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June 3, 2002
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What would you do to live to 150? (more inside)
posted by daver (112 comments total)

 
I've talked with my friends for a long time about how long we (my generation, 30somethings) will live. I usually say to 120. Looks like some folks are ready to make the leap by drastic calorie reduction. How drastic? Say 50% of what you're eating right now (unless you're following rda guidelines, which means only a 3rd or so). Also, as side effects, you get cranky, decreased sex drive, depressed, and sensitive to the cold. Oh, and you can't eat that cheese burger.

If this is what it takes to live to 120, or even 150, I think I'll pass. A longer, less enjoyable life seems like a mistake to me. So, what would you do?
posted by daver at 9:19 PM on June 3, 2002


Cancer'll kill out my generation if we don't find a cure for it.
posted by hobbes at 9:25 PM on June 3, 2002


I saw a guy on 60 Minutes that did this. Every day, all he ate was leafy greens... steamed kale, I think. While I do try to eat healthy, I'm all about moderation, and he took it to the extreme. Too much.
posted by gramcracker at 9:30 PM on June 3, 2002


Sounds like a torture from a myth.
posted by jeb at 9:47 PM on June 3, 2002


I don't wanna live any longer than I have to.

Calorie reduction? So I can live to see the next three Star Wars movies?
Piss off.
posted by dong_resin at 9:50 PM on June 3, 2002


The problem with living to an extended age is that all those extra years get tacked onto the end.

Figure out a way to get thirty extra years of being a teenager and I'll sign up.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:53 PM on June 3, 2002


I want to live until I can't enjoy life anymore, and then stop. I don't get the preoccupation with life expectancy sometimes...what's there to do past 70 or so?
posted by Succa at 10:12 PM on June 3, 2002


What would I do to live to 150? I'd be willing to kill healthy people and eat their steaming brains, actually, thanks for asking.
posted by webmutant at 10:28 PM on June 3, 2002


Like Succa and mr. crash, i don't see the point if you can't stave off incontinence, senility, and the like. And you probably can't drink or smoke to get to that point, or do such things once you're there. A life that's not enjoyable is not a life worth living.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:31 PM on June 3, 2002


Do we keep losing function? It seems there is some sort of plateau where we kind of hit bottem. If I could hit 150 and be as spy as some 100 year old I have seen on TV I would not have a problem with that. I don't have to water ski or anything, I would be happy to read and learn til the end of time.
posted by thirteen at 10:36 PM on June 3, 2002


My great-grandfather lived until the age of 106. I knew him - he died when I was well into my teenage years. Now I'm wondering if his lifetime diet - spartan, vegetarian and sometimes fish, an almost miserly under-indulgence learned from years of living in times of war and imminent famine - had something to do with it.

Oh, and he was spry and witty until the end. He lived in Mexico and would get up every morning, walk out to his unprofitable fruitstand and socialize all day with his customers. He was an emotional guy who would cry at his luck of being able to see and know his great-grand-children - though he often mixed up our names. He had plenty of people who loved and enjoyed him and he didnt *rely* on anybody until his last few months which were spent in bed.
posted by vacapinta at 10:49 PM on June 3, 2002


What would you do to live to 150?
Kill all of you.
posted by holloway at 11:04 PM on June 3, 2002


Figure out a way to get thirty extra years of being a teenager and I'll sign up.

Just become a homosexual.

No, seriously.
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:43 PM on June 3, 2002


I'd love to live forever if I could, I think the world would be a drastically different place if the fear of death was removed from our minds once and for all.

(I'm gonna have to get all sci-fi on you now, so bear with me)

To do this right though, would require regular reboots when necessary. We would have to regularly grow clones of ourselves and reboot our minds and souls into our clones when our bodies grow too old. I know it's all fantasy now, but I think in the next 100 years it is certainly possible. There is only so far one can stretch the human body and beyond that, technology will have to fill the gaps. In a couple dozen years computers will equal a human brain in terms of processing power. That's when we can start actively archiving our minds. Imagine a backup of every thought, memory, and dream you've ever had. Now imagine getting into a car crash tomorrow, and losing your legs. Grab a clone the next day and your last backup and you're as good as new the following day. We could live eternally in our 20's, simply swapping out our 30 year old body for a 20 year old one every ten years.

I'm telling you, when this becomes a distinct possibility, everything will change. I honestly think almost every human frailty and all human limits are related to our innate fear of our own passing. Once that is lifted, the unimaginable and unattainable suddenly becomes quite possible.
posted by mathowie at 12:32 AM on June 4, 2002


simply swapping out our 30 year old body for a 20 year old one every ten years.

What would the 20-year old clone whose body you "reboot into" think about your vision of immortality? :)
posted by vacapinta at 12:37 AM on June 4, 2002


Well it'd think whatever I was thinking about immortality, vacapinta, after the re-boot.

Until then, just stuff a sock into it's mouth and don't make eye contact.
posted by dong_resin at 1:26 AM on June 4, 2002


If extending life became as painless and easy as eating, many religious types wouldn't like it:

1. All death (except for the occasional slip-up) would be voluntary. It would be suicide to die.

2. According to common nutcase theory, people would become evil without the threat of damnation and promise of paradise. If people didn't have to die, God would no longer be able to control the believing hordes with eternal sticks and carrots. (His only alternative would be to come down here and rough up a few people, cause we ain't stepping outside.)

3. No more reincarnation.

And this doesn't even touch on the problem of providing enough shopping malls and sneakers for 50 billion old people to walk around in.

[And what if they accidentally mixed up Fred and Barney's brains?]
posted by pracowity at 2:32 AM on June 4, 2002


If =healthy= life were extended in some meaningful way, especially if it were the practical immortality described by Matt, the impact on society, and simply on the arc of one's life, would be drastically changed:

1 - no more childhood, becase there would be no more children. At least until we got the hang of space travel, and in that case, people having children would probably be forced to emigrate.

2 - though many religions would hang on to life-long marriage as the ideal, most governments would see this idea as untenable, and change marriage to a standard, limited contract, for, say, 10 years at a time, renewable as people wished. Especially as noone can do the old "will no one think of the children?" argument, as there will be no children.

3 - there would be no retirement. People would take sabbaticals when they amassed enough money. The idea of social security would have to be rethought -- perhaps to finance a well-deserved break for those on the lowest end of the economic scale (who would probably not be able to save up anything for themselves).

4 - think of how hardened politics would become. There's no new people being added to the system, and it would be difficult to keep power and political money from concentrating; people like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond would be in the Senate =forever=.

5 - Religion could change, esp. as the fear of death might no longer be such a hold -- of course, accidents =do= happen, and everyone will still die eventually, just from the vagaries of chance. It's just that life is so much longer; people may fear death even more, because of its rarity and accidental nature. Still, most conversion stories I hear are from people who had real messed-up lives, and I bet most religions would go the "self-help" route -- not that they're not doing it now.

That's all I can think of now. In small, the entire education system would change because of the no children situation. Entire industries would disappear, and there would be no more Barney or Elmo.

So it won't be all bad.
posted by meep at 3:02 AM on June 4, 2002


Instead of wetware, I'd imagine the future of longevity lies in mind-uploading.

At least I would hope so, insofar as the human body seems like such a wasteful and dirty thing if it is that we are to never die yet still procreate in finite spaces.
posted by crasspastor at 3:22 AM on June 4, 2002


There would be children. Old people start young and have childen before they get old. Those children have children before they get old. Living forever doesn't mean you start out old.

And we would not be able to outlaw the bearing of children, even if there were nowhere else to go. Parenthood would remain a high priority for many people -- downloading just wouldn't be enough. You might be able to make childbearing expensive and emmigration rewarding, but you wouldn't be able to outlaw having kids.

To help make room for us all, the young would fight (to the death) the old on very exciting game shows sponsored, as everything would be sponsored, by Depends.

(In reality, wars would eventually wipe out almost all of us and make plenty of room for new babies among those still capable of reproduction. Like, say, the cockroaches.)

Mind-uploading? I like my wasteful and dirty thing.
posted by pracowity at 3:38 AM on June 4, 2002


Iain M Bank's Culture novels feature a people made virtually immortal through genetic engineering. Well-adjusted members spend their time engaging in creative play and discovery. The bored and despondent commit suicide. The misfits seek adventure in less enlightened civilisations. (The Player Of Games is my favourite, and this man agrees with me).

My inner 14 year old would like to emigrate to The Culture.

I have barely managed to stop smoking, so my honest answer to the question posed would have to be "bugger all that requires any will power".
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:39 AM on June 4, 2002


what i wouldn't give to have died already of natural causes.
posted by quonsar at 4:21 AM on June 4, 2002


I can't believe anyone would want to live past 80. Have you guys even seen old people? They're really quite gross.
posted by Samsonov14 at 5:16 AM on June 4, 2002


unimaginable and unattainable suddenly becomes quite possible.

New Metafilter tagline. No doubt.
posted by adampsyche at 5:55 AM on June 4, 2002


In the words of the..ahem..immortal Roger Daltrey, "Hope I die before I get old."

Thanks much.
posted by briank at 5:55 AM on June 4, 2002


Since we're having "If I won the lottery I would..." kind of chat, I have to join in. First of all, the only way I would accept to living to 150 is if I can retain my health, my energy, my vim and vigor, my joie de vivre. If I were to be a burden on people I wouldn't like myself all that much.

That said, I'm not an old man yet, so I don't really know how my will to live will be when I'm older. Perhaps I'll be willing to live no matter what the cost?

Matt, I agree with your views on aging and technology. One day technology will allow us to live much longer lives. I don't believe that we will be immortal or live many hundreds of years, but at least twice our current lifespan. What do you suppose the effects would be on us emotionally and mentally?

Of course, longer lives would mean a drastic change to our society. I can't even imagine what would be affected by our longevity. I'll leave that to the novelists and sociologists.

i_am_joe's_spleen, I love all of Banks' books. His idea of the Culture had me daydreaming for a long time as well. Player of Games was my favourite as well. You should check out Hyperion by Dan Simmons, if you haven't already.
posted by ashbury at 6:08 AM on June 4, 2002


A copy of me is not me. A clone loaded up with my thoughts and feelings is not me. A computer running NortonDC 2.1 is not me. These things may provide illusory comfort to my friends, but they are not me.

When the me in this body stops functioning, a death occurs. If a perfect and seamless copy of me from right up until I died continues to exist and function, that does not change that a death occured, my death, in which I died.
posted by NortonDC at 6:21 AM on June 4, 2002


I'm all for living. In fact, it's my favorite pastime. But when your number's up, that's it. Get the hell out off the planet and let the next generation have their day in the sun, unencumbered by some old fart's obsolete boot sector.

My dad is 82. He keeps himself busy, goes fishing, and even works a couple of days a week at the local hardware store. I ask him how he's doing, and he says "still vertical". I guess the secret is to avoid being horizontal for extended periods.
posted by groundhog at 6:28 AM on June 4, 2002


Grab a clone the next day and your last backup and you're as good as new the following day.

Where are you keeping all your twins so that you can "grab" them whenever you want? My mom has MS and she has a "clone", her identical twin sister. Genetically they're the same person, but having split into two distinct groups of matter when they were in the womb, they are different people - and as much as her twin loves her, I doubt she'd allow my mom to download her mind into her body to escape the MS. Which brings up another point, that the separation of mind and body is mostly a useful fiction; MS illustrates this every day.

Also, there is the question of whether it would really be "you" in the new body. Consider that you could theoretically download your mind into another body while yours was still fine; there would be two of you with identical memories and thought patterns, but do you imagine you would be experiencing both simultaneously? Clones w. memory downloads would be great from the outside as they would act just like your friends who would have tragically died etc but it seems to me we are not just of the pattern but of the actual physical matter of our brains - a copy of your memories would think it was you, but from your point of view it would be a new consciousness with your memories.
posted by mdn at 6:33 AM on June 4, 2002


So does anyone believe that you exist in some form (other than compost) after you die?
posted by mecran01 at 6:45 AM on June 4, 2002


the only way I would accept to living to 150 is if I can retain my health, my energy, my vim and vigor, my joie de vivre.

I think you have the cart before the horse there. I've met a few happy 70-90 yr olds I ever met were bright, cheery, energetic and life-loving. I think the "grumpy-old-men/women" were that way before they were old.

If you stay young-of-spirit you I think you will enjoy the longest physically possible "youth" you can.
posted by plaino at 7:02 AM on June 4, 2002


The world is already over populated as it is, if anything, people should live a shorter amount of time. 50-60 years is plenty of time.
posted by corpse at 7:27 AM on June 4, 2002


Regarding mind uploading: Greg Egan has written a great deal of well-thought-out fiction on the subject (Diaspora and Permutation City are particularly good ones to start with). Diaspora imagines a future in which humankind has split into three distinct types: "fleshers" have chosen to stay in human bodies, "gleisners" are basically software minds in robot bodies, and the residents of the "polises" -- basically big underground computers -- are pure software, whose connection to "real" physical reality grows ever more tenuous -- but I don't want to give away the ending. The opening chapter is a just breathtaking description of the "birth" and growth to consciousness of a polis resident. Leaves Iain Banks looking rather superficial by comparison. (Don't get me wrong, I liked the Culture books too, but they're like cheezy puffs to Egan's baked brie.)

On the 'would it really still be you?' question: personally I don't see any reason other than some, er, minor engineering issues, that you couldn't encode a mind in software -- there are a finite number of neurons and connections, after all; if you one by one replaced them with software equivalents, there isn't a line you can draw that says where you stop being "you" and start being just software. (And, as a strategy for longevity, I can't see any better way... bodies are impressively self-maintaining, but . Staying Alive is a fun way to check your own beliefs on the subject...
posted by ook at 7:48 AM on June 4, 2002


I think the world would be a drastically different place if the fear of death was removed from our minds once and for all. I honestly think almost every human frailty and all human limits are related to our innate fear of our own passing. Once that is lifted, the unimaginable and unattainable suddenly becomes quite possible.


Yeah, but under your scenario fear would then be associated with the loss or corruption of the data set and we'd do anything to protect that since the stakes are pretty high with an "immortal self". The very idea of immortality through data preservation is based on fear of death.

I think an unseen level of human sickness would emerge. Think of someone who would want to control all data. Sounds pretty nice, eh? Complete power. You'd just have to sacrifice or corrupt every individual set, plus eliminate all the meat folks in the "undeveloped" world. Pretty awful idea.

The only way to eliminate the fear of death is through wisdom and recognition of the fallacy of the ego.

If a data set for that recognition were made, rumors would be spread by power to keep it down. "Avoid it. It's a plague" The self would be inherently meaningless in the data system though, since it would be fundamentally baseless. It's only continuity would be maintained through active backups and an association with a specific body. Certainly it would be tenuous at best.

Think of the anxiety associated with data overwriting and if your body was totally destroyed, you better have friends you can trust or a really solid "if then, Will" written.

Perhaps the timeless endgame would be motivated toward enlightenment (what the hell am I carrying around this disk for?), but I don't believe a switch to this technology in and of itself would achieve it.


Now, I think I may have misunderstood you. If you mean the feats of humanity would be far greater then I think you are correct, but existential angst and the poisons associated with it would not be gone, they would rather be amplified I think.
posted by mblandi at 7:51 AM on June 4, 2002


Looks like I lost half a sentence there. Oh, for an 'undo' button.

...self-maintaining, but hardware can always just be replaced.)
posted by ook at 7:56 AM on June 4, 2002


Consider that you could theoretically download your mind into another body while yours was still fine; there would be two of you with identical memories and thought patterns, but do you imagine you would be experiencing both simultaneously?mdn

You're begging the question: sure "I" would, if we're both "me".

it seems to me we are not just of the pattern but of the actual physical matter of our brains - a copy of your memories would think it was you, but from your point of view it would be a new consciousness with your memories. — ibid.

From whose point of view? How about this: you walk into a building, take the elevator up to the offices of Dr. Bob's Neural Transfers, give the nurse your insurance information, and are rendered unconscious on the slab-like table of the Neuromatic 3000. You wake up and take the elevator back down — only to meet yourself in the lobby.

Because the two yous woke up in identical offices on different floors, and neither knows from which floor they took the elevator down, your memories of the experience are identical, and continuous except for the brief blackout.

If there are then three possible numbers of people that are "you" — zero, one, and two — it seems to me that only zero and two make any sense at all. Are you still sure that there's a discrete "you" that is immutably and inalienably physical?

Hey, can we talk about cloning my cat now?
posted by nicwolff at 8:07 AM on June 4, 2002


Where are you keeping all your twins so that you can "grab" them whenever you want?

I guess you'd keep them in some kind of hibernation. You don't want them to have a conciousness to wipe out. Of course, the hibernation process would have to keep the body functioning and healthy. But wouldn't it be great to step into a healthy, toned 20-year-old body every few years.

I'm sure the ethics would give most people a fit. Besides the question of how much the physical shape of the brain plays in what information is stored there. I think the problem is larger than we can solve even in 100 years.

I may be proved wrong, and I think it's possible, but we're a long way off from serializing conciousness.
posted by daveadams at 8:16 AM on June 4, 2002


"Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon."
-- Susan Ertz

posted by Shadowkeeper at 8:17 AM on June 4, 2002


Personally I don't see any reason other than some, er, minor engineering issues, that you couldn't encode a mind in software

Not doubting that; the question is whether that mind will be actually the same, or a copy. I assert it would be a copy and therefore externally the same but internally distinct: ie, the consciousness that you have doesn't rely on pattern but material - the same pattern reproduced in different material creates a new consciousness. If it were done piece by piece perhaps the dominant part of the brain could teach the new inserts how to be part of the consciousness as it currently is and you could eventually have an electronic brain (though i'm not sure how much better that would be: organic matter seems to last longer than computers as it is). Anyway, it would be an interesting experiment as it would probably dissolve the idea that consciousness is one entity rather than many combinations of chemicals and neurons etc.

You're begging the question: sure "I" would, if we're both "me".

Let's start with the "I" that you currently experience. The clone of you will consider himself you and in every external way seem to be you and everyone can be happy: except that the physical brain that is currently nicwolff will die. So you, meaning your consciousness, will no longer experience nicwolff - some other consciousness will.

From whose point of view?

You really have to take that at face value: from your pov. I mean that not as a designation of "nicwolff" but of your particular consciousness.

Because the two yous woke up in identical offices on different floors, and neither knows from which floor they took the elevator down, your memories of the experience are identical, and continuous except for the brief blackout.

Yes, and a character in a sci fi novel might be sure he's the original only to eventually discover he's actually the clone - that's the fun of being a cloned mind I guess. But it doesn't change the fact that if you download your mind you might never wake up - maybe it's just an easy way to face death.

it seems to me that only zero and two make any sense at all.

Why?

Are you still sure that there's a discrete "you" that is immutably and inalienably physical?

Are you saying you don't believe in consciousness?
posted by mdn at 8:32 AM on June 4, 2002


Consider that you could theoretically download your mind into another body while yours was still fine; there would be two of you with identical memories and thought patterns, but do you imagine you would be experiencing both simultaneously?mdn

You're begging the question: sure "I" would, if we're both "me".

it seems to me we are not just of the pattern but of the actual physical matter of our brains - a copy of your memories would think it was you, but from your point of view it would be a new consciousness with your memories. — ibid.

From whose point of view? How about this: you walk into a building, take the elevator up to the offices of Dr. Bob's Neural Transfers, give the nurse your insurance information, and are rendered unconscious on the slab-like table of the Neuromatic 3000. You wake up and take the elevator back down — only to meet yourself in the lobby.

Because the two yous woke up in identical offices on different floors, and neither knows from which floor they took the elevator down, your memories of the experience are identical, and continuous except for the brief blackout.

If there are then three possible numbers of people that are "you" — zero, one, and two — it seems to me that only zero and two make any sense at all. Are you still sure that there's a discrete "you" that is immutably and inalienably physical?

Hey, can we talk about cloning my cat now?
posted by nicwolff at 8:43 AM on June 4, 2002


so, did you know that deja vu is thought to occur because of a lag time between different parts of your brain receiving information? Evidence of the multitudinous nature of consciousness.
posted by mdn at 9:08 AM on June 4, 2002


A clone loaded up with my thoughts and feelings is not me.

Sure it is. The clone couldn't tell, and neither could anyone else. If there is a distinction, it is one without a difference.
posted by kindall at 9:18 AM on June 4, 2002


So, now we know. Some of you wouldn't care to live past 70 (please see Logan's Run, since by all chances you will). Some of the rest of you would like to live long, maybe really long. Baring minor technical difficulties this seems possible.

So what are you willing to do to get there? Give up eating well? Sex? How about cigarettes and playing in the sun?

Who's ready to grow clones of themselves, one started every decade and 'retired' after 30 years? Would you be willing to back legislation against child bearing to prevent over population? Would you be willing to give up the chance to smell the roses to reside in silky soft silicon for the next 3000 years?

Personally, I agree with some of the folks above: if I have to give up significant parts of life now to live longer, you can forget it (sex and food are significant parts of life for me). If I am simply prolonging the period of morbidity (that time when I can't take care of myself), you can forget that too. Give me another few decades to make up my mind on the clone thing, will ya?
posted by daver at 9:33 AM on June 4, 2002


We would have to regularly grow clones of ourselves and reboot our minds and souls into our clones when our bodies grow too old.

How retro. Give me a nanobot-maintained cyborg body, myself. Flesh is weak.
posted by rushmc at 9:50 AM on June 4, 2002


When the me in this body stops functioning, a death occurs. If a perfect and seamless copy of me from right up until I died continues to exist and function, that does not change that a death occured, my death, in which I died.

What silliness! By that definition, there IS no you, merely an endless stream of deaths, as you cease to exist (in your previous form) from moment to moment.
posted by rushmc at 9:51 AM on June 4, 2002


sex and food are significant parts of life for me

Seems a very base/primitive perspective. As I said above, the flesh is weak....

There is nothing on your list that I would not alter, moderate, or give up for long life. Change is good. Life is not limited to the definitions of our animal being. I will always want to see what comes next. Far better an utterly transformed "me" than no me at all.
posted by rushmc at 9:54 AM on June 4, 2002


We'd have to go to the stars, a la Heinlein's "Methuselah's Children." A worldwide population that cannot die and continues to reproduce is gonna run out of room sooner than later. We'd have to start emigrating off-world.

Of course, if we're immortal and eternally young, how tough would a 100 light-year trip be? You could spend part of the trip asleep, and the rest practicing clarinet.

I plan on living as long as I can, and being as active as long as I can. I'm worried about data corruption in the wetware I've got right now, but I'd be all for making backups of backups to be reinstalled in more reliable systems. Just make sure you get me an Open Source brain; I'd hate to think what the EULA for Microsoft Brain 1.0 would be.
posted by RakDaddy at 9:55 AM on June 4, 2002


The clone couldn't tell, and neither could anyone else.

Right: the only person who could tell would be you. Do you exist? Would you give up your consciousness so a copy of you could keep living (if we knew it was definitely a different consciousness)?

Nicwolff, dunno if this is just a snag on my end or what, but from here, your second comment is just a clone of your first - don't know if you were trying to be cute or it was an accident, but that's the source of my little deja vu note - but I would like to hear your response - and anyone who agrees with him - to my question of what/ whether you think consciousness is, if it doesn't differentiate you from your clone.
posted by mdn at 9:56 AM on June 4, 2002


corpse: The world is already over populated as it is, if anything, people should live a shorter amount of time. 50-60 years is plenty of time

Ok, report back to us when you're 49.
posted by groundhog at 9:59 AM on June 4, 2002


Hey, my first double-post! It had to happen sometime, and this is the best possible thread for it...

Are you saying you don't believe in consciousness? — mdn

I don't know a useful definition of the word, so I can't claim to believe in it or not. "Memory" and "experience" I think I understand. Is consciousness just continuity of experience, as perceived in memory? Then "unconsciousness" is the real interruption of a consciousness (and, yes, sleep is death) and I don't see how it matters to what container that consciousness returns.

Let's schedule another appointment at Dr. Bob's: what if we write your clone's pattern of mind back into "your" original brain, so that brain is exactly, down to the elementary particle, as it would have been if you'd taken your Mom's advice and cancelled the first visit. Where's your consciousness now?

This is like the double-slit experiment: if a single particle can interfere with itself is it one particle, or two? Well, either it's two or there is no particle, and "particles" are epiphenomena of some subtler but maybe simpler reality.

If there's absolutely no difference between you and your clone except location in space and experience over time since the neural copying, what distinction can you draw between the two that you can't also draw between your one "self" at two different points in time?

(Ooh, if we keep this up I'm going to post an ASCII Feynman diagram mapping the interactions of my selves in 4-space! Surely that will make me rich and famous. And tan. And a pony.)
posted by nicwolff at 10:07 AM on June 4, 2002


New Metafilter tagline. No doubt.
already been done. zombo.com.
posted by quonsar at 10:07 AM on June 4, 2002


Well, if you want to know what it's like to be 150, I think all you'd have to do is ask Keith Richards. Although, to be fair, getting that old obviously involves much heroin and draining the blood from young virgins once a fortnight. :)
posted by dejah420 at 10:15 AM on June 4, 2002


By that definition, there IS no you, merely an endless stream of deaths, as you cease to exist (in your previous form) from moment to moment.

I think that may be accurate.

but I would like to hear your response - and anyone who agrees with him - to my question of what/ whether you think consciousness is, if it doesn't differentiate you from your clone

I'm not sure I agree with him, but you could say on some level that it is a perception of the evidence of a self based on continuity with previous evidence. I'm assuming this clone has the memory bank. Think of the movie Memento, the guy would wake up and take stock of where he was and what messages he had left for himself. It would be a misconception for the clone to think it was you, the clone would be a different physical makeup. Rushmc points out is the case with our bodies anyway, just on a lesser scale. I don't know, if it works here, then it should work with a clone if we assume complete retention.

I'm not sure if it is just that perception though.
posted by mblandi at 10:15 AM on June 4, 2002


here are some online Greg Egan stories
the Extra uses the method of growing clones.


Border Guards uses a computer device that takes over for the brain, a better story in these same universe is Learning To Be Me, but that is not online.
posted by Iax at 10:55 AM on June 4, 2002


the consciousness that you have doesn't rely on pattern but material - the same pattern reproduced in different material creates a new consciousness. [mdn]

This is really where it starts getting interesting. What if, instead of reproducing my pattern of consciousness in a new medium (software, a new brain, whatever), someone paused the pattern, then started it playing again later? Cryonic sleep, say, or just freezing the software version of you to disk for a while.

"I" wouldn't necessarily have any knowledge of the gap, and no duplicate "me" would've been created -- but for a period of real time, I wouldn't exist. Did I die when I was paused, and then was reborn as a new, separate consciousness then I was restarted? I don't think so, but there's of course no way to know for sure.

[This line of reasoning is cribbed shamelessly from Permutation City, incidentally. Go read it; nobody seems to have heard of Egan, and I really can't recommend him highly enough.]

I think it boils down to this (probably unanswerable) question: is consciousness is the pattern itself, as measured at any given moment, or is it the process of experiencing how that pattern changes over time?

If it's the first, then the "paused" brain is still real, and both versions of a copy would really be you (since they both start from exactly the same pattern, they must be the same consciousness, even though they then go on to have diverging experiences and gradually become two distinct identities.) Nice and tidy, but if that's the case, then Rushmc is right:

there IS no you, merely an endless stream of deaths, as you cease to exist (in your previous form) from moment to moment.

Which, while it may well be true, seems awfully untidy. If a 'paused' mind were never restarted, you could never say it actually died; it's still "alive", just frozen at one moment in time.

The other option means that it would be possible to distinguish between the cloned identities -- since only one of them would have actually experienced life before the copying, the other would be a newly-created, separate being. But in this case the 'paused' identity is the hard one to figure out: I think it probably dies and is reborn as a new entity, counterintuitive as that sounds -- since the process is interrupted, whatever was 'alive' in the pre-freeze person would disappear in the interim. (Though, again, the "new" person who was woken up afterwards would still think he was the same guy as ever.)

I really don't know which one I believe -- keep going back and forth even as I write this.

Either way, if they ever start uploading people, sign me up right away. I'd be thrilled to be immortal, even if it wasn't really "me".
posted by ook at 11:02 AM on June 4, 2002


The clone couldn't tell, and neither could anyone else.

First of all, I could tell. Second, ignorance does not define reality.

Not mine, anyway.
posted by NortonDC at 11:04 AM on June 4, 2002


nobody seems to have heard of Egan

Except Iax, of course. Heh. As long as I'm following up: that deja vu comment was my first laugh-out-loud moment today, mdn. Thanks.
posted by ook at 11:05 AM on June 4, 2002


Denis Leary said it best:

...(whiny voice)"Well, you know, smoking takes ten years off your life." Well it's the ten worst years, isn't it, folks? It's the ones at the end! It's the wheelchair-adult-diaper-kidney-dialysis fucking years. You can have those years! We don't want 'em, all right?
posted by DakotaPaul at 11:22 AM on June 4, 2002


In regards to what mathowie posted, David Brin wrote a fascinating book about an unexpected method of extending life called Kiln People. From the Amazon review: "Just about everyone's had a day when they've wished it were possible to send an alternate self to take care of unpleasant or tedious errands while the real self takes it easy. In Kiln People, David Brin's sci-fi-meets-noir novel, this wish has come true. In Brin's imagined future, folks are able to make inexpensive, disposable clay copies of themselves. These golems or "dittos" live for a single day to serve their creator, who can then choose whether or not to "inload" the memories of the ditto's brief life."
posted by Lynsey at 11:41 AM on June 4, 2002


First of all, I could tell.

No. As I said, you (that is, the clone) could not tell.
posted by kindall at 12:31 PM on June 4, 2002


A long life of 150 years, at a cost of the deprivation of the pleasures of food and drink?

No thanks. A shorter life, well-lived, is fine with me.

Now, genetically engineered immortality sounds like it might be interesting...
posted by chuq at 1:01 PM on June 4, 2002


No. As I said, you (that is, the clone) could not tell.

No, because a) the clone is not me, it is a copy, and B) you're assuming the experience of being cloned is the same for the subject and the product.

Recent findings point to consciousness being the product of an electromagnetic field, meaning that you can't just copy the meat to get a copy, meaning the cloning process would have to occur during consciousness, meaning it would be different for the person being cloned than for the copy being created.

They would always have distinct experiences.
posted by NortonDC at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2002


Then "unconsciousness" is the real interruption of a consciousness (and, yes, sleep is death)

To pick a nit, sleep is not utterly free of consciousness, and therefore is not a perfect representation of death, though it does give us a useful taste.
posted by rushmc at 2:40 PM on June 4, 2002


meaning that you can't just copy the meat to get a copy

Who wants to copy the meat? Meat is medium, personality is pattern, patterns can be recreated in a wide variety of media.

I recently read Kiln People, Lynsey, and found it had some interesting things to say on the subject of identity.
posted by rushmc at 2:42 PM on June 4, 2002


Sleep is not free of mental activity, but your memory of the experience is discontinuous, and therefore not consciousness by the definition I was using. If you awoke in a new, identical body, you wouldn't know it.
posted by nicwolff at 2:53 PM on June 4, 2002


there IS no you, merely an endless stream of deaths, as you cease to exist (in your previous form) from moment to moment.

Which, while it may well be true, seems awfully untidy. If a 'paused' mind were never restarted, you could never say it actually died; it's still "alive", just frozen at one moment in time.



The interesting part of this discussion, for me, is the ephemeral nature of consciousness. For what it's worth, I dont believe there is some immutable self. We are a set of physical and physchological layers so elaborate and intertwined as to create the illusion of a whole.

For years, I would refuse to take anti-depressants because I thought they would change me into someone else. I was my depression, I thought, and if it was erased then I would die and become someone else. Was I right? What if you simulate someone and then "clean" out some personality quirks, add some intelligence, replace some bad memories with some good ones etc. Is Alzheimer's or Schizophrenia a part of you or just some foreign disease? At what point has this mind become another mind?

Taking a cue from Jaynes, I believe that the united self is an illusion - it helps us make sense of our welter of memories, to somehow believe that there is some profound link between myself today and that much wilder young person that I was (whose mindset and motivations make no sense to me today) Each of us is an ever-changing chorus of voices, a small tribe of motivations, trying to advance their own desires. Nominally, one of those voices is in control but sometimes overthrows can occur as when we lapse into a cult or fall in love. A schizophrenic is not someone with "extra" voices", it is someone whose voices have lapsed into anarchy.

I also dont believe that this "self" can be so easily transcribed into a simulation. It is not mere pattern (e.g. neurons+connections) but is deeply embedded into its physiological container. Our minds have deep roots in the soil of this reality with its electromagnetic fields and quantum quirkiness. Any computer that can truly create consciousness and not some cheap simulation will have to be as algorithmically complex as the universe itself. This is not bound to happen anytime soon, if ever. When I die, I die. Death is the absence of change.

(Egan is good. He is a working physicist as well as a clear writer. This makes his ideas not only lucid but also scientifically consistent.)
posted by vacapinta at 2:57 PM on June 4, 2002 [1 favorite]


I want to live forever.

I want to learn how to fly.

High.
posted by jonah at 3:39 PM on June 4, 2002


No, because a) the clone is not me, it is a copy,

It is impossible for anyone to tell that the clone is not you. You keep saying it's not you, but you provide no evidence to back up this assertion.

Recent findings point to consciousness being the product of an electromagnetic field, meaning that you can't just copy the meat to get a copy, meaning the cloning process would have to occur during consciousness, meaning it would be different for the person being cloned than for the copy being created.

What you are saying is that you believe the process under discussion (duplicating human consciousness from one body to another) is not possible, which is an entirely different thing from saying the clone is not you in a philosophical sense. Assuming the duplication can be done, the copy is you as much as the original is.
posted by kindall at 4:12 PM on June 4, 2002


Both of my points are true. A copy is never the original. The original is the original, always.

Additionally, it is and always will be impossible to create a perfect copy of an organism.
posted by NortonDC at 4:58 PM on June 4, 2002


your memory of the experience is discontinuous, and therefore not consciousness by the definition I was using. If you awoke in a new, identical body, you wouldn't know it.

I would argue that both all memory and all experience are in a very real sense "discontinuous." Are you consciously aware of the new and almost-identical bodies into which you change each instant?

And if you are not and it does not matter that you are not, then under what circumstances would it be reasonable to conclude that it DID matter?
posted by rushmc at 5:01 PM on June 4, 2002


A copy is never the original.

Why? Because of temporal precedence? Theoretically, even that concern could be addressed.

The idea of the "original" is a red herring. It doesn't exist. Everything in the universe is the result of a very long series of recombinations. We worship at the altar of the unique, but it, too, is a false god.
posted by rushmc at 5:04 PM on June 4, 2002


Both of my points are true. A copy is never the original. The original is the original, always.

If I make a copy of a song, is it still the same song?
posted by kindall at 5:49 PM on June 4, 2002


If I make a copy of the Mona Lisa, is it still the Mona Lisa?
posted by vacapinta at 6:03 PM on June 4, 2002


I don't know a useful definition of the word, so I can't claim to believe in it or not.

Yeah, it's a tricky concept... I'm starting to get a headache trying to work out the different possibilities, but what I'm thinking of right now is the simple experience of existence. If you go to dr. bob's and are cloned and you don't happen to run into your clone in the lobby, you don't have any knowledge of his existence. And if you should happen to accidently die on the operating table but your clone lives, you are still dead; your experience of life has still ended, even if a copy of you makes your loved ones feel as if you haven't.

A lot of people are claiming that your consciousness ceases or changes every day and that therefore the idea of one particular consciousness is misleading. I agree with vacapinta's comment on consciousness being a sort of parliament of various "voices" - of different chemicals and patterns etc all finding a way to guide an entity. I don't think that means there isn't anything meaningful to the idea of consciousness - it is still a parliament concerned with one goal, the steering of this physical embodiment in a way that provides positive results (whatever those may be for different entities). Somehow this organization of matter and chemicals has produced self-awareness; self awareness is only available to one self. i can't be self aware of your experience; I can listen to your stories & empathize but I can't take them in directly. That's what distinguishes "me" from "you". That's what makes the clone "not me".

Though our cells live and die each day, they never all die at once and are replaced. The percentage that die is small and the new ones are "taught" by the whole how to fit into the organization. Obviously consciousness is only a small part of the whole, or alternately, only a small part of the whole is conscious - we aren't conscious of our white blood cells attacking infections, or our stomach acids digesting foods, e.g. And I don't really take issue with a brain transplant effectively transplanting consciousness. So what it comes down to is how much cell death there is on a daily basis in the brain, and since we only recently even admitted that brain cells can regenerate at all, I'm inclined to think this idea that we're a whole new person each instant is a bit of a reach. Change occurs, new patterns and relationships etc change who we are, how we act, etc, to some degree, but the fundamental stuff we're made of is not replaced daily, and that's what ultimately experiences life.

I'm not saying i'd never download a copy of my brain, but I'd like to have a few conversations with her & I wouldn't think of it as literal immortality - much more closely related to the sense of immortality people have when they see their kids marry etc. Anyway, she'd understand my concerns, since she'd be another version of me anyway...
posted by mdn at 6:30 PM on June 4, 2002


If you go to dr. bob's and are cloned and you don't happen to run into your clone in the lobby, you don't have any knowledge of his existence.

Nor would he, presumably, of you.
posted by rushmc at 7:08 PM on June 4, 2002


If I make a copy of a song, is it still the same song?

You're terms are too imprecise. There are many different concepts that you've failed to disentangle, chiefly song, performance and recording. They are all distinct.
posted by NortonDC at 7:30 PM on June 4, 2002


If I make a copy of a song, is it still the same song?

If I make a copy of the Mona Lisa, is it still the Mona Lisa?


I would venture that the answers to these two questions, regardless of what they might be, are not germane to the hypothetical question : if I make a copy of my consciousness, is it still me?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:55 PM on June 4, 2002


True, stavros, because of who is asking.
posted by NortonDC at 8:24 PM on June 4, 2002


All these posts trying to suggest that a clone of a person is the same as the actual person are ludicrous and based on flawed logic.

Yes, your clone could be identical in every way, but it is no more the same person as you than biological twins that were just born are the same person. They are clearly two separate individuals with two separate perceptions of reality that immediately begin to differ from each other. A clone could never be you -- only a copy of who you were the last time you backed up your mind. You're not exactly that person anymore, and even if you were, your perception would still be different.

If you were to kill one biological twin at birth and leave the other, could you realistically argue that you weren't a murderer because one of them was still around? Would the pain and the finality of death for one of them somehow not exist? HA!

I personally wouldn't feel relieved as I breathed my last breath knowing that I was dying forever and a younger, sexier version of me would soon be doing my wife. Frankly, she might not feel relieved either, because she would know it was only a copy of me.

Screw that noise. Find a way to physically insert my brain into a cloned body without killing a clone with a developed brain and *then* we might have something to talk about.

Yes, I would like to live a longer life, but only on my terms, and those terms absolutely include me being me...
posted by insomnia_lj at 5:46 AM on June 5, 2002


A clone could never be you -- only a copy of who you were the last time you backed up your mind.

The point, which you are missing, is that from that moment on, where the two are identical and begin to differentiate due to different experiences, NEITHER is more or less "you" than the other. Certainly, they grow more different with every passing moment, but because they were both you once, they are both you for the rest of their lives.
posted by rushmc at 6:41 AM on June 5, 2002


Take it one step at a time, insomnia_lj. It's not flawed logic. (Though there may well be flawed assumptions we don't know about yet.)

Replace one neuron with your brain with a piece of software, or some electronic device that acts just like a neuron, responds to signals from other neurons, etc. Are you still you? Of course you are -- replacing one tiny cell in your brain isn't going to destroy your identity, any more than replacing your leg with a prosthetic leg would.

One by one, keep replacing neurons. At what point can you say that you've stopped being "you" and started being someone or something else? Where's the magic line? You still have the same memories, the same continuity of experience, the same self-awareness and identity -- the only difference is that you've replaced your biological brain with a prosthetic software version.

But now you're pure software, and software can be copied. While you're asleep, or otherwise distracted, somebody sneaks into the lab and makes a copy. Both copies are perfectly indistinguishable to the outside observer. More importantly, both are indistinguishable from the inside as well: they're identical, down to the level of individual neurons -- so both copies share exactly the same memories, the same experiences, the same sense of self-awareness. There would be no way at all for either copy to know which one was "real" and which one the "copy".

Your example of biological twins is not at all similar to this situation: all the twins share is genes; they've still got different experiences, different memories, a different neural structure, and different identities. These software copies are absolutely identical in every way at the moment that they're cloned.

From that point on, of course, they'll begin to diverge: they'll have different experiences, learn different things, and will gradually become two distinct, separate people. And if one of them dies, that death is just as final and real as it would have been if a copy had never been made. But since there's no way for anybody, including either of you, to know which one is "real" and which one the "copy", it's impossible to say whether it was the real you or the copy that died. (Even though, as you say, by the time that happens, the two clones have diverged into different people.)

What happens to self identity and awareness is, of course, an open question. I personally think that there's nothing magical about consciousness, that it's a product of the neural components it resides in, and that if you reproduce exactly those components, you'd reproduce exactly that consciousness -- so from that line of thinking, both copies would be real, self-aware versions of the same person. (Nothing mystical like one awareness spread across two bodies, just two separate-but-identical consciousnesses that will then go on to diverge into different people based on their different experiences.) That's a reductive approach, but it seems to me to be the one with the fewest self-contradictions. It could be, instead, that consciousness is more than the sum of its parts, that simply the act of encoding the mind in software destroys its "real" identity, or creates a new, separate identity, even before the copy is made. Or it could be that continuity of experience is all-important, and that copying is impossible -- one would feel like his past belonged to him, and the other would feel that he'd just been born with somebody else's memories packed into his brain. I don't know what would cause that, but it's certainly possible that there's some as yet unknown mechanism -- some law of conservation of identities.

At this point it all gets very metaphysical, and you start having to ask unanswerable questions like "where does self-awareness come from?" and "how do newborns develop their own identity?" and "are animals self-aware? Insects? Microbes? How complex does a brain have to be to develop self-identity?" and "could software that was never alive develop the same sort of complexity that defines consciousness -- whatever that is -- and become self-aware?" Dunno.

I think these are fascinating questions -- and I think now is the time for all-out, manhattan-project-sized research push towards answering them... it feels like immortality is so tantalizingly within reach, and that bodies are such fragile, dangerous things to live in. I keep backups of my videogames, fer chrissakes, why can't I keep a backup of my brain? Whichever generation does finally figure it out is going to look back on us with a vague sense of pity, the way we look at cavepeople who couldn't even figure out how to start a fire.
posted by ook at 7:30 AM on June 5, 2002 [1 favorite]


But now you're pure software

This and everything that flows from it is wrong.

You make an unsupported leap from a hardware substitution to saying it's all software.

Try again.
posted by NortonDC at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2002


Nor would he, presumably, of you.

EXACTly! now we're getting somewhere.

One by one, keep replacing neurons. At what point can you say that you've stopped being "you" and started being someone or something else? Where's the magic line? You still have the same memories, the same continuity of experience, the same self-awareness and identity

we don't know this, actually - I can certainly imagine a sort of experience of a receding consciousness and an unhappy being john malkovich type of existence as your brain is replaced.

But even if we conclude that the brain could take in these new components and they could become part of the whole, that doesn't mean a copy of that is YOU. Yes, they're indistinguishable from the outside. Yes, the clone would think s/he were the original too, having all the memories, and a reasonable original would have to question whether or not he was the original. That is all true. But this came up because people were saying it was a way to immortality, that you could just copy your mind and start anew if you got in an accident. But the difference is, your consciousness would still be dead. If your identical memory twin kept living, that wouldn't make any difference to your experience. If you both lived at the same time, you would be distinct people. And neither of you would feel that you could now cheat death - dying would be just as final.

I personally think that there's nothing magical about consciousness, that it's a product of the neural components it resides in, and that if you reproduce exactly those components, you'd reproduce exactly that consciousness -- so from that line of thinking, both copies would be real, self-aware versions of the same person.

Fine, but they would still have distinct consciousnesses. They would be different matter and would therefore be aware of a different self. They would be identical from the outside, but they would still not be the same.

it feels like immortality is so tantalizingly within reach, and that bodies are such fragile, dangerous things to live in.

Seriously: how is this immortality? If you went through the operation and the doc said, "so, your clone is in the other room, and it totally worked, he thinks he's you and acts just like you and we couldn't tell the difference, so, uh, ready for the injection?" would you be satisfied? Would that be immortality?

Our bodies are pretty amazing, really. I don't see us coming up with a better solution anytime soon. Even if we make conscious machines within our lifetimes, copying our brains would take a huge amount of work, and copying a body even more - we can see making genetic clones, but they have to be born and are simply identical twins except a little less identical since they would be in different wombs, different chemical experience, different original egg (a copy instead of a split) and different ages. That's nowhere near having a back-up body; we'd be better off reanimating corpses at this point.
posted by mdn at 8:29 AM on June 5, 2002


You make an unsupported leap from a hardware substitution to saying it's all software [NortonDC]

Okay, fair enough; I skipped a step. I personally believe hardware and software can be treated interchangeably, but there's a lot of discussion in the AI community on this point: the classic argument against my point of view here is "even a perfect simulation of a hurricane won't get you wet." To which I would respond that a perfect simulation of a math problem still gives you the right answer... I think consciousness is more about information than it is about physical phenomena. But that's definitely a debatable point.

If you like, go ahead and change every instance of the word 'software' in my previous posts with 'hardware' -- the rest of the argument works just fine whether you're talking about hardware copies or software copies; both can be cloned exactly.

I can certainly imagine a sort of experience of a receding consciousness and an unhappy being john malkovich type of existence as your brain is replaced [by hardware or software equivalents] [mdn]

True. I'm working from the assumption that the hardware is exactly equivalent to the neuron, and doesn't leave anything important to consciousness out. Which, if it's a false assumption, and it certainly could be, would lead to exactly the situation you describe. That itself would tell us a great deal about the nature of consciousness, though: it'd be proof at last that there's more to the mind than the neurons that make it. Then we could focus our attention on finding out what that missing link is.

how is this immortality? [mdn]

I agree with everything you say about death still being death; even if there were fifteen different copies of me, each would rapidly grow into a distinct individual and none of them would want to give up on life; none of them would be willing to take the injection just because he knew a different version of the "same" consciousness existed.

I know the identity that lives in this body is going to die, at some point, and there's nothing I can do about that: bodies wear out and break in unrepairable ways, and I don't believe medical technology can advance fast enough to keep up.

But if, instead of my life being a single line through time with a definite endpoint, it could be a branching tree -- with some branches disappearing due to accident or disease or boredom -- at least one path along that tree would be theoretically immortal. It's not ideal, I grant you, and I'd hope for as few branches and deaths as possible -- but it's better than nothing.
posted by ook at 10:34 AM on June 5, 2002


But if, instead of my life being a single line through time with a definite endpoint, it could be a branching tree ... at least one path along that tree would be theoretically immortal

Nature gives us the opportunity to do this, to create copies of ourselves who, while not "us", do share many of our traits.

Its called reproduction.
posted by vacapinta at 12:01 PM on June 5, 2002


Seriously, if we could "load" our memories (and just our memories) into our children would that be immortality?
posted by vacapinta at 12:03 PM on June 5, 2002


That itself would tell us a great deal about the nature of consciousness, though: it'd be proof at last that there's more to the mind than the neurons that make it. Then we could focus our attention on finding out what that missing link is.

Not necessarily - a) the new consciousness could think it was the old consciousness like a clone would think it was the original, and only the original consciousness would know anything was amiss (- that's why I compared it to being john malkovich even though that's about will not about consciousness) - so there would be no way to communicate what was happening. b) it needn't be a link that's missing - it could just be a question of different matter.

But if, instead of my life being a single line through time with a definite endpoint, it could be a branching tree ... at least one path along that tree would be theoretically immortal

Okay, I guess you're talking about retroactively immortal- the last clone would have the memories of all the previous ones and so would feel like he'd lived for ages. But he would still know he was going to die, so in that sense he wouldn't be immortal at all. Really it would just be a small step up from how our grandchildren are going to have such vivid access to history through video of everything. I don't think knowledge of history really makes you feel immortal though. (Especially if you don't have a scar where you remember falling, etc...)
posted by mdn at 12:43 PM on June 5, 2002


vacapinta: traits are not memories, and memories are what make identity. Reproduction is a sorry form of immortality that satisfies only our genes.

The most practical sort of immortality, I think, is the one practiced by Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:57 PM on June 5, 2002


When you have a surplus of a thing, it's value decreases. So, the real effect of immortality would be to leech the inherent scarcity and value out of each individual day. Without the prospect of an impending end, what impetus is there for live each day as fully as possible?
posted by UncleFes at 1:24 PM on June 5, 2002


vacapinta -- yeah, that analogy did occur to me... Niven and Pournelle thought of it too should I be bothered by the fact that every good idea I have turns out to already be available on the sci-fi shelves? -- but children aren't identical copies of their parents' mind-states; they're individual beings. And a good thing, too.

As for 'loading your memories' into another's brain -- moral objections aside (since by doing so you'd be obliterating another already-developing consciousness), I don't know if it'd be possible to separate memories from the identity. (I'll have to read that Jaynes book you recommended earlier though -- sounds interesting.)

Brain-to-brain transfer feels misleading to me, in any case, because to do so you'd have to go in and rearrange the entire structure of the recipient brain -- which would be effectively the same thing as building a new one from scratch (engineering issues aside, of course.)

I'm not sure I follow this argument you made earlier, which may bear on this:

[the self] is not mere pattern (e.g. neurons+connections) but is deeply embedded into its physiological container. [...] Any computer that can truly create consciousness and not some cheap simulation will have to be as algorithmically complex as the universe itself. [vacapinta]

Why would a computer-based brain have to be more algorithmically complex than a neuron-based brain is, to rank as consciousness instead of simulation? What is special about biology -- other than the fact that it got there first -- that makes consciousness inextricable from it? (I readily acknowledge that there's plenty we don't yet understand about how the brain works, and that simply mapping the neurons and ignoring chemical and other influences might be insufficient -- but whatever degree of complexity exists is still finite, and therefore reproducible, at least in theory. Don't you think?)

a) the new consciousness could think it was the old consciousness like a clone would think it was the original, and only the original consciousness would know anything was amiss [mdn]

I suppose you're right -- and that's a nice irony, that the only way to find out for sure would be to go through the same process yourself.

b) it needn't be a link that's missing - it could just be a question of different matter. [mdn]

It could be. I don't think it is -- I don't see what's special about biology that can't be reproduced -- but perhaps the fact of existing in a different medium would have such a profound effect on the 'self' that it wouldn't be recognizable as the same 'self'.

Just as a thought experiment -- I'm sure it's not original, but for once I can't remember seeing it in any science fiction novels at all -- what if you replaced every neuron in someone's brain with a new, functionally identical neuron, connected to its neighbors in the same way? That's a complete physical discontinuity, but at the end of the process it's still the same material organized in the same way -- would that, too, be a new, different person?

I guess you're talking about retroactively immortal [mdn]

Sort of, I guess. Part of it is also a blind hope that a manufactured body, or even a bodiless software existence, would be sturdier, safer, more maintainable, and less likely to die in the first place. Perhaps immortality is the wrong word to use; I'll settle for extreme longevity. Enough that I no longer have that paralyzing fear that I'll never have time to do all the things I want to do; so I can stop looking over my shoulder worrying that if I do X, I'll miss out on Y and Z, so end up doing none of the above. (Which is perhaps more of my psychopathology than is strictly relevant, and is something I should really just learn to deal with, but that's my motivation, for what it's worth.)

Maybe if I just got myself a boat...
posted by ook at 1:24 PM on June 5, 2002


I guess I'm saying that immortality works only as an illusion. We are different people at each points in our lives. What I meant by the lack of immutable self is that who we are, our ideas and strengths and motivations changes drastically just over the course of a lifetime.

I will never have the focus and daring that I had as a 20-yr old. That part of me is dead - I am left only with memories and blunted skills. Thats ok. I have many things now that I didnt have then.

I think people are scared of death because of its mystery and its abruptness. If I were to tell you that instead of dying abruptly some day you will instead deteriorate slowly, day by day, unnoticeably slow, your mind losing parts of itself like a grain lifted from a sandpile until, eventually, that last grain is taken away (at which point you are hardly aware of what is happening to you) Would that make death less frightening?

The desire for immortality is a close relative of the instinct for self-preservation and for reproduction. I am me, you say, and there has never been anyone like me and I want to foist this upon the world. I have unfinished business.

`Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!'
posted by vacapinta at 1:46 PM on June 5, 2002


I cannot recommend Jaynes strongly enough. You may disagree with him but his ideas are stunningly original - like nothing I've even read in sci-fi.
posted by vacapinta at 1:47 PM on June 5, 2002


Nature gives us the opportunity to do this, to create copies of ourselves who, while not "us", do share many of our traits.

Its called reproduction.


Reproduction does not create copies. It creates something new, based upon a new roll of the genetic dice. That's not even as close to what we're talking about here as apples and oranges.
posted by rushmc at 3:13 PM on June 5, 2002


Excellent posts, ook! Thanks.

Seriously: how is this immortality? If you went through the operation and the doc said, "so, your clone is in the other room, and it totally worked, he thinks he's you and acts just like you and we couldn't tell the difference, so, uh, ready for the injection?" would you be satisfied? Would that be immortality?

Yes, it would, so long as they chain continued unbroken. You are being limited by your perspective on what constitutes "you." The idea of a multiplicity of me is a bit to get one's mind around, but far from impossible. Granted, the yous that die would be just as unhappy about it, but so long as there were yous in the world, you would continue to exist.
posted by rushmc at 3:17 PM on June 5, 2002


Good heavens no, vacapinta - that's exactly the sort of death I am afraid of. It's a quick, abrupt death I hope for - no lingering about, no making a mockery of my younger self, no fading away into a pointless heap. I want to end with an exclamation point. I have no interest in outliving my faculties.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:38 PM on June 5, 2002


I have no interest in outliving my faculties.

Nor do those discussing these methods. The whole point is to extend your faculties.
posted by rushmc at 6:36 PM on June 5, 2002


I don't see what's special about biology that can't be reproduced

not claiming there's anything un reproducible, but simply that the reproductions exist in a different space from the original and are therefore a different thing: that consciousness may just be a complex arrangement of a particular matter which allows that group of matter to become conscious of itself. If it is reproduced, it is a new group of matter. Cells may die and be replaced, but they are replaced by cells your body makes and all of your body originally comes from the same cell.

You are being limited by your perspective on what constitutes "you."

well, yes. Just like I don't consider my children to be "me" or other members of my species to be "me". the only "me" is the one that I am, the one that I experience. Copies of me are distinct from me, and not much closer to granting me immortality than having children or being part of the human race does. I mean, as a sort of ego boosting, "well at least the earth won't lose me" kind of thing, I can see it being positive if you were going to die anyway, but if you, you know, had your toe amputated or something, you wouldn't say, yeah make a copy & kill me off so the unblemished version of me can keep living & not contend with a sudden identical twin...

I also highly recommend Jaynes. It's a fascinating book no matter what conclusions you come to.
posted by mdn at 10:49 PM on June 5, 2002


We are different people at each points in our lives [vacapinta]

This comes back to the "there is no you" argument you and rushmc were discussing earlier. (thanks, rushmc, by the way.) If it's true, then all we ever have is the illusion of continuity -- but better that than nothing at all. I still don't want to die, whether it's abrupt or gradual: I want to continue experience things, even with the knowledge that the "me" experiencing them will be different if some ways from what I am now.

consciousness may just be a complex arrangement of a particular matter which allows that group of matter to become conscious of itself. [mdn]

That might be so. Or, it may just be a complex arrangement of information which allows that information to become conscious of itself. If we're inextricably tied to the matter that forms us, then you're right; copying wouldn't be all that different from just giving birth: all you can do is create a new consciousness. (This doesn't rule out the possibility of self-identity emerging in some other form, whether software or hardware or something more exotic; it just means no one individual can make the jump from one form to another.)

If it's all about the information, though, then a copy of you would be more than your child or your twin, it would really be you -- a separate version of you who's going to go on to have a separate life, but it would have the same continuity of awareness, experience, and memory as you do; in that case it really would be the same person, not a copy. Each of you would think of the other as the 'copy', and you'd both be right. (And neither of you would ever say "go ahead and kill me;" you'd both want to keep on living.)

Tangentially, I was reading about planaria the other day. (No, really.)
If planaria are sliced perpendicular to the axis, the individual pieces will regenerate into complete worms.... If the head is sliced parallel to the axis, two complete heads form.... Other species of planaria reproduce asexually, with the tail coming off and growing a head, and the head growing a tail. [Harold Morowitz, essay in The Kindly Dr. Guillotin; a fairly dull book on the whole so I won't bother linking it]
I wonder what their experience of consciousness -- however dim it may be -- is like during any of those processes -- particularly the one in which the head is actually split in half... which half of the worm can lay claim to being the real, original worm, and which the copy?

Just added the Jaynes book to my shopping cart -- I'll read it as soon as I finish digging my way through this. Metafilter is so educational...
posted by ook at 7:21 AM on June 6, 2002


This comes back to the "there is no you" argument you and rushmc were discussing earlier. (thanks, rushmc, by the way.) If it's true, then all we ever have is the illusion of continuity -- but better that than nothing at all.

There is the continuity of experience though - the same "I" goes experiences all the different facets of your personality. I mean, yes, it's theoretically possible that whichever consciousness reads this line has just inherited the memories of the previous personality and will shortly be wiped out by a new incoming consciousness, but that's like the "I'm the only consciousness; everyone else is just a turing machine" thing: yeah, I can't prove it's not true, but it's not the simplest answer... Though I have to say this conversation makes me start wondering! So many of you don't seem to consider the experience of consciousness important and instead just say A=B so they're the same. But it's not about how similar they are - it's about whether they experience each other or are distinct. Twins are genetically the same person: all that differentiates them is that they are separate beings, with separate consciousnesses - that is, they experience life separately.

If it's all about the information, though, then a copy of you would be more than your child or your twin, it would really be you -- a separate version of you who's going to go on to have a separate life, but it would have the same continuity of awareness, experience, and memory as you do; in that case it really would be the same person, not a copy.

Each of you would think of the other as the 'copy', and you'd both be right. (And neither of you would ever say "go ahead and kill me;" you'd both want to keep on living.)

These two segments contradict each other. What would make it "more" you? If you have separate experiences (I don't mean separate events happened, but if you perceive the events from a distinct consciousness, if you each are a full entity on your own), why is it significantly different from a twin? Like I said in my last post, it's another degree further in similarity, but it's still a distinct person. You seem to be agreeing with that here, so the information / matter dichotomy doesn't shed any light. Not to mention that an abstraction like "information" becoming conscious of itself doesn't shed much light to start withv - how can information exist without matter? information is pattern; patterns must occur IN something. Those patterns are or allow for the consciousness, but they must be based somewhere. If the pattern equalled consciousness, twins would share a mind.

Anyway, consider this: which would be more like immortality: one consciousness, many personalities in succession - like reincarnation with full memories - or one personality, endless succession of consciousnesses, ie, your consciousness ends, but your personality is lived by later clones?
posted by mdn at 10:16 AM on June 6, 2002


yes, it's theoretically possible that whichever consciousness reads this line has just inherited the memories of the previous personality and will shortly be wiped out by a new incoming consciousness, but that's like the "I'm the only consciousness; everyone else is just a turing machine" thing: yeah, I can't prove it's not true, but it's not the simplest answer... [mdn]

I agree completely.

why is it significantly different from a twin? Like I said in my last post, it's another degree further in similarity, but it's still a distinct person.

I disagree completely. :) Or, rather, I must not be expressing myself well -- my point is that, at the moment that the copy is made, both copies share exactly the same experience, exactly the same consciousness, and are exactly the same person -- it's only after that point that the two begin to diverge. The experience of consciousness is important, yes: what I'm trying to say is that both of the copies have the same experience of continuous existence up until the point that they go their separate ways... they're branches of a tree, while genetic twins (who share nothing but genes; they have different neural structure and even different fingerprints) are just parallel lines; they never overlap. That's what i was trying to get at with the planaria, to illustrate what i think is the difference between spawning a copy and actually splitting into two beings.

These two segments contradict each other. What would make it "more" you?

I don't see the contradiction... Twins are never actually the same person, never share the same "pattern"; they're genetically similar, that's all. Copies, from their point of view, would have been the same person for the first half of their lives: they'd both think, 'first there was one of me, now there are two of me'. It'd be exactly like your example of reincarnation with full memories, except that two incarnations would co-exist at the same time on the same planet. Both would go on to diverge in the same way that I'm going to diverge over the next 10 years into someone who's "different" from the way I am now -- but I think they'll both really be the same person, just as I'll still be the same person in 2012, just wrinklier and grumpier.

The information / matter thing is really relevant only because if we are tied to particular matter, then you can always point to one and say it's the copy, since the "real" one has all the original matter. (Even in that case, though, the copy could still have the same experience of having existed even before the copying, and therefore might be just as "real".) If consciousness is just information, though, nobody can tell which is real and which is copy, since both are exactly the same (and have the same experience of consciousness up until the copying).

which would be more like immortality: one consciousness, many personalities in succession... or one personality, endless succession of consciousnesses?

That's a really interesting question. My gut reaction is to go for window number one, of course -- continuity of consciousness is what being alive feels like; without that it'd just be a bunch of other guys who act like I do.

But window number two is tricky: for each of those clones to have the same personality, exactly the same personality, they'd have to have the same shared memory, the same shared experience, the same mental pattern -- in fact, they'd have to be the same person. (Nobody could act exactly like me, without actually being me. It'd be a Groundhog Day kind of reincarnation, though; living life #2 over and over and over again. Or in my diagram analogy, it'd be like a whole bunch of lifestreams all originating from the same point.

So I'd have to say they're both immortality, of a sort -- though the first kind would be much more satisfying: the second option doesn't give you any chance to continue to grow or change, it just keeps looping over and over, with variations each time, but always starting at the same point.
posted by ook at 11:34 AM on June 6, 2002


I don't see the contradiction...

In the first you say, it would be the same person, not a copy, and in the second you say, they both think the other's the copy & they're both right.

Twins are never actually the same person, never share the same "pattern"; they're genetically similar, that's all.

well, they're not "genetically similar" - they're identical. They spend the first few weeks as the same being, and then sometimes they split into two little globs of matter instead of one. So they do share the same "pattern" for a little while there. They were actually one being for a little while, and genetically they are the same person, they have the same DNA.

Copies, from their point of view, would have been the same person for the first half of their lives: they'd both think, 'first there was one of me, now there are two of me'. It'd be exactly like your example of reincarnation with full memories, except that two incarnations would co-exist at the same time on the same planet.

No! The important thing about reincarnation is that it's one consciousness. Copies have two distinct consciousnesses. The last copy alive will think he's lived an awfully long time, but he will be just as mortal, and while history is fascinating, it's the future that we're scared of. No one cares that they didn't exist before they were born - no one feels dread at the fact that their consciousness extends only so far backward. But people spend a lot of energy looking for a way to escape the end of consciousness in the future, whether thru technology or delusion.

for each of those clones to have the same personality, exactly the same personality, they'd have to have the same shared memory, the same shared experience, the same mental pattern -- in fact, they'd have to be the same person. (Nobody could act exactly like me, without actually being me. It'd be a Groundhog Day kind of reincarnation, though

how do you figure that? It would be just like living and then leaving your memories to someone else, to an identical twin of yours who would get to keep living and keep remembering things. It would only be a form of immortality in the way that leaving your mark on the world, or lots of videos of your life, or lots of people who remember you, is. That is, in a kind of metaphorical way, in a kind of "bigger picture" way, it's a kind of immortality. But your experience of life ends.
posted by mdn at 12:40 PM on June 6, 2002


In the first you say, it would be the same person, not a copy, and in the second you say, they both think the other's the copy & they're both right.

Ah, I see. The idea is that each of the two would have the same inner experience: both of them would think, "I am the real me, the other one is just a copy."

So they [genetic twins] do share the same "pattern" for a little while there.

You're right. Sloppy thinking on my part. Hm. Something about it still feels different to me -- perhaps that they split so early that not much of a conscious pattern has developed. But that's not a very satisfying answer, I know, since it depends on a magic line being drawn between "consciousness" and "just a collection of cells that will eventually become conscious". Forgive me for not wanting to go too far down that road just now...

The important thing about reincarnation is that it's one consciousness. Copies have two distinct consciousnesses.

I'm still not convinced of this -- as I've said, I think it depends on what "consciousness" is made of, and we don't have an answer to that.

No one cares that they didn't exist before they were born... But people spend a lot of energy looking for a way to escape the end of consciousness in the future, whether thru technology or delusion.

That's another good point -- and, yeah, I may well be deluding myself :) But remember the whole reason I started going on about copies was that I was hoping to be copied into some sturdier, more repairable, less-likely-to-die-in-the-first-place form. There are no absolute guarantees, of course, but you could improve the odds at least.

how do you figure that? It would be just like living and then leaving your memories to someone else

Maybe I misunderstood the distinction you were drawing between "personality" and "consciousness" -- to my mind, "personality" would be the set of memories, tendencies, and so forth; "consciousness" would be the ego, the Thing In Your Head That Thinks It Is Alive. (Coming soon to a theatre near you.) So for one personality to be identical to another, it'd have to share the same set of memories... meaning you wouldn't be able to pass memories along from life to life in this case; hence the Groundhog Day comment. Is that not where you were headed with that example?
posted by ook at 2:40 PM on June 6, 2002


But your experience of life ends.

But yours doesn't.

No one cares that they didn't exist before they were born - no one feels dread at the fact that their consciousness extends only so far backward.

Balderdash! I care tremendously about exactly that. The difference is, there is nothing one can do about the past, while the future may hold some possibilities.
posted by rushmc at 6:26 PM on June 6, 2002


how do you figure that? It would be just like living and then leaving your memories to someone else, to an identical twin of yours who would get to keep living and keep remembering things.

We're not just talking about memories here, though. Every basis for personality, perception, and being would also be transferred (at least in most of the scenarios we are describing). Therefore it would be nothing like leaving your memories to someone ELSE, for whom they would be a foreign intrusion; rather, it would be a case of continuing on with your "self" intact, albeit in a different "package."

I really can't see why you insist upon thinking that the pattern that comprises YOU would cease to code for you if expressed in different atoms. That's assuming that what you are is a pattern, but you seem to concede that. So much of what occurs in the human brain is illusory as it is--what's another speck of discontinuity in the big picture?
posted by rushmc at 6:32 PM on June 6, 2002


The idea is that each of the two would have the same inner experience: both of them would think, "I am the real me, the other one is just a copy."

right - each would say "I" about themselves and "you/her" about the other. Each would be a separate person, even though they would share memories and dna.

I'm still not convinced of this -- as I've said, I think it depends on what "consciousness" is made of, and we don't have an answer to that.

do you think you that they would consciously be living two lives at once? if not, they are distinct consciousnesses. If one left the room, the other could not say where she was, etc. They would think separately, experience life from a separate place. Even if they are utterly identical from the outside, that "thing in your head that thinks it's alive" isn't in two places at once, right?

So for one personality to be identical to another, it'd have to share the same set of memories... meaning you wouldn't be able to pass memories along from life to life in this case; hence the Groundhog Day comment. Is that not where you were headed with that example?

The point was, they are separate consciousnesses. Groundhog day was one consciousness continually living one day. In this scenario, you would only experience your one section of life; you would die and your memories would be imprinted on a clone of you who would continue to live (and since we can't stop time, it wouldn't be a continual repeat of the same day - if you didn't supply the next consciousness with the memories in between then he'd just wake up out of a blackout, type of thing. But you could also build the memories - each clone gets more the life it's clone sisters have lived... still, you only end up with retro-longevity for the last clone in the line; every clone still has to face the impending end of her own consciousness.
posted by mdn at 6:35 PM on June 6, 2002


Therefore it would be nothing like leaving your memories to someone ELSE, for whom they would be a foreign intrusion; rather, it would be a case of continuing on with your "self" intact, albeit in a different "package."

I really can't see why you insist upon thinking that the pattern that comprises YOU would cease to code for you if expressed in different atoms.


If I made a clone of myself and didn't end my life, would I live in both bodies at once?
posted by mdn at 8:01 PM on June 6, 2002


do you think you that they would consciously be living two lives at once? if not, they are distinct consciousnesses.

No one's suggesting otherwise. Each you would have it's own "consciousness" (if such a thing can even be said to exist, which is highly debated in cognitive science and philosophical circles these days).

Your consciousness today is demonstrably different (and distinct) from your consciousness 20 years ago...is it any less you?

If I made a clone of myself and didn't end my life, would I live in both bodies at once?

I would say yes, although clearly neither of you would experience both of you (unless there was a way to recombine the two yous at some later point, which was the premise of the aforementioned Kiln People).

I assume that you would give precedence to the you that the copy was made from, but I don't see a good argument for doing so. Why must the first you be the only you, if both are equally you at the moment the second you is "born?"
posted by rushmc at 9:14 PM on June 6, 2002


Your consciousness today is demonstrably different (and distinct) from your consciousness 20 years ago...is it any less you?

No, your personality is demonstrably different. Your consciousness is the same, a continuum. Only one "beingness" has experienced your life.

I would say yes, although clearly neither of you would experience both of you

Then you would say no! Sorry if you misunderstood my question - what I was asking was whether one consciousness would experience both bodies or if there would be two distinct consciousnesses. If there are two separate "i"'s that experience the lives, then there are two separate consciousnesses.

I assume that you would give precedence to the you that the copy was made from, but I don't see a good argument for doing so. Why must the first you be the only you, if both are equally you at the moment the second you is "born?"

I'm not giving "precedence" to anythng - it's simply a matter of whether I could extend my life by copying my experience onto a dna replica of myself. My answer is no: instead I would create an additional version of myself - but I wouldn't experience that life, so it wouldn't extend my experience of being. It would basically be about as close to immortality as having children is (and in some ways it's less appealing).
posted by mdn at 9:24 PM on June 6, 2002


No, your personality is demonstrably different. Your consciousness is the same, a continuum.

I disagree. I think that the nature and experience of your consciousness changes significantly over the course of a lifetime, just as it does over the course of a day (sleep vs. dream vs. wakefulness being the most obvious example).

If there are two separate "i"'s that experience the lives, then there are two separate consciousnesses.

Again, we aren't disputing this point. What I'm saying is that since they are both equally you, it is fair to say that "you" would be living two lives at once, though neither of you would experience two lives at once.

it's simply a matter of whether I could extend my life by copying my experience onto a dna replica of myself. My answer is no: instead I would create an additional version of myself - but I wouldn't experience that life

lol Don't you see the contradiction there? That additional version of yourself (mdn B), which would be equally you, WOULD experience that life, therefore you would be experiencing that life, even though mdn A would not. For the last time, THEY ARE BOTH YOU.

It would basically be about as close to immortality as having children is (and in some ways it's less appealing).

So take a pass on it, if the opportunity should happen to come along. Me, I'll jump on it, and would a thousand times prefer it to having children (not that the two are mutually exclusive options).
posted by rushmc at 4:12 AM on June 7, 2002


If there are two separate "i"'s that experience the lives, then there are two separate consciousnesses.

Again, we aren't disputing this point. What I'm saying is that since they are both equally you, it is fair to say that "you" would be living two lives at once, though neither of you would experience two lives at once."


Exactly. Two different lives. Just because they're both versions of me doesn't mean they aren't two different, seperate, and unique entities.

This "me" that I know, this shell of flesh in which my brain resides, and this brain that experiences only the sensory experiences from this body, the me who would cease to exist if this body stopped working... is absolutely unique. Then again, the same could be said for my clone. From someone else's perspective, it would be two unique versions of me, but by my perspective, it would be me and my clone. He might take my place, but he'd never be the "me" that I perceive... and visa versa.

Hm. If I had myself cloned at 50% size, would they both be me? ...or would I still be me while my clone would be mini me?! ;-)
posted by insomnia_lj at 7:32 AM on June 7, 2002


but by my perspective, it would be me and my clone.

insomnia_lj -- the point is that both of the clones would have that same perspective; each would think it was the "real" person, and that the other one was "just a clone".

Yes, the two clones from that moment on are separate individuals who no longer experience each others' inner thoughts. But clone A thinks he's the one who was alive before the cloning, and clone B thinks he is the one who was alive before the cloning. And they are both right, because before the cloning they were the same person. One consciousness split into two.
posted by ook at 10:34 AM on June 7, 2002


That additional version of yourself (mdn B), which would be equally you, WOULD experience that life, therefore you would be experiencing that life, even though mdn A would not. For the last time, THEY ARE BOTH YOU.

It seems like we essentially agree but disagree on semantics, so maybe we should just leave it at that... I would think of mdn B as a clone of me, not as me. One is me, whichever one I am experiencing, and one is either my copy or the original from which I was copied, and it wouldn't matter which I was; I still would consider myself a separate person because I would exist as a separate person - just like identical twins do. I would not consider myself immortal if a copy of me kept living.

And they are both right, because before the cloning they were the same person.

well, technically one would be a clone in this scenario, and the docs could tell them which it was - but I get your point.
posted by mdn at 4:43 PM on June 7, 2002


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