papo   The third hypothesis
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Arguments Supporting Open Individualism

by Iacopo Vettori – January 2012

“But he has nothing on at all!” said a little child at last.
(Hans Christian Andersen, "The Emperor's New Clothes")

3) The fall of a granted assumption about life
Why "probable enough for one life, not probable enough for more than one" is just a bias without a true foundation, in both reductionist and dualistic theories.

A very controversial issue with OI is that it seems to be necessarily mystical, because the shared subject-in-itself is commonly imagined as a big spirit that manifests itself in each of our lives, and it is commonly presumed that its existence should be independent from the existence of something material, otherwise it is supposed that its identity could be lost forever. I don’t think that OI needs such a spirit, and this is why I called “reductionist “ the version of OI that I subscribe, meaning that I believe that the existence of consciousness requires the existence of some structured matter, in a quite similar way that space and time themselves cannot be thought without the presence of something material that changes. The idea of a big spirit that reincarnates itself is just a representation of what we are inclined to imagine because of our difficulties to figure how non-locality may be subjectively experienced.

We are naturally forced to imagine a sequence of lives, but if I think that my own person is going to live the life A and the life B in the same world W, it is impossible to give an absolute temporal order, because time is something inherited by the world W, without an external absolute reality. The question if the order is (A, B) or (B, A) is something needed by our way of thinking, but really it cannot even be posed. It may be of some help figuring to experience a temporary split brain like the one described by Derek Parfit in “Reasons and Persons” (chap. 12), or by Roger Penrose in “Emperor’s New Mind” (chap.9). Imagine that you could use a device that may temporarily separate the two halves of your brain, splitting your flow of consciousness in two, allowing each half-self to attend a different job independently by the other half. When the two halves of your brain are merged again together, you could remember that each half-self believed to be the only half followed by your original stream of consciousness, and wondered how strange it was to feel the other half as if it was controlled by someone else. But after the final reunion, you would not be able to sort the two half-experiences in a chronological order. It would be as if the time itself were split in two, instead of your stream of consciousness. I actually believe that this would be the correct way to interpret this situation. We may imagine that in the future we could experience a multiple brain connection. I think that the resulting person would be aware of all the component people, but it would be impossible to distinguish the original body from which each participant began the connection, and once split again in multiple disconnected bodies, nobody would be sure to be the same person who he was before… I believe that this remains true even if we cannot experiment any collective brain union in our normal lives.

Nevertheless, this “transmigration effect” still seems to be mystical when compared with the atheist traditional position according to which we are born by chance and at the end of our lives we'll be dead forever. It seems to be the more rational thing to think, and any alternative appears to be more fanciful and mystical, suggested just to overcome our natural fear of death, and to second our desire of immortality. But my critics here are based on logical considerations that are independent of the OI proposal, and concern both reductionist and dualistic theories. The traditional materialist view has the problem to justify our personal birth as a strange case that could happen. The common proposed explanation could be summarized in this way: “You must not wonder that you are born, because if you were not born, you would not be here wondering about that. But then, once you will be dead, you will return back in the nothing from where you came, forever”. May I have another chance? “No”, is the common answer: “The probability of your birth was so small, that once given, is impossible that you come back again”. The point is that even for a theory of Closed or Empty Individualism class, this assumption cannot be justified by a logical point of view. I like to provoke my friends asking them: "So, the ‘nothing’ where you was before your birth, is different by the ‘nothing’ where you will go after your death", because the first one had the potentiality to generate your life, the second one does not. This seems quite counterintuitive.

As we saw discussing the informatics model with the ACLB table, every non-OI reductionist theory should be able to define my person as a conscious being with a huge bundle of attributes, maybe infinite in number, maybe some of them not essential for my survival, but a group of them could completely capture what is required to precisely define my personal identity, i.e. the identity of my subject-in-itself. Let us leave for a while the case of infinite attributes, assuming that they are finite in number. When we say that, given that my person is one of the possible outcomes, then the world, sooner or later, could exactly generate me, we are implicitly assuming that even if I lose for a bit an occasion to be born, if I await long enough I could have another chance. Otherwise, nothing in the world could justify the "cosmic jackpot" I made striking my unique chance in the whole eternity. If you want, you can think so: but you have to be aware that in this way, you are introducing a mystical assumption like "the world (casually or not) was designed to generate me at some point of its history, making me catch my unique chance at the right moment, and excluding forever all other theoretically possible but unrealized outcomes". So I should consider myself as a “gifted outcome”, or at least an extremely lucky one. Just think of the case that my parents had never met. If I do not presume that a very huge number of stories of this world can happen, including all the variations of those that we know have actually happened, I cannot assume that “sooner or later” I had to be born. I should have to consider myself as “blessed by grace” or something like that, because by chance I seized the only opportunity I could have ever had.

If we want to avoid this mystical assumption, we have to think that we have more than one occasion to be born, e.g. we may think that many worlds exist, so that in one of them it can actually happen that all the conditions required to generate me are reunited, i.e. to generate a living being having exactly all the attributes that we assumed were required to define my personal identity. We can imagine that our world is infinite beyond the limit of our cosmic horizon, or that there exist many worlds in a multiverse, or there is an infinite cycle of Big Bangs and Big Crunches, or maybe just one world subject to Poincaré’s Recurrence Theorem. But at this point, nothing prevents us from thinking that there may exist more than one world where my person can be generated, and also some worlds where my person can be generated more than once, even in the same time interval, maybe at an intergalactic distances. According to Max Tegmark’s article “Parallel Universes” in Scientific American of May 2003, if our universe is infinite beyond our cosmic horizon, you could expect to find a particle-per-particle perfect copy of you at an average distance of 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 28 meters away. A complete copy of the sphere with our same cosmic horizon could be found at about 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 118 meters away. And if you think that one day we will be able to produce artificially conscious living beings defined in all their details, you may imagine that we could generate whole armies of replicas of the same person, not just clones with the same DNA, but exact copies, each with the very same brain configuration. So, for each reductionist theory, we must conclude that if your life is something “possible enough” to be generated once, then it is “possible enough” to be generated infinite times. So don't worry: anyhow, you are going to be born again after your death, even if no afterlife world exists. This might seem mystic, but it really is less mystic than presuming that there are some restrictive conditions that avoid the generation of duplicates between all the possible worlds. One could think of the world as a complete collection of all the possible outcomes, and that you represent just one of them. This is an interesting static model, but it requires that we reconsider our time concept, and even the locution “only one time” loses its meaning in this case. Anyway, as this cosmological model can be prolifically used together with OI, we will discuss it again in the last part of this paper.

Note that these conclusions apply for all the reductionist theories, no matter if they are non-OI theories. We can think that the personal identity changes as soon as a single bit of information changes in the description of a conscious living being, or that something exists in the description that can hold our identity for a whole life, or that we are all the same person: anyway, these technical problems are present in every reductionist theory. OI uses the non-locality as a general rule, where non-OI theories must admit it just for particular cases, as well as the idea of multiple births, that non-OI reductionist theories cannot avoid without admitting a compensating concept hidden at a deeper level that results to be more mystic, as it must assume that events have exceptionally favoured our individual existence.

Let's examine the dualist theories. For the sake of this demonstration, these can be grouped with the reductionist theory that we left alone, where it is assumed that the definition of our personal identity requires an infinite number of attributes. For dualist theories, there may be or may not be a bundle of attributes required to generate my person, anyway these are not sufficient because we still need an extra element that is not definable (if it were, we could add it in our description, and the theory could be managed as if it were a reductionist theory). This means that even if the combination of attributes that partially defines me were realized another time in another world, it would generate a conscious being like me, but possibly with a different personal identity. In the case of the reductionist theory with infinite attributes, we may think that once my combination was given, it is statistically impossible that it would be generated one more time, because it would require an infinite amount of fine tuned attributes, so the probability to select a specific combination could be computed as a series' limit that tends toward zero.

The problem in this case is that your birth would be statistically impossible even the first time. It's impossible to appeal to an infinite amount of time and an infinite number of worlds. The reason is that any world and any event of birth is something that can be counted, even if there were an infinite series of them. But the total number of entities that cannot be described, or the total number of entities that need a description of infinite length cannot be counted (they do not have the same cardinality of integer numbers). The reason is that it is impossible to imagine a procedure that could return one after the other all the elements of the set. That procedure may seem unnecessary, and we could presume that it would be sufficient to wait enough time for our occasion to live, but it’s not so. Only the existence of such a procedure could guarantee that given an element of the set, sooner or later this must be returned, if we repeat the procedure for a sufficient number of times. This is still true even if we don’t use such a procedure and select the element in any other way, including choosing by chance.

In the case of the reductionist theory with infinite number of attributes, the reason is a mathematical one, as Georg Cantor demonstrated with his “diagonal argument” applied to real numbers, that have infinite decimal digits and so they can represent entities that require a description of infinite length. It is instructive to notice that we cannot use all the real numbers, but only the ones that are computable with some algorithm, and this subset happens to have the same cardinality of integer numbers, while real numbers have the cardinality of continuum, as explained in "Emperor's New Mind" of Roger Penrose. In the case of indefinable entities of dualist theories, you can see that even a procedure to approximate an element with increasing precision cannot exist. Incidentally, this criterion applies for every number of perfect copies of objects that might even be produced. Think of some microscopic crystals that could be built using a given molecular structure as model. How many copies could we build in theory? Infinite as the integer numbers are? Much more than that: we are limited by physical resources and the time availability, but as there’s no way to define an algorithm that could distinguish all the theoretically possible copies and list them exhaustively, the cardinality of the set of all the perfect copies of something is greater than the cardinality of integer numbers. This is another indication of the problems inherent our naive notion of "instance" and "instance identity" discussed above, and stops us to reasoning about a theoretical set of “all the possible living beings with all their possible physical copies”, hoping that such a set should have to be so vast that it would certainly have to contain my individual physical person to be exhaustive.

In both cases, we cannot appeal to the common sense statement: "given an infinite expanse of time, everything will happen, however improbable”. That assertion requires that the conditions for something to happen should be finite in number, although a huge one, as it would be if we could describe a human brain accurately until the Plank scale level, so it may apply only to the reductionist theories that do not require an infinite amount of data to define univocally the personal identity of conscious living beings. Despite this limitation, these living beings could be infinite in number like integer numbers are. But if you want to adhere to a dualistic theory, or a reductionist theory where the personal identity requires an infinite amount of information to be defined, you have to accept as “given” without any logical reason that you are a “gifted person” born despite the mathematical probability was zero. This is definitively a mystical assumption. So, what is less mystic? To imagine that there are some universal rules that favour my existence, or prevent that my existence might be repeated more than once, or to assume that, given the fact that my presence here and now guarantees that my outcome was possible, then it will continue to remain possible for each time that, in some world, all the required preconditions will be satisfied? I think that the latter option is the more logical and the less mystical, because it doesn't force any universal law to be concerned anyhow about my personal existence, at least not beyond that point that still seems inexplicable, but I have to take notice of it, i.e. the possibility of my own birth. This leads us straight to the problem we have to face next, that turns out to have OI as the only rational answer.

Continued on the next page The Individual Existential Problem.

 

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