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Reduction to Open Individualism

by Iacopo Vettori - September 2016

Chapter 4: External time and Subjective times

38. Open Individualism as defined by Daniel Kolak in I Am You claims that personal identity is always the same for every conscious being. The conclusion is the same when we consider that personal identity is illusory and the subjectivity phenomenon is an uncountable phenomenon, even if this phenomenon is happening contemporaneously in many separate individuals. From the critiques of the concept of identity it follows that each occurrence should not be considered to have a different identity, because each occurrence has no well-defined identity. Consider also that different time slices in the life of an individual can be equally regarded as different occurrences of the subjectivity phenomenon. This may help us to realize that it is not necessary to introduce differences in identity between many occurrences of this phenomenon.

39. The main obstacle to embracing Open Individualism is that this view requires a new conception of time. In the last century, physics has already revised the concept of time, and so too in philosophy we have to get rid of the concept of absolute time, providing a reasonable proposal that can explain all the phenomena we consider.

40. Open Individualism requires the conception of a subjective time bounded to each occurrence of the subjectivity phenomenon, and an external space-time that must be thought of as the container of all the stories that ever occur in the world.

41. Note: Even though this is far from my area of competence, I just want to remark that the existence of a subjective time bounded to each active brain has some scientific grounding. In regard to the brain, many authors advocate a quantum physics role in the brain/consciousness relation. For example, David Pearce suggests that it may be based on entanglement phenomenon (read about non-materialist physicalism at . In regard to time, some experiments show how time can result from becoming entangled with an existing entangled system (see the article at , where a link to the original paper is provided).

42. A good model for this external space-time is the eternalist framework proposed by Julian Barbour in his book The End of Time, published by Oxford University Press in 1999. Briefly, his model considers the whole set of all the actual and possible world configurations that exist statically; time is not something that flows. External time must be regarded as the property that allows to sort chronologically two states of the world, when comparing the one with the other.

43. The mind, or the subjectivity phenomenon, appears where some special parts of the world (specifically, the time slices of a brain) can form a sequence of states that the subjectivity function transforms into a succession of mind states, originating the corresponding mind (or the occurrence of a subjectivity phenomenon) together with the subjective time that the mind perceives as flowing. The fact that each occurrence of this phenomenon involves its own subjective time frees the model from the need to assign a different identity to each occurrence.

44. We may imagine two successions of brain states in two nearby space-time regions. These successions are both transformed by the subjectivity function into two successions of mind states, each of them originating the corresponding subjective times of the subjectivity phenomenon. In the eternalist framework, it does not matter if these two events are experienced as simultaneous by some observer or not. There is no meaning in saying that one subjective time is created before or after the other, nor that they do or do not flow at the same time. We cannot sort the subjective times into an external time that flows over the eternalist framework. External time may be helpful to assign the date of birth of two individuals, but it is useless if we want to know if the subjective function has been applied to one succession of brain states before or after the other. Indeed, each of these applications generate their own subjective times, which cannot be sorted along a longer subjective time. This is what we need to regard the Open Individualism View as viable, because it frees the model from the need to assign a separate identity to each subjectivity phenomenon, and the need to find something that allows us to distinguish each of its occurrences interacting in near space-time regions. Because we do not need to assign any identity to the subjectivity phenomenon, the identity concept can be dismissed as illusory even when it is applied to persons.

45. When a functioning brain splits into two (or more) functioning brains, the subjective time related to the subjectivity phenomenon splits into multiple branches, allowing the subjectivity phenomenon to indifferently follow all the paths. The same occurs when two (or more) functioning brains are melded into one bigger functioning brain. In this case, multiple subjective times converge to a single subjective time for awhile, and then the single subjective time splits again into multiple paths. We do not have to question “who” follows one path or the other: the subject that follows all the paths is always the same subjectivity phenomenon. We do not have to question whether this phenomenon occurs in one path “before” or “after” the other; in the eternalist framework you may figure them to be coexisting paths.

46. Eternalism may appear to be a theory that requires determinism, because it makes the universe appear to be static. But it is possible to complicate the model by considering all the possible theoretical states of the universe, and all the possible ways to sort them according to physical laws. The model proposed by Julian Barbour does this. This corresponds to considering all the possible universes of the Everett interpretation of quantum physics, where the collapse of the wave function is actually a selection of one of the simultaneously existing branches of a greater multiverse. We may also suppose that the subjectivity phenomenon can split into all of the branches, generating a respective number of subjective times.

47. Moreover, it is possible that states of the world that are different at one point in time may converge to being in the same state at a later point in time. This is what happens in phenomena such as the quantum eraser experiment. It is also possible that some of the future states of the world may coincide with some of the past states, so that the sorting of two physical states is not absolutely univocal, despite the fact that the arrow of time results almost certainly from probabilistic considerations. Notwithstanding this, what we perceive subjectively is always a single subjective time, even if it coexists together with a bunch of alternative subjective times joining and splitting at every moment.

48. This view transforms the linear world of a deterministic universe into a labyrinth where the paths of all the possible multiverses continuously intersect with each other, making our current life just a variation of all the possible alternate lives that we could experience if we had behaved differently some time in the past. This view leaves an open door to the possibility of free will, as we will see in more details in one of the conclusory notes.

49. At first sight, Open Individualism may seem to intrinsically deny the possibility of free will, because if I accept that in some way I will find myself living in the first person the life of any individual who is interacting with me in this moment, I am inclined to believe that then I will be constrained to act exactly as I currently see the other is acting now. If we are in dialogue right now, we are deciding freely the future of our dialogue, but if I imagine finding myself replicating this same dialogue as you, I necessarily will be forced to speak the same words that you are currently saying. This error derives from ignoring the fact that external time is not flowing. Only our subjective times are flowing through the common eternalist framework. So, when I find myself experiencing our same dialogue as you, it will be not “another time”, it will always be the very same time that I will influence with the same freshness and feeling of flexibility I am currently experiencing. You may grasp what is occurring according to Open Individualism, thinking in terms of the temporary split-brain experiment. In that case, it is easier to imagine that each half-mind can express a genuine free will, though they are separated experiences of the subjectivity phenomenon. The two subjective times of the two half-minds are both part of your subjective time that flows before the splitting and again after the rejoining, but you cannot say whether you experienced the left half-mind before or after the right half-mind. Events can be ordered in the external time that does not flow, but subjective times and the subjective experiences of two separate lives cannot be ordered in the same way using external time.

50. For the same reason, it is impossible to say whether I will find myself living your life before or after my current life. Despite our need to sort every event in time, the question “what will my next life be?” has no answer. A life can be seen as a complete sequence of brain states that is suitable for being processed by the subjectivity function, ordered from the first to the last according the external time of the eternalist framework. If this sequence has no other singular points (splitting or joining points), the subjectivity phenomenon and the subjective time may flow straight until the last of the sequence. But after death there are no subjective times that may bring the subjectivity phenomenon to another starting point. We always find ourselves only at some point of some subjective time.

51. Derek Parfit calls questions that cannot be answered, even if we have all the physical information related to them, “empty questions”. This can be applied to the problem of the sequence of the lives experienced by the subjectivity phenomenon. The problem with the sequence of lives may mislead us into thinking that the subjectivity phenomenon is like a phantom that goes back and forth in time between one life and the next. Actually, you may grasp a less-naive representation, thinking again about the problem of the temporary split-brain experiment. The same empty question concept can also be applied in this case: once the two hemispheres are joined together, the questions “Was I the left-hemisphere originated mind? Was I the right hemisphere originated mind? Was I both? Did I experience being the left part before or after having experienced being the right part?” are empty. You may see that the question about how we should sort these subjective times has no answer, that there does not exist any physical information that may ever answer it: it is an empty question. So, we have to conclude that it is impossible to determine the sequence in which two paths are traversed by the subjectivity phenomenon: to sort events in time is a need we have in our daily life, but there is no physical information available to sort the experiencing of two subjective times.

52. It is important to show that the Open Individualist Theory of personal identity proposes a model that corresponds with the practical experience that we actually have in our daily life anyway, and moreover, that it can solve many questions that appear difficult to explain or have no viable explication. It is easy to misunderstand Open Individualism, classifying it as a theory that implies some mystical connection between all living beings. Actually, the only connection proposed is that the subjectivity phenomenon, the experiencing of the world from a subjective first-person-point-of-view, is always the same one that each of us experiences in the first person, despite us wrongly believing that everybody else has their own personal occurrence of the same phenomenon. Getting rid of the identity concept means that each occurrence cannot have its own identity, so the subject that experiences all these first-person point-of-view flows of mind states has to be regarded as the very same subjectivity phenomenon in every instance, despite the fact that it occurs in many bodies/brains at the same external time.

53. Speaking of the subjectivity phenomenon in these terms may cause some to think that I will assign it a special or divine role to it, but I strongly deny that: I simply take my own experience of being an experiencer-in-the-first-person of the world, which I call the subjectivity phenomenon, and then I generalize it by taking away the contingence of my particular experience. I do not add any special power or any special knowledge or any mystical feeling.

54. All this provides a complete model that even without a definitive argument is coherent and offers easy answers to many problems about the mind, as described later in this document. This would be sufficient for it to be considered worthy of being evaluated by all thinkers who study personal identity and related problems.


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Received comments:
05/01/2018 17:02:57Iacopo VettoriI welcome many of your observations, but I do not think that the metaphor of the phantom that goes back and forth in time is strictly necessary, at least expressed in this form. Actually, I use it when I have to explain Open Individualism to people that already know about reincarnation, to make them see that Open Individualism may be considered as a generalization of reincarnation theory. What I mean is that anyhow, the metaphor of the phantom is just a metaphor, like the one of the actor playing all the roles (that I like because I have some past experience as professional actor). But I think that this theory is working also in a reductionist context, where it is not allowed to speak about souls or phantoms. So, even if the explanation as a phantom that goes back and forth in time is practically equivalent, I have to show that the phantom is not required. The key point is that the movement of the phantom back and forth outside a stream of consciousness is not detectable, does not leave any trace in the physical world. In the reductionist view, this is enough to say that the phantom does not exist, even if all the conscious conditions are experimented in the way the metaphor leaves us to imagine. Also about the continuity of the subjectivity function there are some details to specify. I agree that what we perceive is continuous, but I know that the physical conditions that generate my continuous perceptions are not always continue. Think just about to anesthesia. Even if the result of my consciousness is continue, I know that there is an interval of time where my consciousness did not existed. We can figure that the level of consciousness can vary from high degrees to low degree, and when it reach the zero, our perception is continue only in the sense that “next” (subjectively) we will experience our consciousness rising from zero to some other higher level in a continue way, but it is possible (and actually I think it happens every time we reach zero-consciousness also sleeping) that the external conditions that makes the subjectivity function working have been discontinued for some (external) time. The problem about time is actually complicated. Our innate sense of time is not good to answer it. But it is not good also to face the problems in modern physics. This is why I introduced the subjective times. As the consciousness seems to be continuous to us, also the subjective times seems to be continuous. But because it is not predictable what will be the “next” moment after the end of one of the lives (the answer cannot be deduced by the state of the physical world) we cannot give an objective order to all the lives: all the solutions are equally accepted. If you like, I figured a possible sequence at (second paragraph).
05/01/2018 14:42:42Sam SavageI agree with Open Individualism, but actually believe it implies the following: > the subjectivity phenomenon is like a phantom that goes back and forth in time between one life and the next The reason this must be the case, is that you (well I say you, but you are just some past or future incarnation of me) are ignoring that time is experienced as a *smooth flow*. Even sleep, anesthetics and head injuries are experienced as a smooth flow. The smoothness is defined particularly in terms of the smooth accumulation of memories. Every single moment of our lives is evidence of this. You can read this sentence because consciousness remembers the beginning of the sentence at the moment you finish it, smoothly. Now smoothness is formally defined in mathematics in terms of continuity, which is defined here To use your language, the "subjectivity function" must be a smooth function on R (subjective time). Therefore in order for it to be a single function, it must include in it all lives, and thus after one life, another will be experienced. To say otherwise, while assuming Open Individualism, is to violate the principle of the Identity of the Indiscernables. Note this does not imply (A) there is a mystical non-physical connection between human lives, nor (B) that we will ever be able to usefully remember much of our past lives. To account for (A) that is consistent with modern science, we can appeal to some sort of non-local Quantum effects. Our quantum-mind picks out the next brain where the jump takes the least amount of energy. This lowest energy selection could thus actually define an order on lives. To account for (B) we can simply observe that our ability to recall is entirely a matter of context. When a context changes we recall different things, the more drastic the shift in context the more drastically different the things we can recall. Put another way, recall is a function of what is happening right now. Therefore since the context of this life is so vastly different to the last, we cannot recall any of it. Also we won't be able to remember events from the future so as to avoid grandfather paradoxes. If we entertain the idea that some people really can (as they claim) recall past lives, then it's no surprise that the lives they can recall only happen in the External Past. Anyway, Open Individualism does imply this time travelling phantom if we observe the smooth nature of consciousness. If you don't like the conclusion of the time travelling phantom, then you have to reject Open Individualism.

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