Callan: Ah, but the tags, too, look the same! They were just printed somewhere else.

That's not actually possible - sure, it's possible for us to not have tags to go by. But unless we're destroying and creating matter here, matter A and matter B are matter A and matter B, not matter A.

It feels like you're trying to say our ignorance on what it is matters to what it is, somehow?

I think it's just crossed wires - a bit like sitting on ones arm before masturbating makes it seem someone else is doing it. Here, it's just the sense that thinking the swampman is X is in itself somehow important. Why's it feel important? Because of a numbness between the feeling of that importance and the thing that's designating it as important. Feels like it's something else/someone else doing it/the universe that is saying it's important.

Scott Bakker said...

Eric: "I broadly agree about the “crash space”, I think – but I’m not sure that anything goes, if society says it goes. I’m inclined to think that folk usage points toward a space of possibilities, but if you stray *too* far – like in the coffee mug case – you’re not really talking about personal identity anymore."

The point is that almost nothing goes, basically. Intuitions regarding personal identity have very few degrees of cognitive freedom, all of them practical. Is this the husband I sent to war? Is this the son that contracted that fever? (If the husband or son are loving, you can bet the answer is, 'Yes,' and if they are dangerous, you can bet the answer is, 'No' (unless they were dangerous to begin with!)). As soon as we pose these questions *theoretically,* I would argue that we've leapt into crash space. Perfect X-phi territory, if you ask me (framed in a way that obviates Deutch's critique?).

The point is, the question, it seems to be, is empirical: How do we personally identify? How do we typically cognize breaks in personal identity? I just don't see there being any facts of the matter beyond answers to questions like these. There just no issue for voluntarism to settle... How could there be?

Unknown said...

Eric ...Is hearing, then observing in time, that instinct sensation emotion mentation are volunteered by It, not me, and could It be employed as verification from a part (empirical) needed for oneself to Be (attitude) as a part of a seen or observed life, useful ...

like photos without the possibility of editing because they were seen then in value...

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I think our views about this are pretty close, Scott, but probably there’s still a bit of daylight between them. My inclination is to think that there are facts about personal identity that are grounded in a combination of psychological facts within the person (or people), social facts (as emphasized by you and others in the earlier comments), and scientific/logical facts underneath, e.g., about species and neurons and the transitivity of literal yes-or-no token identity; plus, as theorizers we have a bit of stipulative liberty, within confines. Maybe this mirrors what I suspect is our disagreement about “belief”: You, I think, want to go more eliminativist (yes?), and I want to say it’s a mushy mess but we can make sense of it as long as we’re restrained about how seriously to take it and not expecting clear, sharp answers for problematic cases.

On the empirical: I agree that the relevant psychological and social facts are empirically explorable, but I would downplay standard x-phi-ish answers to survey questions. The deeper facts (again, consonant with my view about belief and attitudes generally) will be less straightforwardly surveyable – issues like, does the husband still feel regret and embarrassment about what he did before the war and does the wife still credit and blame him for that stuff?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Unknown: It was more a general suspicion than a particular one.

Uziel: On 1 & 2: Aaronson is interesting, so I should check that out. First reaction is that it puts the cart before the horse. Hard to see how we could reach physical conclusions about quantum mechanics from thought experiments of this sort. Why not go broadly Parfitian instead, say? On 3 & 4: I think these kinds of cases are fascinating to think through, though I am a skeptic about our ability to do so well, partly for reasons articulated a couple of weeks ago in my post on how "weird minds" might destabilize ethics.

James: Nice case. My intuitions are that social identities are much more easily changeable than personal identity and that people sometimes blur these together, so to get my own intuitions into the gray zone, I'd want to add some more to the John/Joanna case. But that might make it more science-fictiony. For example, there might be enough brain change and memory loss that people are torn about whether to hold Joanna responsible for John's crimes, etc.

Callan: Yes, I think the ignorance can in some cases matter. The feeling that is important vs. unimportant or not even knowing about it can create or be constituted by other psychological (and social) attitudes that are partly constitutive of (what's worth calling) identity.

Pete Mandik said...

Eric, I would treat “water” differently, but see the difference as one of degree instead of kind. Because (in part) of the high degrees of difficulty in getting high degrees of consensus about “person,” I lean more towards the volantarism about it. In contrast, there’s been comparative ease (not that it was wholly without difficulty) in getting consensus on water. I wouldn’t rely here on a binary distinction between those things about which there is a fact of the matter and those about which there isn’t, but on a continuum having to do with degrees of ease in achieving consensus.

Uziel Awret said...

Aaronson uses QM to reach physical conclusions about these thought experiments.

Callan S. said...

Eric,

The feeling that is important vs. unimportant or not even knowing about it can create or be constituted by other psychological (and social) attitudes that are partly constitutive of (what's worth calling) identity.

Yeah, but the same can be said of superstition.

Besides, it's also like seeing a magic trick from where you can see how it's done, vs being in the audience. You're just not part of that audience anymore when it's attitudes and constitutions.

chinaphil said...

Just to expand a bit on how the social space might constrain us:
"...one biological organism went in, but a different one came out...the recently congealed being ran to a certain parked car, pulling key-shaped pieces of metal from its pocket that by amazing coincidence fit the car's ignition, and drove away...So you're Swampman."

In this case, the chances of anyone accepting that I'm not the Phil who went into the swamp seem very slim. I would not be allowed the option of choosing to be or not be that Phil - I drive his car, I remember his life and friends. In the case of the teleport, too, there isn't really any going to be any space for voluntarism. If, for some reason, Swampman or teleportman felt alienated from the Phil who went in, that would be ascribed to normal feelings of alienation. In part, the reasons for this would be consequentialist: if one could shed one's old identity by going into a swamp or a teleporter, that would allow for too easy escape from the consequences of one's actions.

Perhaps that idea of continuity is what will condition social responses most. In one-for-one body swaps, the new body has to be the same person as the old body, because that is the only conceptual way to maintain continuity. Of course, concepts could change, particularly in the light of...

One-for-many body swaps: I am perfectly copied, so two Phils exist. Perhaps both would accept responsibility for everything that Phil did before; they would now live separate lives, but they would both accept punishment for a crime I committed before; they would both have to deal with any emotional entanglements that I was involved in. That would create the beginnings of a split between continuity of person and unity of body.

Many-for-one body swaps: perhaps two people could be uploaded into the same body. There would be some obvious problems: do I now love wife 1 or wife 2? But these problems don't seem to be obviously more insurmountable than the issues which individuals can get themselves into.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Pete: I think I would agree that it's a difference in degree, but I'm still willing to hold on to some fixed points here, rigidifying the current (I assume) consensus that I could not become a coffee cup.

Uziel: Yeah, I'll have to check out the Aaronson -- haven't had a chance yet. Thanks for the tip!

Callan: Yep, it's like seeing the magic trick. If anyone thought it was *really* magic, they'll be disappointed. But they should be.

chinaphil: I suspect it depends on the social structures -- which is probably your point. I could imagine a set up, say, where there's a high-res videorecording of the swamp and a later-discovered corpse in which a segment of society might say you aren't really the same person (maybe especially if there would be some advantage to their saying that, e.g., they want to inherit from the deceased or not let you assume the deceased's political office), and those people might even become the dominant voice. Same, of course, for the other scenarios. The voluntaristic part only matters where there's enough indeterminacy in such matters that one's commitments could be the difference maker -- yes?

Callan S. said...

Chinaphil,

In part, the reasons for this would be consequentialist: if one could shed one's old identity by going into a swamp or a teleporter, that would allow for too easy escape from the consequences of one's actions.

Too easy an escape? As in the actual person is dead, so they've escaped by death?

Reminds me too much of Bane's origin in the Batman comics - doin' time for someone elses crime. Inexplicably.


Eric,

Yeah, but you say it matters.

Yes, I think the ignorance can in some cases matter. The feeling that is important vs. unimportant or not even knowing about it can create or be constituted by other psychological (and social) attitudes that are partly constitutive of (what's worth calling) identity.

I think such 'mattering' creates an us and them divide - it only matters because some people can't see the magic trick as a trick and think it matters perse. We, the ones who can see the trick as a trick, only think it matters because we think the people who can't see the trick, matter - but now we're in a kind of paternalistic role toward them. I'm not sure that turns out well at all.

David Duffy said...

I sometimes wonder if the statistical idea of exchangeability offer another way of looking at these problems:
"a number n of units [entities] is termed exchangeable in [value of a property] X if the joint probability distribution p(X1..Xn) is invariant under permutation of the units".

Instead of asking if a difference between X1 and X2 is indiscernible, it looks at the notional population of both together. Under this approach, I guess we place Swampman before the lightning bolt and run him backwards, expecting him to uncapitulate his history; his antecedent we allow to continue forward and tell him he is a mere copy...

chinaphil said...

"Enough indeterminacy..."
Yes. I'm just trying to think through what those cases might be. Thinking of a older story of yours, the one with the immortal oligarchs. I think that captured something about memo memory.I think we have a very strong intuition that first person memory is a clear indicator of identity. If you have first person memories of an event (in that story mysteriously conveyed by the recorders), then I don't think society will admit that you are not that same person.
So I don't think swamp man or teleport will create any space for voluntarism. The one which might could be multiple selves in single body - a problem which we already deal with sometimes in patients with psychiatric problems.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the continuing comments, folks!

Callan: "it only matters because some people can't see the magic trick as a trick and think it matters perse. We, the ones who can see the trick as a trick, only think it matters because we think the people who can't see the trick, matter - but now we're in a kind of paternalistic role toward them. I'm not sure that turns out well at all."

I suspect it will depend on the details of the case, how it turns out. I don't think it has to be problematically paternalistic.

David: I'm not sure I'm getting this -- for example the running backward. Could you unpack that a little? For a radical case of exchangeability, maybe consider the Boltzmann continuants case in my blogpost of that name.

chinaphil: I'm glad you see the connection to the Mnemonist (aka Oligarch) story. The larger project here is trying to problematize our intuitions here by presenting a wide range of cases that it's hard to tell a consistently intuitive story about. I'm also working on a multiple-selves/same-body story featuring a conscious AI toy dragon whose memories are wiped back to "Factory Settings" several times.

David Duffy said...

"running backward" - for your teleportation and SwampPerson examples, I see the two trajectories around the creation-destruction event in a time-invariant way. The thought experiment is swapping the metaphysical entities before and after "collision" and asking if the physics is changed. The alternative thought experiment of a population of two possible worlds running forward - one where A continues and the other where A' continues might also be useful. In both cases, the total history (joint distribution) looks the same. I want to avoid the case where copies coexist and interact with one another, as exchangeability usually assumes *independent* and drawn from an identical distribution - that one has appeared many times in SFnal contexts.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

David: Derek Parfit nicely shows (in my view) how our intuitions start to break down when we think about enough of these weird science-fictional cases. One difference between the Swampman case and the doppelganger-elsewhere case is that the Swampman case is so unlikely, so that if you ran the thing elsewhere forward, it almost certainly would not involve the re-emergence of a Swampman from the swamp -- though if you have an infinitude of worlds to play with, there will be such cases. Not sure if that quite addresses your point....

DiscoveredJoys said...

Following on from the debates elsewhere about intellectualism, beliefs and actions, I'd guess that how Swampman acts, and how the rest of society acts, have a much greater impact than how Swampman volunteers to believe about his situation.

Whatever Swampman volunteers to believe the rest of society will either treat him as the same (original) person or not. Or both - he could be denied his father's fortune as an inheritance because he was not the same person yet also be expected to pay taxes on the previous earnings of the original person. Legal definitions do not always match metaphysical definitions but the legal definitions are generally more pragmatic.