Followup to: Identity Isn't In Specific Atoms
It is widely said that some primitive tribe or other once feared that photographs could steal their souls.
Ha ha! How embarrassing. Silly tribespeople.
I shall now present three imaginary conversations along such lines—the common theme being frustration.
The first conversation:
Foolishly leaving the world of air-conditioning, you traveled to the Godforsaken Outback, and of course, got lost in the woods. A more primitive tribe than yours, the Hu'wha, saved your butt. Although the Hu'wha have told you how to reach an outpost of Internet access, that is, civilization, you've stayed with them a while longer; you've become their friend, and they yours.
One custom of the Hu'wha does seem strange to you, coming as you do from a more civilized culture: They don't hold with lies, even small ones. They consider a lie as an infringement upon the soul of the listener. They have a saying, "It is better to die than to be lied to." Though this is a very strange and primitive custom, you have come to respect it.
Late one night, the shaman calls you to his tent. His face is grave. "I have heard the most disturbing news," he says, "from the Tribe That Lives Across The Water. They say that your people, the People of the Net, have a most terrible custom: they paint images of others, and thereby steal their souls, for a person cannot be in two places at once. It is even said that you have weapons called 'cameras', for doing this automatically; and that the cameras of your folk can be very small, or disguised as other things."
"Um," you say, "I think you may be laboring under certain basic misconceptions. Cameras are not weapons; they make images, but they don't steal souls."
The grey-bearded shaman smiles, and shakes his head. "Young fellow, I am the shaman of the Hu'wha, and I hold the tradition passed down from my father through many generations; the true and original wisdom granted by the gods to the first shaman. I think I know what steals a soul and what does not, young fellow! Even to you it should be obvious."
And you think: Foolish mortal, how little you understand the power of Science. But this is beyond the conception of this man who thinks himself above you, and so you say nothing.
"I understand," the shaman says, "that your people may be so utterly ignorant of magic that they don't realize their cameras are dangerous. But that makes it all the more urgent that I ask you, Net-user, upon your honor: Have you by any means whatever, in your time among us, whether yourself, or by any device, produced an image of anyone here? If you have, we will do no violence to you—for I know there is no malice in you—but you will no longer be welcome among us."
You pause. The Hu'wha set great store on the literal truth of words, as well as their intent. And though you have no camera or paintbrushes, the answer to the question just asked, is literally yes. Your eyes, retina, and optic nerve are constantly painting images in your visual cortex.
"I haven't made any pictures the way you mean it," you say.
The shaman frowns. "I was looking for a simple No. Why the hesitation?"
Oh, dear. "The knowledge of my own people, the Net-folk, is not like your own knowledge," you say, "and you asked a... deeper question than you know, according to the beliefs of my own people."
"This is a very simple matter," the shaman says sharply, "and it has to do with what you have done. Have you made any pictures, or not?"
"I've painted no picture, and used no camera."
"Have you caused a picture to be made by any other means?" demands the shaman.
Dammit. "Not the way you mean it. I've done nothing that the Hu'wha do not also do."
You sigh. "It is a teaching of my people, which you are welcome to believe or not as it suits you, that pictures are constantly being created of all of us, all the time."
"What?" says the shaman.
"When you look at someone," you explain, "or even when an animal looks at you, that creates an image on the inside of the skull... that is how you see. Indeed, it is what you see—everything you see is a picture your eyes create."
"That's nonsense," says the shaman. "You're right there! I'm seeing you, not an image of you! Now I ask you again, on your honor: Do we Hu'wha still have our souls since you came among us, or not?"
Oh, bloody hell. "It is a teaching of my people," you say, "that what you call a 'soul' is... a confused idea."
"You are being evasive," says the shaman sternly. "The soul is not complicated, and it would be very hard to mistake a soul for something else, like a shoe or something. Our souls are breathed into us by Great Ghu at birth, and stays with us our whole lives, unless someone steals it; and if no one has photographed us, our souls go to the Happy Gaming Room when we die. Now I ask you again: Do I have my soul, or not? Give me the truth!"
"The truth," you say, "is that the way my people see the world is so different from yours, that you can't even imagine what I think is the truth. I've painted no pictures, taken no photographs; all I've done is look at you, and nothing happens when I look at you, that doesn't happen when anyone else looks at you. But you are being constantly photographed, all the time, and you never had any soul to begin with: this is the truth."
"Horse output," says the shaman. "Go away; we never want to see you again."
The second conversation:
John Smith still looked a little pale. This was quite understandable. Going to a pleasant dinner with your family, having a sudden heart attack, riding to the hospital by ambulance, dying, being cryonically suspended by Alcor, spending decades in liquid nitrogen, and then awakening, all in the span of less than 24 subjective hours, will put a fair amount of stress on anyone.
"Look," said John, "I accept that there are things you're not allowed to tell me -"
"Not right away," you say. "We've found that certain pieces of information are best presented in a particular order."
John nods. "Fine, but I want to be very clear that I don't want to be told any comforting lies. Not for the sake of my 'psychological health', and not for anything. If you can't tell me, just say nothing. Please."
You raise your hand to your chest, two fingers out and the others folded. "That, I can promise: I cannot tell you everything, but what I say to you will be true. In the name of Richard Feynman, who is dead but not forgotten."
John is giving you a very strange look. "How long did you say I was suspended?"
"Thirty-five years," you say.
"I was thinking," said John, "that things surely wouldn't have changed all that much in thirty-five years."
You say nothing, thus keeping your promise.
"But if things have changed that much," John says, "I want to know something. Have I been uploaded?"
You frown. "Uploaded? I'm sorry, I don't understand. The word 'upload' used to apply to computer files, right?"
"I mean," says John, "have I been turned into a program? An algorithm somewhere?"
Huh? "Turned into an algorithm? What were you before, a constant integer?"
"Aargh," says John. "Okay, yes, I'm a program, you're a program. Every human in the history of humanity has been a program running on their brain. I understand that. What I want to know is whether me, this John Smith, the one talking to you right now, is a program on the same hardware as the John Smith who got cryonically suspended."
You pause. "What do you mean, 'same hardware'?"
John starts to look worried. "I was hoping for a simple 'Yes', there. Am I made of the same atoms as before, or not?"
Oh, dear. "I think you may be laboring under certain basic misconceptions," you say.
"I understand," John said, "that your people may have the cultural belief that uploading preserves personal identity—that a human is memories and personality, not particular atoms. But I happen to believe that my identity is bound up with the atoms that make me. It's not as if there's an experiment you can do to prove that I'm wrong, so my belief is just as valid as yours."
Foolish child, you think, how little you understand the power of Science. "You asked a deeper question than you know," you say, "and the world does not work the way you think it does. An atom is... not what you imagine."
"Look," John says sharply, "I'm not asking you about this time's theories of personal identity, or your beliefs about consciousness—that's all outside the realm of third-party scientific investigation anyway. I'm asking you a simple question that is experimentally testable. Okay, you found something new underneath the quarks. That's not surprising. I'm asking, whatever stuff I am made of, is it the same stuff as before? Yes or no?"
The third conversation:
Your question is itself confused. Whatever is, is real.
"Look," Eliezer said, "I know I'm not being misunderstood, so I'm not going to try and phrase this the elaborately correct way: Is this thing that I'm holding an old-fashioned banana, or does it only have the appearance of a banana?"
You wish to know if the accustomed state of affairs still holds. In which it merely appears that there is a banana in your hand, but actually, there is something very different behind the appearance: a configuration of particles, held together by electromagnetic fields and other laws that humans took centuries to discover.
"That's right. I want to know if the lower levels of organization underlying the banana have a substantially different structure than before, and whether the causal relation between that structure and my subjective experience has changed in style."
Well then. Rest assured that you are not holding the mere appearance of a banana. There really is a banana there, not just a collection of atoms.
There was a long pause.
Or perhaps that was only a joke. Let it stand that the place in which you find yourself is at least as real as anywhere you ever thought you were, and the things you see are even less illusionary than your subjective experiences of them.
"Oh, come on! I'm not some hunter-gatherer worried about a photographer stealing his soul! If I'm running on a computer somewhere, and this is a virtual environment, that's fine! I was just curious, that's all."
Some of what you believe is true, and some of what you believe is false: this may also be said of the hunter-gatherer. But there is a true difference between yourself and the hunter-gatherer, which is this: You have a concept of what it means for a fundamental assumption to be mistaken. The hunter-gatherer has no experience with other cultures that believe differently, no history that tells of past scientific revolutions. But you know what is meant, whether or not you accept it, you understand the assertion itself: Some of your fundamental assumptions are mistaken.
Part of The Quantum Physics Sequence
Next post: "Decoherence"
Previous post: "Identity Isn't In Specific Atoms"
Late one night, the shaman calls you to his test.
Do you mean "tent"?
Good stuff, this.
How about some dialogues between the first non-brain-based conscious mind and a soulist epiphenomenalist, just to really drive that stake home?
"I understand that you can think and feel, but do you have a soul in there?" "...f* knows mate. Do you?" "Yes, I do." "How do you know?" "Because there's a tiny part of my mind that doesn't interact with the phenomenal universe in any way, that listens to all my thoughts, and that's my soul." "...what the hell are you talking about, meatbag?"
Goplat, I think that when we Occam's Razor something away, it's not so much that we're saying it obviously cannot exist, so much as that we don't have any particular reason to pay attention to this particular possibility. Sure, maybe there could be souls, but with a large answer space and so much evidence for materialism, it would be playing favorites to put a lot of probability mass on the soul hypothesis.
Also, even if there are no moral facts, don't you think the fact that no existing person would prefer a universe filled with paperclips is a sufficient condition for us to call such an outcome bad?---as a matter of common will, if not metaphysics proper.
Eliezer, that was just beautiful.
"Rest assured that you are not holding the mere appearance of a banana. There really is a banana there, not just a collection of atoms."
Similarly to "Zombies: The Movie", this was very entertaining, but I don't think I've learned anything new from it.
Z. M. Davis wrote:Have you performed a comprehensive survey to establish this? Asserting "No existing person" in a civilization of 6.5e9 people amounts to assigning a probability of less than 1.54e-10 that a randomly chosen person would prefer a universe filled with paperclips. This is an extremely strong claim to make!
For example, note that the set of people alive includes a significant number of people who are certifiably insane, and in all probability others who, while reasonably sane, have gotten very fed up with various forms of torture inflicted on them over the last few days and might be willing to neglect collateral damage if they could make it stop.
If such a survey were performed, and the results were actually what you claim, I would assign a higher probability to the possibility of a nefarious anti-paperclip conspiracy having infiltrated the survey effort than to the possibility of the results being correct.
Unanimous agreement of our entire species is also a much stronger claim than you need to make for your argument.
I agree with your first statement: it is enjoyable to read fiction that can convincingly propose a difficult idea (here, that my fundamental assumptions are false), but the point behind (maybe about what is matter?) is too obfuscated to be applicable in another context, and so I do not grow as a rationalist, only as a sci-fi reader.
For your pro-paperclip argument, the probability is wrong: it assumes that people's beliefs are independent, which is a dubious model.
Perhaps a way to salvage your reasoning would be to consider the amount of classes of people who have the same opinion on paperclipping the universe for the same reason. I'd expect two such classes to have somewhat independent beliefs (as in, an argument that convinces one would not necessarily convince another). There aren't a million ways to justify or refuse paperclipping the universe, though.
Using the honoured tradition of pulling numbers out of my arse, I'll assume there are a thousand such classes. It does not seem that extreme to assign a probability less than e-4 that a random class would embrace paperclipping. It's not outright out of my range of intuitively considerable probabilities the way e-10 is.
But regardless, Z. M. Davis's argument does not hinge on unanimous agreement, it's easy to see how even partial agreement can still be reworked into an argument Z. M. Davis would probably agree with:
"A certain amount of people agree that we should not paperclip the universe (for reasons unknown or too complicated to understand or that I just don't want to disclose(*)); in the absence of information about the preferences of the rest of the people and in the absence of an object-level reason to paperclip the universe or not, that is evidence we should not paperclip the universe (exactly how much evidence depends on how confident you are about your own ability to discern the answer to this question relative to a random person's ability, and how you adjust the information just given to take biases into account).
Thanks to conservation of expected evidence, this means that even in the case where we are aware of other arguments, this one still holds some weight, if a reduced one."
Remember you have to face not the argument given by Z. M. Davis, but the best one that he could have come up with if you are to show his reasoning is not sound.
I think the anti-natalists prefer a universe full of paperclips. Let's hope they don't invent the first super intelligent AI.
Anti-natalist here. I don't want the universe tiled with paperclips. Not even paperclips that walk and talk and call themselves human. What do the natalists want?
Recognition that the so-called "repugnant conclusion" isn't repugnant at all. Total utility maximization involves an increase in the population---eventually, not necessarily right now---as most human lives have positive subjective utility most of the time (empirically: few people commit suicide).
Reductio ad absurdum: what would the universe be worth without humans in it to value it? Lesser reductio: what would a beautifully terraformed planet be worth, if humans were present in the universe, but none on that planet?
Additionally, beyond the "material" ("industrial"?) aspect, people derive much of their enjoyment of life from social interactions with other people; it would be remiss not to use this nigh-inexhaustible source of utility. This category just so happens to include, among other things, the joy of being with one's children.
Explain what, exactly? What observed phenomena are you saying our model doesn't explain? It is precisely because we have no need to generate an explanation that we say it doesn't exist.
You would be better off questioning the belief system that asserts that 'souls' must exist, rather than the physics that does not require such a hypothesis.
Sebastian, you're right. I shouldn't have exaggerated.
I'm actually wondering right now if it's right to say that one's "eyes, retina, and optic nerve are constantly painting images in [one's] visual cortex." I'm thinking specifically of, e.g., Dennett's discussion of "'Filling in' Versus Finding Out" in Consciousness Explained, but I'm having trouble right now finding a juicy bit to quote. The basic idea is that it's problematic to think of vision as being like a camera that projects content onto a screen in the brain, because that just prompts the question of how that internal projection is seen--and we have a regress.
The basic idea is that it's problematic to think of vision as being like a camera that projects content onto a screen in the brain, because that just prompts the question of how that internal projection is seen--and we have a regress.
Not really - it could form a straightforward pixelated representation in the cortex (an image, in my book) that's only then processed - but it's false anyway (e.g., the retina does edge detection).
However, an image certainly does form on the retina just as much as it does in a camera.
I think the anti-natalists prefer a universe full of paperclips.
Actually, anti-natalists seem to have a thing for coathangers rather than paperclips. (Sorry, too tempting :-P )
Z._M._Davis: I'm thinking specifically of, e.g., Dennett's discussion of "'Filling in' Versus Finding Out" in Consciousness Explained, but I'm having trouble right now finding a juicy bit to quote. The basic idea is that it's problematic to think of vision as being like a camera that projects content onto a screen in the brain, because that just prompts the question of how that internal projection is seen--and we have a regress.
I was just reading the Wikipedia articles about that stuff. Some good summaries are in the Multiple Drafts Model article, and the "image-in-brain" model that Dennett criticizes is what he calls Cartesian theater.
Suggested reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_cortex#Function "Conceptually, this retinotopy mapping is a transformation of the visual image from retina to V1. The correspondence between a given location in V1 and in the subjective visual field is very precise: even the blind spots are mapped into V1."
We can easily reject the Cartesian theater notions, but there are still "paintings" of images in our brains.
Here is my attempt to summarize: everyone must remain open to the possibility that reality is structured differently than he believes.
A corollary is that everyone with a plan to affect reality must remain open to the possibility that his work on that plan was a waste of his time even if he devoted his life to that work.
Actually, anti-natalists seem to have a thing for coathangers rather than paperclips David Benatar thinks that abortion is harmful after about the midway point of pregnancy. Chip Smith says he finds "nothing morally or intuitively objectionable about abortion as such" but "it should nonetheless be legally proscribed".
It seems to me that there is an important distinction between these scenarios. Of course, it could be that I'm just not enlightened enough to see the total similarity.
In the first scenario, 'you' are at least attempting to explain yourself to the shaman. In fact, you have answered, both literally with "yes" and to the shaman's intent by explaining. That he does not believe your explanation is a separate matter.
In the second scenario, I imagine your literal answer to John would be "no"---because there is no such thing as "same stuff" anyway. Why, then, didn't you at any point tell him "no" or "there is no such thing as 'same stuff' anyway"? If John refused to believe your explanation, this would of course be similar to the first case.
In the third scenario, 'Eliezer' has refined his question to this point: "I want to know if the lower levels of organization underlying the banana have a substantially different structure than before, and whether the causal relation between that structure and my subjective experience has changed in style." What in the world is ill-defined in this question? What word do we have to taboo? (Perhaps 'structure', perhaps 'subjective experience'?) It seems deserving of a straight answer to me.
(One possibility is that you are suggesting future advances in understanding, so that you really don't know what could be ill-defined about such a question---you are just saying in general that seemingly commonsense ideas may not be as solid as they appear. In that case, it's hard to object, but it would be nice if I could imagine knowledge that would make me believe 'Eliezer' and John weren't asking real questions.)
You buy into the Hu'wha's belief system when you respond to "The Hu'wha set great store on the literal truth of words, as well as their intent. " as different from their belief in souls. Words have no literal truth independent of webs of beliefs. The true answer to a question is what you have most reason to believe will leave the questioner best informed. In this case, the true answer is "no".
BTW, it's definitely not just hunter gatherers who can not know what it would mean for a fundamental assumption to be mistaken. An example from myself recently relates to Turing Machines. That some algorithms are simpler than others is a very fundamental assumption to me. I know that we don't know how to rank the complexities of Turing Machines, and that for any complex program there is a Turing Machine that outputs the output of that complex program in response to a single bit, but I don't know what it means for the assumption that some things are simpler than others to be mistaken so I suspect, possibly in the absence of adequate evidence, that there is some relevant sense in which the complexity of the program has simply been shifted into the Turing Machine, which is thus more complex than some other Turing Machine.
unknown: Huh? I thought you were an anti-natalist, at least for insects.
The true answer to a question is what you have most reason to believe will leave the questioner best informed. In this case, the true answer is "no".
Is it really? Methinks the Hu'wha would consider a projection on a retina part of the extension of "image", even though by their intension it's not an "image" (there being no such thing). More generally, this statement sounds possibly paternalistic, although I can't think of where it badly breaks down (it's odd to call "that's a Wrong Question, this other one is more meaningful" a "true answer", but it's not like there's a more "true" one).
I don't remember saying I was against insects. If I did, I retract it.
Another interesting point about this post is that Eliezer reveals when he thinks cryonics will work. I would be willing to wager 100 credibility points that no one cryonically suspended before the year 2010 will be revived before the year 2050, whether directly, by uploading, or in any other way.
I have, at least once, wondered if a farther future civilization bringing back their ancestors (via cryonics or anything else) might first insert them into a near-to-their-own-time future simulation (sped up several-fold with respect to the time of the simulating civilization) as a way to bring them up to speed while also diminishing the intensity of future shock.
Another interesting point about this post is that Eliezer reveals when he thinks cryonics will work.
For the love of God, Montressor! Did I also reveal that the Bayesian Conspiracy will take over the world, and that bananas will be replaced with real bananas? Dialogues are written as fiction, and like all fiction, they don't get to use probability distributions.
No, words have meanings assigned to them, and those meanings have objective properties that require the words to be used in certain ways. The true answer to a question is one that accurately represents the data being requested.
In this case, the true answer is that human eyes function the same way that camera lenses do, and that you make an image of a thing every time you look at it.
"human eyes function the same way that camera lenses do, and that you make an image of a thing every time you look at it."
Cameras make a visible image of something. Eyes don't.
When I see something with my eyes, they transfer into my mind data that I use to create a visible image.
I'd think they do. Surely in principle someone could see the image of whatever you're looking at reflected off the retina from the inside of your eye. It's only not visible in the sense that nobody's inside your eyeball and the image is probably very dim.
Your eyes make audible images, then? You navigate by following particular songs as your pupils turn left and right in their sockets?
No, words have meanings assigned to them
Different people assign different meanings, and if you knowingly state something true under your definitions but false under those of the person you say it to, you're being dishonest.
"if you knowingly state something true under your definitions but false under those of the person you say it to, you're being dishonest." And that's just what you do when you call looking making an image.
Exactly, Vassar. And if you say that you're not making an image, that's also dishonest. It's like telling a cryonics patient that he's made out of the same atoms, or alternatively, telling him that he's not made out of the same atoms, or alternatively, remaining silent and letting him draw his own conclusions. No matter what you do, you can't convey the truth.
This is part of the hell of being a rationalist.
Wait, now I am confused again. To be clear, it would still be meaningful to say "You are still made of meat, you are running on neurons substantially similar to the ones you were using when you died," right?
Basically, the problem here is that whether you say yes same atoms or no, you are implicitly confirming the questioner's mistaken billiard ball model of atoms?
And if you say that you're not making an image, that's also dishonest.
This was my point about the extension vs. intension; the poor Hu'wha is inconsistent in a way that makes a straightforward and honest answer impossible.
Oh, and Michael, you may be confusing Unknown and Utilitarian.
If you showed this man a camera obscura, would he call that "making an image"? I suspect he would. It works on the same principles as an eye. If you performed the classic demonstration with a sheep's eye, and he saw the image made on the retina, it might easily fall into his category.
Really, you just have to acknowledge that you're dealing with a lesser mind and try as best you can to explain the reality of the situation.
(For extra credit, show him satellite photos of the location where you and he are and explain that people have been taking pictures of the villagers for years. Clearly, they've been p-zombies all this time.)
(Well, no. They probably aren't sophisticated enough to fall into the trap of believing in p-zombies. They might just conclude they don't have souls.)
Satellite photos aren't high enough quality to show individual people. They're not going to object to a one-pixel image. It's just a square.
One thing I'm looking forward to is the first lawsuit by a cryonics patient alleging that they no longer have a subjective conscious experience, despite being able to pass a turing test. Sort of in the tradition of recent wrongful birth lawsuits. They could submit evidence that their brain scans correspond to someone who is sleep-talking rather than someone who is conscious-awake or conscious-dreaming-a-dream-that-they'll-remember, that sort of thing.
Why couldn't they just fake being unable to pass a Turing test? :-)
My first thought was that it would be pretty hard to sue somebody without giving away that you're able to pass a Turing test, but then I remembered - oh yeah, lawyers.
The second story could never happen, because a real cryonic revival counselor would be trained to handle that question.
A real cryonic revival counselor, or just one merely made of atoms?
Real in the same way that a real banana is real.
"Have you never seen yourself or someone else reflected into a poll of water or something? We've found out that something similar happens in your eyes."
"Well, according to quantum mechanics, all atoms of the same type are “the same” anyway, and even if that weren't the case, your body wasn't the same atoms when you were 18 as when you were 17, as you ate/drunk/inhaled lots of atoms and pissed/shitten/exhaled/puked lots of other atoms." "Whatever. Is my body still made of cells with my DNA? Is my brain still made of neurons?"
There's no word about scat quite like "shat". Say it aloud, it's fun! It's not "shitten", though.
I think John would be pretty justified in his concern that you were bullshittening him after you tried to sell him both of these (superficially) mutually exclusive explanations.
If the premise was that John was capable of getting to this question, it wouldn't be a good example of the point. The answer in this case would be either "Yes" or "No".
My dad is a photographer, but he has a strange avertion to being photographed, and use to describe how when he was little he thought that a camera must somehow capture some small part of him to stick in the photo, and he didnt like the thought of that, and that feeling never really left...
That actually makes a lot of sense. Someone with such an aversion, living in a society where such an aversion is rare and knowing that the aversion is not rational, would naturally gravitate towards being a photographer; the easiest socially acceptable way to avoid being photographed is to be the one holding the camera.
...this would lead me to ask whether the collection of atoms had, in fact, been the simulation. Not immediately, but once I'd had time to think about it.
I do like the complete subversion of expectation in that sentance, though.
John Smith understands more cognitive science than the average American but apparently forgot the word "computer."