energy in your hair

swears

preppy-kei
Has anybody talked specifically about brain cell replacement and the continuation of consciousness before?
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"But I can't see how this works. Where is the self outside of those cells? If the cells thinking this right now are replaced, will I still exist when they're gone?"
That's the question isn't it? Is there something (soul, dna replicator, self, I dunno) that means that you are the same thing or not? Is Theseus' Ship still the same ship?
Maybe the two things aren't precisely analogous as you might make a distinction between the living thing and the inanimate ship but if you accept that the ship is the same then you would surely have no problem accepting that the person is the same (might not work the other way though ie you might not think that a person being the same person despite having completely different cells is enough to establish that the ship is the same because you might think that the person has a "soul" and the ship doesn't).
I'm pretty agnostic either way and I guess that in the absence of anything that can persuade me otherwise it seems natural to go with the instinct - the feeling - that one is some kind of continuous entity. Be interested to hear any proper arguments though.

"If you think cell replacement is a metaphysical minefield, it's a walk in the park next to quantum teleportation."
Well, that's more like the cloning thing that Swears was on about earlier right?

"Has anybody talked specifically about brain cell replacement and the continuation of consciousness before?"
What do you mean? Anybody ever? I would have thought loads of people have.

Maybe this is a recent high-profile thing that might touch on it (haven't read it though)

http://www.amazon.com/Am-Strange-Loop-Douglas-Hofstadter/dp/0465030785
 

swears

preppy-kei
Every stoner, ever.

Yeah, but not in a "Wow, dig this..." way, from the point of view of neurology and/or philosophy, something more rational.




What do you mean? Anybody ever? I would have thought loads of people have.

Maybe this is a recent high-profile thing that might touch on it (haven't read it though)

http://www.amazon.com/Am-Strange-Loop-Douglas-Hofstadter/dp/0465030785

Yeah cheers. I was hoping for links/books. Didn't think I was the first person in history, lol.
 
N

nomadologist

Guest
Of course the question arises in relation to human beings because we have this subjective sense of continuity, most of the time.

Was just watching this Steven Hawking documentary where he talked about how when we finally understand black holes, we'll understand the big bang and finally lay to rest the notion that "time" exists in the way we experience it.

Can't wait till they get that math for that all worked out...apparently math breaks down in black holes an energy becomes an infinitely small and infinitely energetic point in space-time (which I doubt is "continuum-like" at all)...
 
N

nomadologist

Guest
Self as pattern, field. The solid matter manifestation being just a part or a construct of something more fundamental.

Self as a mechanical outgrowth of/response to the dictates of organic life. Where a brain is just a CPU.

And then there's self as a narrative, in the psychoanalytical tradition. Which even Lacan doesn't really escape from.

And then there's self as an illusion of material existence where there's some binary and the ghost is running the machine.

Those are probably the three most prevalent notions of selfhood that float around now. I like the first and second ones best.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
Rich, I think quantum teleportation is more problematic for notions of self than cell replacement because (in theory) it would be possible to transfer all of the information that can physically be learned about the particles that make up an object (which could be a person) - within limits set by the uncertainty principle - and transmit that information to another piece of matter, which then 'becomes' the original object. Fortunately, we don't have to worry about the original object, because it is destroyed in the process; it doesn't literally disappear, but it would presumably decay into some sort of maximum-entropy state*, an undifferentiated lump of stuff. This is all very hypothetical, of course, since it's been done with one photon at a time, and it's a very big leap from that to 'objects' as such.

However, I heard about some work a team did recently in which they managed to duplicated a quantum state without destroying the original state, using some novel technique.

*I guess, not sure how this would actually happen
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"Rich, I think quantum teleportation is more problematic for notions of self than cell replacement because (in theory) it would be possible to transfer all of the information that can physically be learned about the particles that make up an object (which could be a person) - within limits set by the uncertainty principle - and transmit that information to another piece of matter, which then 'becomes' the original object."
Sure, all I'm saying is that that is very like cloning (as Swears had it) but the new version appears somewhere else and the original disappears. The question then is, is the new version that appears merely a copy (a facsimile) or is it the original? Would you happily step into a transporter that promised to recreate an exact copy of you elsewhere at the small expense of the original ceasing to exist? I suspect not.
Perhaps where it diiffers from complete cell replacement bit by bit is in the sense that the (impression of) continuity is broken. Maybe an analogy could be from football. Manchester United players change bit by bit over the years and after a while none of the players are the same - but the team is still Man Utd. On the other hand, when Wimbledon were transported (teleported) to Milton Keynes and recreated identically there with the same players most fans decided that they were not the same team.
 

noel emits

a wonderful wooden reason
Would you happily step into a transporter that promised to recreate an exact copy of you elsewhere at the small expense of the original ceasing to exist? I suspect not.
This is more or less what PKD's 'The Unteleported Man' is about, although if I remember right there's a bit of a nasty twist to it.

It's also a famous thought experiment in philosophy and it's bugging me that I can't remember who formulated it.
 
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Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
Ah yeah, I see what you mean. I'd say, though, there is a good case to be made for a continuity of consciousness in the case of quantum teleportation; cloning would merely create an organism with the same DNA as you, which is not the same thing as you (just as one manufactured item isn't numerically identical to another instance of the same model); but in teleportation, even the electrical signals being exchanged by your neurons would be duplicated perfectly, so the thoughts, sensations and memories of the new 'you' would be identical to those of the old. I find it hard to maintain that there would be a discontinuity of identity and consciousness here without appealing to a specifically mentalist/nonphysical model of consciousness, some sort of 'soul' or 'spirit'.
 

noel emits

a wonderful wooden reason
It's also a famous thought experiment in philosophy and it's bugging me that I can't remember who formulated it.
Some bloke on youtube apparently, pretty sure he got this from elsewhere. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlihiJ528xM&feature=related

Some bloke on youtube said:
Thought experiment #1: you're in a planet that's about to self destruct. There are only two ways to leave the planet. Which do you choose?
1.) you can leave the planet through a spaceship but your chances of surviving the trip to your destination is extremely slim (let's say less than 5%)
2.) You can leave the planet using a "teleportation machine" which creates an exact copy of you with all your memories and personality in another location and then it destroys the original copy

Thought experiment #2: You acquired a disease that gradually rewires your neural networks until all your memories and your personality will be completely changed. Let's say it will be rewired to replicate the brain of your mother so that all your mother's memories and personality will be implanted in you and you will lose all your memories and personality.
The only cure is to undergo a procedure in which a few of your brain cells will be replaced by microchips every year. The microchips will function exactly like neurons. From your perspective, you won't notice any changes. Every year a small group of your brain cells will be replaced until eventually your brain will be composed entirely of microchips. Your consciousness will be preserved but you will lose the original cells that made up your brain.Now would you rather..
1.) keep the integrity of your consciousness and lose your original brain cells by undergoing the procedure or...
2.) just let the disease run its course and keep your original brain cells

Going with either choice in the each of the experiments, you will be sacrificing either the continuity of your material self for the continuity of your consciousness or vice versa. How would you go about making your decision? If the continuity of the material body is more important for you, how would you reconcile the fact that your body regenerates its cells, including some of your brain cells, with your position. And if you think that the continuity of your consciousness is more important for you, would you say that people who've had their consciousness altered (people with amnesia) are still the same person? by not wanting to die, what is it really that you're trying to preserve?
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"This is more or less what PKD's 'The Unteleported Man' is about, although if I remember right there's a bit of a nasty twist to it.
It's also a famous thought experiment in philosophy and it's bugging me that I can't remember who formulated it."
I was taking it from Star Trek but I'm sure you're correct that lesser minds have dealt with it as well.

"in teleportation, even the electrical signals being exchanged by your neurons would be duplicated perfectly, so the thoughts, sensations and memories of the new 'you' would be identical to those of the old. I find it hard to maintain that there would be a discontinuity of identity and consciousness here without appealing to a specifically mentalist/nonphysical model of consciousness, some sort of 'soul' or 'spirit'."
I'm not entirely sure of that. If the new you had all the same thoughts, sensations etc and was in every way an exact copy does that mean it's you? What if the old you hasn't been destroyed, would the new you have just as much claim to be you? I don't think that you need to appeal to a soul to say that it wouldn't. I mean, if you create an exact copy of an inanimate object does that actually make the copy in some sense the original?
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
I'd choose 2 and 1, respectively. In the latter case, the last thing I need is memories of changing my own nappy, EEWWW!!!

When you learn about matter at a really fundamental level, you come to realise that information is a lot more improtant than 'stuff'. I read a good book about this (and other things) a few years ago:
http://www.amazon.com/Matter-Myth-D...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198084400&sr=1-1
The last chapter, IIRC, is called "The Triumph of 'Bit' over 'It'", and sums up how modern physics is increasingly hinting that a more fundamental way to understand the universe is as systems of information, rather than interacting particles, fields etc.
In a wider metaphysical sense it all links in with the ascendency of the information age and the data economy, the demise of the Newtonian 'clockwork' universe and so on. Well worth reading.
 

Immryr

Well-known member
i think you've hit on an interesting reversal there. perhaps by claiming that if it exactly replicated you cell for cell, memory for memory, thought for thought, that it was indeed the original, you are appealing to the idea that there is some sort of soul involved.

in all other none human, 'soul-less', things when you make an exact copy of something it is considered just that, a copy or clone rather than the original. the only thing i can think of that woud make that fact any different would be if you thought we had some sort of soul or spirit elevating humans beyond that.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
I'm not entirely sure of that. If the new you had all the same thoughts, sensations etc and was in every way an exact copy does that mean it's you? What if the old you hasn't been destroyed, would the new you have just as much claim to be you? I don't think that you need to appeal to a soul to say that it wouldn't. I mean, if you create an exact copy of an inanimate object does that actually make the copy in some sense the original?

Ahh, but only by quantum teleportation would the copy ever really exact, in the strictest possible sense. I take the view that consciousness arises as a sort of gestalt process, and that this process itself could be transferred by means of teleportation. If the no-remaining-original theorem holds true, then we don't have to worry about which of the two 'yous' is really 'you' - although of course it could be interesting to discuss this scenario.
You don't even need wacky physics to raise this possibility, though, just wacky biology: suppose humans could reproduce by binary fission, like bacteria? Then there'd be two 'offspring', each with a claim to being the 'real' original. Actually, I don't find this so problematic, since each one could inherit the memories and continuous consciousness of the 'parent' independently of the other.
 

noel emits

a wonderful wooden reason
Rich, I think quantum teleportation is more problematic for notions of self than cell replacement because (in theory) it would be possible to transfer all of the information that can physically be learned about the particles that make up an object (which could be a person) - within limits set by the uncertainty principle - and transmit that information to another piece of matter, which then 'becomes' the original object. Fortunately, we don't have to worry about the original object, because it is destroyed in the process; it doesn't literally disappear, but it would presumably decay into some sort of maximum-entropy state*, an undifferentiated lump of stuff. This is all very hypothetical, of course, since it's been done with one photon at a time, and it's a very big leap from that to 'objects' as such.
What if part of what makes a being is contained in patterns and resonances in it's electromagnetic field? Would this kind of 'teleportation' be able reproduce that accurately?

I don't think there's anything particular that makes an individual, a perfectly accurate copy would still be the same person, but does 'science'' actually understand what does make a person and what would to be copied?
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
What if part of what makes a being is contained in patterns and resonances in it's electromagnetic field? Would this kind of 'teleportation' be able reproduce that accurately?
Absolutely! If you could extract the maximum possible information in this quantum teleportation process, you'd have the orbits and energy levels of the elecrons in every molecule in every neuron in your brain. That's what I mean by copying over the patterns and resonances from which, somehow, memories and consciousness arise as emergent phenomena (IMHO). It's like computers: if you wanted to 'clone' your PC, it'd be no good just buying an identical model brand new, you'd have to copy over the contents of the hard disk, wouldn't you? In fact an even better analogy might be volatile RAM that requires a supply voltage in order to retain the data, and loses it when the voltage is switched off, which could be what happens to memories upon death. Although those crazy American guys who have their heads frozen when they die would obviously disagree.
I don't think there's anything particular that makes an individual, a perfectly accurate copy would still be the same person, but does 'science'' actually understand what does make a person and what would to be copied?
Hmm, I dunno, I think we're getting into realms that, for the moment anyway, are beyond the reach of science per se.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"i think you've hit on an interesting reversal there. perhaps by claiming that if it exactly replicated you cell for cell, memory for memory, thought for thought, that it was indeed the original, you are appealing to the idea that there is some sort of soul involved.
in all other none human, 'soul-less', things when you make an exact copy of something it is considered just that, a copy or clone rather than the original. the only thing i can think of that woud make that fact any different would be if you thought we had some sort of soul or spirit elevating humans beyond that."
Yes, that was more like what I was trying to say.
An exact copy is just a copy, without consciousness or something there is no question that the new version the original - it's not. When you (Mr Tea) said that you need to appeal to a "soul" to say that the new version IS NOT the original you've got it the wrong way round, you need the idea of the soul to argue that it IS - without the soul there would be no debate.
Of course, the idea of a soul does not necessarily imply that the new version IS the original either.
 

noel emits

a wonderful wooden reason
Hmm, I dunno, I think we're getting into realms that, for the moment anyway, are beyond the reach of science per se.
I know! That's why I'm asking. I do think there might be more to living beings than what is generally understood by science at present. In relation to this I'm interested in things like 'morphic resonance'. There have been some very interesting experiments in that area with regard to how creatures develop and form. I think it's been brought up before on here that there doesn't appear to be enough information in human DNA to explain how the creatures we are form. I wonder how much those bacteria account for though.

So who's up for going first on the quantum teleport then? ;)
 
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Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
Hang on there, I don't believe in souls but I never said I don't believe in consciousness! They're two very different things. When I say a 'soul' is needed to support the claim that the copy is not the original, it is in response to the question "what is different about them?". I would argue that there is no difference, but I think someone claiming that there is would have to seek some sort of nonphysical explanation for the difference (in other words, a soul) since there is no physical difference; this is garuanteed by the quantum-cloning process. If two systems are identical at the quantum level, i.e. they are described by the same wave-function/state vector, then they are identical. Nature does not distinguish between one electron and the next.

I guess you could sum up my position as follows: if two systems are physically identical, right down to the quantum level, then they are interchangeable; it makes no sense to talk about 'this one here' and 'that one there'. So if you insist that there is nonetheless a difference, then you either need to appeal to some unknown sub-quantum theory of physics, or posit a non-physical (spiritual, metaphysical...) difference.
 
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