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Reduction to Open Individualism

by Iacopo Vettori - September 2016

Introduction: A roadmap to Open Individualism

The aim of this paper is to summarize the problems of personal identity, examining the current theories and their defects, and comparing their answers with those of a theory whose believers are a minority at this time, although this theory is the only one that can coherently manage all these problems. The theory is called “Open Individualism”, named so by Daniel Kolak in his book I Am You, published by Springer, Synthese Library, in 2004, and can be considered a modern version of Monopsychism, which can be traced back to Siger of Brabant, Averroes, and Aristotle.

The modern version does not require an appeal to God as the ancient theory does, nor does it require us to accept anything weirder than what is already required by the concurrent theories to manage personal identity in some exceptional cases, like teletransport or perfect copying or surgical brain splitting, that we will discuss later. Notwithstanding this, this theory is not very popular because it is contrary to common sense, so to evaluate it as viable it is necessary to be ready to overcome some of our biases and consider many factors together, many of them currently in dispute in the philosophical community. Here I will try to present them in a straightforward way, thereby building a Roadmap to Open Individualism which the reader may follow to gain a quick understanding of the reasons to adopt this Theory. Along with many arguments that have already been discussed by philosophers, I occasionally propose my own personal views and observations. I do not expect to be exhaustive or fully convincing. Take them as suggestions about some issues that I think are useful to consider in the wider discussion.

Because the terminology in this discussion is fundamental, let me introduce the terms I will use in this paper. An individual is a generic term to indicate a single human being but is not limited to human beings; it may refer to any other material entity that you may accept as having a mind. I can also use the term people in the same sense. Every individual has their own first-person point of view on the world. This view is subjective, and this is why I also use the term subject as synonymous with individual, but to be more accurate I should specify it as a physical subject, because subject can be also used with the meaning of minded subject, as we will see in a moment. The term personality indicates the sum of psychological traits and other characteristics that every individual has and that distinguishes one individual from another. These characteristics make different individuals different persona, or different characters in a theatrical sense. Individuals differ in many aspects, but all of them have in common the ability to think; this is not a part of personality. The term person is used to indicate the owner of the mind of an individual, the subject that is thinking, the minded subject, where the term subject here is not intended as a physical subject, but as a mental subject. It is also called the conscious subject, because the experience of having a mind is attained by being conscious. Kolak calls it the subject-in-itself, the subject of the intuition “I am I” and identifies it with consciousness. Sometimes it is also referred to as the self, or the inner self, to indicate a level of you deeper that your ego, which instead represents the level influenced by your personality. The person is generally supposed to have a definite identity, which is called personal identity. Open Individualism asserts that despite the fact that there exist many individuals with many different personalities, their personal identity does not change, so all of them are actually the very same person. This is why Kolak entitled his book I Am You.

To be clear, Open Individualism regards our experience of being conscious and aware as a phenomenon that does not take a different identity every time it exists, despite the fact that it occurs simultaneously in the world in many separate individuals. Me and you and everybody else living in this moment are actually different conscious living beings, but our personal identities are not more different than your identity of today compared with your identity of yesterday. There exist differences between individuals, but they are all formal differences, not substantial. Every other living being is a different version of you, in the way that you might see yourself as many different people in a hall of mirrors, or in the way that you could meet yourself at a different stage of your life. You should see everybody else as though they are different incarnations of your very same inner self.

The best metaphor for this view is to regard the world as a movie where every character is played by the very same actor, each time so deeply involved in playing the character as to forget everything else about any other role. You may figure out how it is possible to do this in a movie, with skillful editing, but it is much more difficult to conceive that this can actually happen to all our lives. There are many reasons indeed for this difficulty, but primarily it is because of our lives taking place in overlapping times. In this metaphor, the terms individual, physical subject and ego refer to a single character; the term personality refers to the psychological traits of a single character; the terms person, mental subject, subject-in-itself and inner self refer to the actor who plays all the roles.

I want immediately to point out that this view differs substantially from the view of many old-age and new-age religions that preach the reaching of a spiritual unity with some “global soul”, or “the soul of God” or whatever. All these views imply that we are separate pieces of that “big soul”, wishing to re-join with it, but in the meantime, each of them has their separate identity. Open Individualism does not claim that we should dissolve our personal identities into a “big soul”, primarily because it denies the existence of any separate identity. To be one with the “soul of God”, knowing all and feeling heavenly, can be appealing, a beautiful dream, but it is not a promise of Open Individualism. Maybe one day, and maybe a day not too far in the future, we will use our technology to join together many brains to act as a single brain, melding many minds into a single mind. This will be very revealing and very useful to promote the Open Individualism View, but this does not mean that once they die, everybody will experience a mind state of global awareness and harmony with the universe. Open Individualism is not a spiritual doctrine, it is a philosophical theory that has to be discussed in a rational way. And actually, I think that it is the ultimate conclusion that any reductionist theory must acknowledge.

Here I will try to examine step by step the problems that the theories of personal identity have to face, and give evidence that there exists a reasonable combination of answers that together form a framework based on Open Individualism, able to solve all these problems. Daniel Kolak in his book I Am You names the currently widely accepted view “Closed Individualism”, where everybody has their own personal identity, meaning that there are closed borders that definitely separate persons. There exists another view promoted by Derek Parfit and others that we will discuss later, which Kolak named “Empty Individualism”. Together with Open Individualism, these views of personal identity allow us to classify every kind of theory. The existence of a complete and coherent solution based on Open Individualism poses a challenge to every concurrent theory: they have to be able to supply a similar framework, or at least they have to find some fundamental failure in the framework of Open Individualism. Otherwise, we have to acknowledge that Open Individualism is more advanced than the others. The consequences for each individual and for the whole of society will be amazing, irreversible and extremely important.


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22/07/2023 12:58:24IacopoI understand that we do not speak about the same version of Doomsday Argument. The version I explained was described in Anthropic Bias by Nick Bostrom. This version depends on Self-Sampling Assumption, that implies that your personal identity is different from any other. You may find the complete text at Nick Bostrom speaks about many paradoxical situations like the Doomsday Argument, all based on the assumption that you can extrapolate other information from knowing your position in the set of all the self-conscious beings, assuming that you have only one chance to find yourself in that set. This assumption is the one disproved by Open Individualism, because the reasons I explained in my previous answer. Nick Bostrom himself does not mention Open Individualism, but to mitigate the paradoxes generated by SSA, introduced the” Strong self-sampling assumption”, considering all the "observer moment" instead of "the existence of myself as specific observer". That said, I agree that there is possible to estimate the probability of human extinction basing on other considerations that are independent from the nature of personal identity.
21/07/2023 04:18:40AVI probably won't be able to convey what I am trying to say in this format, but I'll try one more time just in case. 1) For the island situation SSA doesn't imply that you'll die in a month. The doomsday argument assumes very specific population growth that obviously won't happen on an uninhabited island. You can make a somewhat similar argument for an island if you assume some distribution of "how many days can I stay alive". For example, if you assume a uniform distribution from 0 to 40000 days, then knowing that you haven't died before day 7 (and not knowing anything else) you can conclude that you are left with a uniform distribution from 7 to 40000 days (on average (40000+7)/2 days). Note that knowing something else (e.g whether the island has water) can update you from 40007/2 prior. If Mars was about to impact the Earth, then crying "but the Doomsday argument promised 9000 years!" won't help -- the argument was probabilistic, 9000 years were an average, and Mars falling on us is demonstrating that we were unlucky. 2) You might have noticed that my argument for (40000+7) days was very simple. That's because (at least it seems that way to me) you think that the Doomsday argument is much more complex than it actually is. It doesn't depend on what is "self". Its core assumption is exponential growth. Here is a version with simplified numbers: i. In the first year we have 2 humans. Every year the number of humans doubles (and all previous humans die). But in year x everybody dies. (It doesn't matter for the following what precisely is meant by 'humans', all that matters is their numbers.) ii. The total number of humans living before year n is 2 + 4 + 8 +...+ 2^(n-1)=2^n - 2. The total number of humans living ever is 2^x - 2. So the proportion of humans living before year n is (2^n - 2)/(2^x - 2). iii. For big n, x this proportion is really close to 2^n/2^x, so we'll go with that for simplicity. iv. If we have n=x-1, then 2^n/2^x=1/2. If n=x-2, then 2^n/2^x=1/4. If n=x-3, then 2^n/2^x=1/8. etc v. The original argument was for probability 95%=19/20, but we have powers of 2 here, so let's go with 15/16. vi. If n=x-4, then 2^n/2^x=1/16. It means that (assuming i.) about 1/16 of humans are born 4 or more years before x. So about 15/16 of humans are born less than 4 years before x. And that's it. 15/16 of humans are born less than 4 years before x (assuming i.), so a random human has probability 15/16 to be less than 4 year away from x. The original argument was counting the number of human bodies, so it doesn't need any kind of concept of identity -- all 'humans' here easily can be p-zombies (or even rocks that somehow multiply), it doesn't matter. 3) On a meta-level, you shouldn't have expected that the concept of OI can possibly disprove something like the Doomsday argument. That is my main problem with your argument. You compare several concepts and their properties. You pick the one that you consider the most fitting of the words "personal identity". That's fine. Picking a good terminology can be very convenient. But the problem is what you do next. If you name a [thing ?1] a personal identity, and somebody else used the same words for a [thing ?2] in some argument, then you can't say that you disprove the argument if it doesn't work for [thing ?1]! The argument wasn't about the words "personal identity", it was about a [thing ?2]! The two sentences above are by far my most important point here.
07/07/2023 17:43:19IacopoThe term “personal identity” that I use in “Reduction to Open Individualism” is the one used in philosophy when discussing “what matters for a person to continue to be the same person event through all the changes they experience in their life”. I adopted it having read the book of Derek Parfit “Reasons and Persons” and the book of Daniel Kolak “I Am You”. The Self-Sampling Assumption (SSA) is based on what I can predict about the world considering me existing now. I read about it in the book “Anthropic Bias” of Nick Bostrom (you can find it online) In paragraph 84 I did an example to demonstrate why OI invalidates the SSA, but maybe I can propone a better example here. Imagine you have a row of tickets with names. You see only the first 10 tickets, but you don’t know how many ticket there are. You pick casually the 7nt ticket, open it, and you find there is your name. If you are sure that every ticket has a different name, you may think that probably the total number of tickets is not very high, because, supposing that only one thicket has your name, becomes very unlikely that you pick it so early, almost at the beginning of the row of tickets. So, basing on SSA, you can estimate the total number of tickets in maybe 10, maybe 20, but you will think that would a rare case if there was a million of tickets with different names and you pick you ticket at the 7nt position. If OI is true, then your personal identity is the only one that exists, so, to set up an equivalent example, it is like you are sure that every single ticket has your name written on. In this case, the fact that you see only 10 tickets, and you do not know the real total number of the tickets, and the fact that you pick casually the 7nth ticket and you find your name written on it, gives no clue about the total number of tickets. This is why OI invalidates the SSA, and all the paradoxes based on SSA. You may think that being present at the 7nt position might help someway anyhow, but there is another example, that maybe is closer to the argument of “Grorg” you said. Imagine you wake up in the morning and find yourself in a desert island. Becoming more aware, you remember you are there after a shipwreck happened a week ago. This does not help to estimate how long you will survive there, other facts are more important: if you found a pool of drinkable water, if you have managed to have a safe refuge, and so on. This is conceptually different by SSA, that would say: “because today is the 7nth day and you are alive, it is unlikely that you will be alive in more than one month”. This doesn’t sound right, and it is not. In terms of “Grorg”: finding yourself in a given Grorg state, cannot help you to estimate the number of the possible different Grorg states, because you, anyway, will experience to be in some Grorg state. Moreover, it is arbitrary to assume that your existence is bounded to experience all these finite Grorg states in a sequence without repetitions. I hope this clarify what I mean in the paper.
06/07/2023 20:30:13AVI've never studied philosophy, so I am very much out of my depth here, but I've recently encountered the term "Open Individualism", and I've become interested, and this page is the second result in google. As far as I understood the concept, it seems plausible enough, and is actually surprisingly close to my headcanon. That said, I think I see a very serious mistake in the reasoning of the first few chapters that leads to serious mistakes in the last chapter (I admit I haven't yet read the middle, but it doesn't look like a mistake that could've been corrected along the way -- correct me if I am wrong about that). The mistake is the following: the first chapters essentially compare different phenomena (some of which might not exist, and multiple of which are likely to exist simultaneously) and their properties to choose which of them is worthy of being named identity. The problem with that is deciding on which name use for which thing doesn't tell us anything about those things. If there is a phenomenon A and a phenomenon B, then no matter which of them you decide to call identity, they still will have the same properties. In the end you use this choice of name as an argument about things happening in the universe. That can't work as names are a fact about language we use to describe the universe, not about the universe itself. It's just a wrong modality. For example, in 83 you use this choice of name to refute the Doomsday argument. But this argument wasn't about a name, it was about a phenomenon. After you chose to use 'identity' for something else, this phenomenon still exists (now nameless), and the Doomsday argument still works: 1) Let's call a pair (qualia, physical body this qualia corresponds to) Grorg. E.g. the person that writes this word has different Grorg than the person who writes this word -- both qualia and body have changed a bit. 2) Assume that the measure of total Grorg in the universe grows exponentially in time until the Doomsday happens. 3) Make mathematically obvious conclusions about the expected distance from a random Grorg (e.g. the one that writes this word) to the Doomsday. (Naturally, the same argument works for many phenomena other than Grorg -- essentially it requires only the exponential growth, Doomsday and (any kind of) random sampling.) All in all this kind of mistake reminds me of this: 1) There are multiple ways of defining which triangles are equal. Are similar triangles equal? Are triangles with the same area equal? Are triangles with the same sides equal? Is the only triangle ABC is equal to the ABC itself? 2) But whatever definition you chose, facts about triangles will stay the same -- the only thing that changes is which terms you use to talk about them. I am sorry if I've went way too long about some obvious things, but I am from a very different background and am unsure about which things are obvious to philosophers.

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