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Old 05-15-2019, 05:12 PM
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Downloading Your Consciousness Just Before Death.


This very question was brought up in Star Trek: the Next Generation's The Schizoid Man.But this not a Star Trek question.

What if just before you died, you downloaded your consciousness into a computer? Would that store data be you? And could it literally give you immortality?

I also put this in GD because I assume it's up for debate.

Thank you in advance for your kindly replies.

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Old 05-15-2019, 05:36 PM
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Need answer fast?

This really gets down to the fundamental definition of what consciousnesses is, which still a very open philosophical question. So what you get will probably be a whole lot of IMHO. Those who believe in a soul would say that that would clearly not be you. I'm of a bit more of a materialist and so I would say that if the data and associated software accurately mimicked your mental processes including internal states then that would be you.

However I could also imagine a sort of chinese room type simulation of my mind which externally behaves like me, but which arrives at that behavior in a totally different way. Some may say that such a simulation is effectively identical to me to all outside observers and so therefor should be considered to be me. But I would argue that the internal thoughts that are not outwardly observable are what truly represents consciousness and so a machine that failed to include those doesn't actually represent consciousness. I therefore reject the Turing test as a sufficient definition of artificial intelligence.

A question you didn't ask but automatically follows is what happens if you download your consciousness long before you die, or even download multiple copies of your consciousness. This idea is explored about 4 seasons later in Second Chances with the answer being they both are you. However as each has different experiences, they devolve into distinct individuals, but neither is more you than the other one.

Last edited by Buck Godot; 05-15-2019 at 05:36 PM.
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Old 05-15-2019, 05:55 PM
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Old 05-15-2019, 06:20 PM
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The person in the computer after upload is not the same person as you right now. But by the same token, you right now are not the same person as you yesterday, or even you five seconds ago. We say that you right now and all of the yous of the past are the same person only because the you of right now has the memories of the yous of the past. And by the same token, the person in the computer will have the memories of you right now.
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Old 05-15-2019, 07:02 PM
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The uploaded consciousness would be a copy, but that wouldn't bother it any. It'd feel like it was me and carry on accordingly - even though it would know better!
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Old 05-16-2019, 12:10 AM
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Unfortunately, the consciousness would be JUST a consciousness, not a human being with senses. So strictly speaking, it could not be conscious of anything except itself. Eternal introspection, totally cut off from the external world. Schizophrenia... insanity.
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Old 05-16-2019, 07:03 AM
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Unfortunately, the consciousness would be JUST a consciousness, not a human being with senses. So strictly speaking, it could not be conscious of anything except itself. Eternal introspection, totally cut off from the external world. Schizophrenia... insanity.
So you hook the 'consciousness' up to a set of simulated inputs and outputs. I expect we will have artificial eyes, ears and haptic sensors, artificial voice generators and remotely controlled limbs, long before we ever develop any kind of uploading/downloading (if we ever do).
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Old 05-16-2019, 01:37 AM
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Jim B, this question is basically a specific phrasing of the general philosophical problem of Personal Identity.

This is one of the biggest, most-debated issues in philosophy. There is no clear answer at this time, although what normally happens is half the responses in a thread like this will be "Obviously the mind has been downloaded and anyone that thinks otherwise must think there is some magical soul or something" and the other half will be sure that "Obviously minds cannot be "moved", and anyone that thinks otherwise must think there is some magical soul or something".
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Old 05-16-2019, 02:15 AM
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Jim B, this question is basically a specific phrasing of the general philosophical problem of Personal Identity.

This is one of the biggest, most-debated issues in philosophy. There is no clear answer at this time, although what normally happens is half the responses in a thread like this will be "Obviously the mind has been downloaded and anyone that thinks otherwise must think there is some magical soul or something" and the other half will be sure that "Obviously minds cannot be "moved", and anyone that thinks otherwise must think there is some magical soul or something".
Not true - plenty of people will say, "Prove there isn't a magical soul or something."

Last edited by Alessan; 05-16-2019 at 02:15 AM.
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Old 05-16-2019, 07:12 AM
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There is no clear answer at this time, although what normally happens is half the responses in a thread like this will be "Obviously the mind has been downloaded and anyone that thinks otherwise must think there is some magical soul or something" and the other half will be sure that "Obviously minds cannot be "moved", and anyone that thinks otherwise must think there is some magical soul or something".
When and if the technology for mind uploading becomes available, I think there will still be two opinions on this matter; but what will happen is that most, if not all of the people who get uploaded will be people who believe that they are being magically preserved in some way, whereas the ones who do not get uploaded will think the opposite. Since the uploaded 'consciousnesses' are effectively immortal, these will eventually outnumber the others by many orders of magnitude, and the 'minds cannot be moved' camp will become a small minority.

Even if they are right.
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Old 05-16-2019, 04:12 AM
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That is true.

It's just interesting to me that on this topic (and similar ones, like the transporter), you end up with so many people sure there is only one common-sense, scientific interpretation and anything else is magical thinking. But falling on one of two sides for which interpretation that is. It's a blue-black white-gold dress

But yes there are also people who still believe in the soul, even though that is a position that scientifically doesn't hold up at all.
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Old 05-16-2019, 06:59 AM
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Since the whole notion of downloading one's mind into a computer exists only in the imagination, can't we just imagine the results to be whatever we wish also? The mind does not exist in any sort of machine-readable format, so copying it to a digital medium such as a hard drive is just a philosophical exercise. If I want to imagine my soul or identity exists on a computer, then it does. It is is as real as the conversion of the mind to computer data is, which is to say, not real at all.
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Old 05-16-2019, 07:13 AM
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The only way I'd even consider transference to another vessel, preferably a body, would be if the procedure were continuous, in the sense that as the transfer took place I would experience existence slowly shift from Body A to an amalgam of two viewpoints to Body B with no consciousness discontinuity at any point and that the process would be reversible at any point.
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Old 05-16-2019, 01:26 PM
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The only way I'd even consider transference to another vessel, preferably a body, would be if the procedure were continuous, in the sense that as the transfer took place I would experience existence slowly shift from Body A to an amalgam of two viewpoints to Body B with no consciousness discontinuity at any point and that the process would be reversible at any point.
"You're me!" Roger said, looking at the other robot body, identical to his own, that clearly contained another download of his consciousness.
"No," the Other replied, "I am Roger downloaded from a year later. My knowledge extends beyond yours. There's already the stored backup, so I'm afraid that YOU'RE superfluous."
The Other pulled out a Disruptor gun, which would erase all of Roger's memories, and aimed it.
"Stop!" Roger said, but someone else was saying it at the same time.
Out stepped yet ANOTHER duplicate of Roger, with its own Disruptor.
"I am Roger downloaded from a year after you, and I have a more recent backup. I'm afraid you're BOTH superfluous."

"Wait!" shouted three voices....
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Old 05-16-2019, 07:14 AM
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If that were possible, why not stick with the halfway stage and have two viewpoints. Sounds like fun.
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Old 05-16-2019, 07:19 AM
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And then you have some people who think they have the answer, but don't think that it's at all obvious or intuitive.
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Old 05-16-2019, 07:20 AM
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BwanaBob, you already lack that continuity. Does going to sleep every night terrify you?
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Old 05-20-2019, 02:53 PM
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BwanaBob, you already lack that continuity. Does going to sleep every night terrify you?
No. It's not the same thing. There is a continuity of brain wave activity. That is satisfactory for me. If your saying that the transfer could happen during "sleep" I'd balk.
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Old 05-16-2019, 12:39 PM
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If you write a message on a piece of paper, then stick that paper in a copy machine and run off five copies, are the copies the same message?
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Old 05-16-2019, 01:06 PM
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Consciousness can't be downloaded into a computer, for the simple reason that computation is an act of interpretation, which itself depends on a mind doing the interpreting. Thinking one could download consciousness is the same category error as thinking the sentence 'it is raining' is the same sort of thing as it actually raining. But the former is merely a symbolic vessel, filled with content by an intentional mind; while the latter is water falling from the sky.

It's easy to see that a system only computes if it is properly interpreted. It's only our use of 'transparent' symbols that makes us think that what a computer computes is an inherent feature of the computer, when in truth, it's not anymore inherent to it than it's inherent to the word 'rain' to mean 'water falling from the sky'.

Consider a computer with less obviously transparent symbols. Say you find a device that's constructed as follows: it has four switches, and three lights. If you flip the switches, the lights come on. In your experimentation, you find that there are certain rules according to which these lights light up. If you consider the switches in groups of two, and consider a switch being 'up' to mean '1', while 'down' means '0', and furthermore, consider each light to mean '1' when it's lit, and '0' when it isn't, you can use the device to add binary numbers (of a value up to three).

Now, suppose somebody else examines that same system. They might well come up with an entirely different interpretation: they could, for example, consider 'switch down' to mean '1', and 'light out' likewise. Then, to them, the system would compute an entirely different function of binary numbers.

Many more interpretations are possible. You could take 'switch up' and 'light out' to mean '1'. You could interpret them as bits of different significance---say, you're used to reading Hebrew, and thus, consider the rightmost light to map to 22, the middle one to give 21, and the leftmost one to yield 20.

And so on. Each change of interpretation in that way will yield to the device computing a perfectly sensible binary function; each person with a different interpretation could use it as a computer to compute that function.

Thus, what computation a system performs is not inherent to that system, but is, exactly like what message a text conveys, a matter of interpretation. But if that's so, then computation can't be what underlies consciousness: if there's no fact of the matter regarding what mind a given system computes unless it is interpreted as implementing the right computation, then whatever does that interpreting can't itself be computational, as otherwise, we would have a vicious regress---needing ever higher-level interpretational agencies to fix the computation at the lower level. But if minds then have the capacity to interpret things (as they seem to), they have a capacity that can't be realized via computation, and thus are, on the whole, not computational entities.

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Old 05-16-2019, 03:11 PM
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But if minds then have the capacity to interpret things (as they seem to), they have a capacity that can't be realized via computation, and thus are, on the whole, not computational entities.
I usually agree with you on most things, but you are wrong about this. Human minds are entirely computational, even though they are not digital.

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Old 05-16-2019, 03:43 PM
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I usually agree with you on most things, but you are wrong about this. Human minds are entirely computational, even though they are not digital.
OK, thanks for telling me, I guess.
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Old 05-27-2019, 02:47 PM
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Consciousness can't be downloaded into a computer, for the simple reason that computation is an act of interpretation, which itself depends on a mind doing the interpreting.

But if minds then have the capacity to interpret things (as they seem to), they have a capacity that can't be realized via computation, and thus are, on the whole, not computational entities.
Ok. I'm an engineer who's just finished a master's in computer science/Machine learning. I'm quite impatient to see philosophical arguments as all I really care about is how to use the pieces I know about to do new tasks.

So I will apologize in that I have not read all of your posts in this thread, and I have not fully analyzed what you mean.

But I've got a question for you. A practical, rubber meets the road question. You too, wolfpup.

We use an algorithm called divide and conquer on this little problem of brain emulation.

Specifically, we divide the brain to the simplest case, a synapse. We know all or nothing electrical signals come in, and all or nothing electrical signals leave.

We know the information carried in primarily in just timing. That is, if a pulse leaves, the exact time it leaves carries information to other sub-components in the system.

We study the system and determine there's a gaussian function of randomness in each real synapse - the output seems to be F1(Rules, Input, State, Noise). There is a second internal output where State_new = F2(Rules, Input, State_previous, Noise).

"Noise" we just use some mathematical function (probably gaussian but I won't be averse to using other functions if they fit better) to replace the thousands of subtle biochemical details that sum to random noise overall, allowing for a simpler (and cheaper) model and thus requiring cheaper computer hardware to run.

The rules we can deduce by building a model by studying each synapse in laboratory and living animal models. (we genetically modify the animals to use exactly the same type of synapses the human brain uses)

The inputs are immediate time things. The State is something we can determine by examining a synapse with sufficient resolution.

Anyways, a whole brain is just a combination of (trillions) of these subproblems. Each subproblem is just timed electrical pulses. Anything like "consciousness" has to be emergent behavior from higher level systems.

And, who cares how it works. We know if physical reality follows the same rules inside a brain that it does outside, and you duplicate the subproblems (you solve each subproblem), you solve the overall problem. (duplicating the behavior, including complex internal perceived behavior like consciousness, of a complex machine like a brain)

For me to care how it actually works* you need to prove that I can't subdivide the system into tiny subproblems where these philosophical problems that both you and wolfpup talk about don't matter.

*sure, once you have working, conscious brain emulations in hardware that can be paused, where you can inject and copy digital values from specific areas, and so on, scientists of the far future will surely be able to work out how it all actually works.

Last edited by SamuelA; 05-27-2019 at 02:50 PM.
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Old 05-16-2019, 01:15 PM
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This is actually a plot point from The Prestige

SPOILER:
The machine transports a copy to a nearby location, in this case a copy of the magician. When the copy is transported, both the magician and the copy exist at the same time (with the same experience, memory, knowledge). In the first test, the magician immediately shot and killed the copy.

When he designed the illusion, the machine transports a copy and the man on stage fell through the trap door, into the tank of water and drowned. Then the man appears away from the stage to delight of the crowd.

But the magician failed to realize that HE was the man going into the tank to be drowned. It was the copy that reappeared to delight the crowd. THAT copy would be drowned in the following performance.


The question is, are you the magician or the copy.

If your consciousness is downloaded elsewhere, something may live believing it is you. But you will not be there.
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Old 05-16-2019, 01:28 PM
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"Obviously the mind has been downloaded and anyone that thinks otherwise must think there is some magical soul or something" and the other half will be sure that "Obviously minds cannot be "moved", and anyone that thinks otherwise must think there is some magical soul or something".

That's really the only reason I bother reading threads like this; to watch each side accuse the other of being the ones who believe in magic/the soul/god/whatever.



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When and if the technology for mind uploading becomes available, I think there will still be two opinions on this matter; but what will happen is that most, if not all of the people who get uploaded will be people who believe that they are being magically preserved in some way, whereas the ones who do not get uploaded will think the opposite. Since the uploaded 'consciousnesses' are effectively immortal, these will eventually outnumber the others by many orders of magnitude, and the 'minds cannot be moved' camp will become a small minority.

Even if they are right.

How about people like me. I don't think the copy will be the same "me" that's sitting here typing, but I'd undergo the procedure because I know the copy will enjoy ever-lasting(ish) life, because I know I'd enjoy it if it were possible to live forever.

It's akin to people wanting to have kids so that "some part of them lives on". In fact, I expect that will be the most likely outcome if this ever really happens: legally, the copy will be my child, and stands to inherit my estate, as any biological child would. This also explains why it would usually be done at the end of life. I wouldn't want to give that brat half my stuff right now, but if I were near to death, yeah, why not? It all goes to taxes otherwise.
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Old 05-16-2019, 03:16 PM
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How about people like me. I don't think the copy will be the same "me" that's sitting here typing, but I'd undergo the procedure because I know the copy will enjoy ever-lasting(ish) life, because I know I'd enjoy it if it were possible to live forever.
This is more-or-less exactly what I think. Even though the copy would be physically different from me, and would (no doubt) have many minor differences in data, it might be the closest I could get to immortality, unless a better alternative came along.
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Old 05-16-2019, 01:45 PM
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Consciences, personality, identity, self, call it what you will, is a chemical and slightly electrical phenomenon that does not translate into the digital world of IF>THEN. There could be and already are algorithms that can mimic human responses but they are not actual thought. Not actual Self. How would you be able to translate chemical action into digital, storable personality?

Even our memories may not be what actually happened. Each time a memory is thought it overwrites the actual memory one more time. That favorite green truck toy you had when you were 5 years old may not have been green at all. You have remembered it as green so many times since you were 5 that for all purposes it is now green, it may never have been. Unless we are postulating an organic, chemical, emotional, storage system, there is no way to store a human mind.

The storage and response systems are completely different.
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Old 05-16-2019, 01:48 PM
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The problem with "consciousness" is, how could you tell? Do the memories go with it?

Also, if you can do this, then, theoretically, you can make a copy of it; would both of "you" think you are the "real" you? (Never mind "Schizoid Man"; how about "Second Chances"? They're both "the" William Riker.)
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Old 05-16-2019, 01:55 PM
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The problem with "consciousness" is, how could you tell? Do the memories go with it?

Also, if you can do this, then, theoretically, you can make a copy of it; would both of "you" think you are the "real" you? (Never mind "Schizoid Man"; how about "Second Chances"? They're both "the" William Riker.)


I figure this is in the same category of topics as self-driving cars. There are people working on it as we speak, and there are folks who will argue that it can or cannot work for some reason.

But the argument is kind of pointless. If it can't possibly work, then no one will ever do it, no matter how much effort they put into it. But, if it can work, and we eventually figure it out, then the answers to all these "Is it me, or a copy?" type questions will probably become quite obvious.
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Old 05-16-2019, 03:17 PM
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Consciences, personality, identity, self, call it what you will, is a chemical and slightly electrical phenomenon that does not translate into the digital world of IF>THEN. There could be and already are algorithms that can mimic human responses but they are not actual thought. Not actual Self. How would you be able to translate chemical action into digital, storable personality?

Even our memories may not be what actually happened. Each time a memory is thought it overwrites the actual memory one more time. That favorite green truck toy you had when you were 5 years old may not have been green at all. You have remembered it as green so many times since you were 5 that for all purposes it is now green, it may never have been. Unless we are postulating an organic, chemical, emotional, storage system, there is no way to store a human mind.

The storage and response systems are completely different.
With a sufficiently powerful computer system one could theoretically emulate reality at the molecular level, allowing a physical brain to be emulated with perfectly replicated behavior and functionality. And it probably wouldn't even take that much - much of the physical body's function is tangential or irrelevant to cognition and could be simplified out without impacting the accuracy of the emulation.

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I figure this is in the same category of topics as self-driving cars. There are people working on it as we speak, and there are folks who will argue that it can or cannot work for some reason.

But the argument is kind of pointless. If it can't possibly work, then no one will ever do it, no matter how much effort they put into it. But, if it can work, and we eventually figure it out, then the answers to all these "Is it me, or a copy?" type questions will probably become quite obvious.
I don't see how having it happen in front of you would make anything more obvious - unless the soul people are right and all clones turn up dead or something. In the materialist view the only difference between a person and a copy is that one would have continuity of existence and the other wouldn't - though the one that didn't would think that it did have continuity of existence thanks to its inherited memory and would only notice a discontinuity of location.

It seems obvious to me that continuity of existence is part of identity, so a copy of you isn't you by virtue of the fact that you've been over here the whole time and they haven't been. However in a world of star trek transporters where the original of you doesn't hang around to dispute the copy's claim to your identity there's no reason a copy can't step into your shoes and carry on where you left off.

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Old 05-16-2019, 04:16 PM
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With a sufficiently powerful computer system one could theoretically emulate reality at the molecular level, allowing a physical brain to be emulated with perfectly replicated behavior and functionality. And it probably wouldn't even take that much - much of the physical body's function is tangential or irrelevant to cognition and could be simplified out without impacting the accuracy of the emulation.
I agree. The confusion here is that there seems to be an assumption that the consciousness can be loaded into a general purpose computer, whereas if you could perfectly emulate the brain and all its peculiarities and inputs the consciousness would come with it more or less automatically.

The standard science-fictional treatment gets this wrong also.
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Old 05-16-2019, 04:20 PM
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I agree. The confusion here is that there seems to be an assumption that the consciousness can be loaded into a general purpose computer, whereas if you could perfectly emulate the brain and all its peculiarities and inputs the consciousness would come with it more or less automatically.

The standard science-fictional treatment gets this wrong also.
Well, thanks to Turing-completeness, any "general purpose" computer could be made to run a simulation program that could handle the intricacies of emulating the brain/mind and the environment it will be reacting to.

That simulation program would probably take more than one CD to install, though.

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Old 05-16-2019, 02:12 PM
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This is the foundational premise for the Bobiverse series of books by Dennis Taylor: the first in the series is We are Legion (We Are Bob).

Very good read as a hard sci fi series. Bob continues to make copies of his own consciousness as a means of creating a supply of individuals that are needed to complete various functions. Each new Bob has a separate identity but shares a history with the other Bobs from the time they were created.
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Old 05-16-2019, 04:00 PM
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This is the foundational premise for the Bobiverse series of books by Dennis Taylor: the first in the series is We are Legion (We Are Bob).

Very good read as a hard sci fi series. Bob continues to make copies of his own consciousness as a means of creating a supply of individuals that are needed to complete various functions. Each new Bob has a separate identity but shares a history with the other Bobs from the time they were created.
It's also a piece of foundational technology in the Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard K. Morgan ("Altered Carbon" is the most famous one). Basically everyone's got a 'stack' that records their conscious mind/memories in real-time. So if someone's killed, dies, etc... that data can be downloaded into another body (a 'sleeve' in book parlance). From their perspective, there's a certain level of discontinuity, in that they go from being killed to becoming aware in a different body, not even necessarily the same gender as they started with. They can also be backed up, much like computers today, in case their stack itself is destroyed somehow. In that case, their mind info can be downloaded into a new stack in a different body and they're back, minus the time between the last backup and whenever they died.
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Old 05-16-2019, 04:20 PM
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I very much doubt that what we think of as ourselves is only made up of our conscious minds. Seems to me that a great deal of thinking, remembering, etc. is being done by other portions of our minds entirely; and then interpreted by the conscious mind, which may (or may not) then claim the conclusion it came to was made by the conscious mind's processes only.

And the mind as a whole is also influenced by the rest of the body -- hormonal shifts, exhaustion, hunger, satiation, pain, exercise, physical joy, etc. all affect it.

So I think that what would be downloaded would only be a part of me; and would probably rapidly diverge even from that part of me as it is now, because it wouldn't have the inputs coming from the rest of me.

And the me that's the body (including the brain) would die when the body died. So no, sticking a bit of me in a computer wouldn't give me immortality. Even if you could get all of me copied somehow, that still wouldn't be immortality: this me would still die. (Would you be willing to have yourself copied, while in decent health, if someone were waiting to shoot you the minute the copy was finished?) Whether there'd be some other sense in doing one or both of those things I don't know. I also don't know how my conscious mind would take to being stuck in a box, even a moving one; but I find the idea uncomfortable enough that I'd hesitate to do that to a copy, or a partial copy.
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Old 05-16-2019, 03:18 PM
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IMO, there is no way to do this other than a complete brain transplant (which will be affected by age).

If it's done by any computerized method it will be a copy, not a transfer. Meaning you die, and there's a robot that thinks it's you, but you're still dead lights out.
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Old 05-16-2019, 03:25 PM
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Also, I believe biological immortality (stopping the aging process through genetic engineering) will occur before "brain downloads" do.
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Old 05-16-2019, 03:48 PM
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This is an example of Mijin's statement that both sides accuse each other of believing in souls. If there is anything non-computational in the human mind, what is that something? A soul? Something else? Perhaps we could call it wibble. So a human brain is a computer with wibble. How do you know that we can't make wibble and add it to the uploaded computational representation of a human mind?
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Old 05-16-2019, 10:38 PM
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This is an example of Mijin's statement that both sides accuse each other of believing in souls. If there is anything non-computational in the human mind, what is that something? A soul? Something else? Perhaps we could call it wibble. So a human brain is a computer with wibble. How do you know that we can't make wibble and add it to the uploaded computational representation of a human mind?
Two things here.

Firstly, there is a distinction between a machine capable of information-processing, and a computer. All computers are machines but not all machines are computers (or not only computers).
You can be a 100% Physicalist yet believe that the mind cannot be duplicated in software and/or that such a mind would not be conscious.

But secondly, and more importantly, we just don't have a good model of what consciousness is yet. That's the real answer to the OP.
Knowing that the mind is a property of the brain, and mental states correspond to physical states is great and all, but still leaves us a long way short of the kind of model that could answer questions like the OP's directly.

Personally my WAG is that subjective experience will become a huge area of science someday. And an expert in "Subjective Mechanics" will laugh at how crude our understanding was, and that we could only see the two possibilities: consciousness is copied or moved.
But it's just my personal feeling. But regardless, in the meantime the answer is we don't know.

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Old 05-17-2019, 02:33 AM
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Personally my WAG is that subjective experience will become a huge area of science someday. And an expert in "Subjective Mechanics" will laugh at how crude our understanding was, and that we could only see the two possibilities: consciousness is copied or moved.
But it's just my personal feeling. But regardless, in the meantime the answer is we don't know.
I agree with this entirely. 'Subjective Mechanics' or 'Sentience Wrangling' is likely to become a major field of study in the centuries to come, and will produce results we can barely imagine. There will be 'wibble' in our cars, airplanes and spacecraft, not to mention our smartphones or two-way wrist radios, or whatever. And 'wibble' will come in a myriad of types and flavours.

But even if this all comes to pass, I still wouldn't guarantee that the uploading of consciousness will every be viable or desirable.
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Old 05-17-2019, 06:42 AM
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But even if this all comes to pass, I still wouldn't guarantee that the uploading of consciousness will every be viable or desirable.
I agree with this.
No reason to assume at this point that minds can be transferred to another substrate and what exactly that might entail.

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I agree with this entirely. 'Subjective Mechanics' or 'Sentience Wrangling' is likely to become a major field of study in the centuries to come, and will produce results we can barely imagine. There will be 'wibble' in our cars, airplanes and spacecraft, not to mention our smartphones or two-way wrist radios, or whatever. And 'wibble' will come in a myriad of types and flavours.
I can't tell whether this part is sarcasm. But I have not used 'wibble' nor suggested that consciousness is some kind of app.

I come from a neuroscience background, and all I am saying is that I think that at some point we will have a descriptive model of consciousness sufficient to unambiguously answer questions about what subjective experience is and how it arises.
And my gut feeling is that this model will require some kind of conceptual jump; that the problem will only become tractable when we frame it in a new way. You can absolutely disagree with this feeling; it's not based on anything other than the observation that questions on consciousness seem like very different questions to the kind that science has so far managed to tackle well.
But no, I'm not positing a soul, or magic.

Last edited by Mijin; 05-17-2019 at 06:47 AM.
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Old 05-16-2019, 03:57 PM
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It eludes me why anybody would even want their minds to be "non-computational" - doesn't that just mean that it doesn't work in a rational or coherent manner? That it's totally random? My thoughts happen for reasons, thanks very much. And even if brains do include some small amount of randomity, computers can simulate randomity, so no problems there. Whatever a wibble does, however a wibble works, it works somehow, and that "somehow" is a process and that process can be imitated and simulated. Doesn't matter if the wibble is material or supernatural, that's still the case.

So yeah, brains can be emulated, given sufficient understanding of how they work and sufficient processor power. That's still a pretty weaksause approach to immortality though, because the person being copied isn't going to live any longer as a result. They'll still age and die, and experience aging and dying. Their copy may be off having fun in a virtual amusement park forever, but that's not going to help them any.
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Old 05-16-2019, 03:58 PM
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This is an example of Mijin's statement that both sides accuse each other of believing in souls. If there is anything non-computational in the human mind, what is that something? A soul? Something else? Perhaps we could call it wibble. So a human brain is a computer with wibble. How do you know that we can't make wibble and add it to the uploaded computational representation of a human mind?
Well, I gave an argument demonstrating that computation is subjective, and hence, only fixed by interpreting a certain system as computing a certain function. If whatever does this interpreting is itself computational, then its computation needs another interpretive agency to be fixed, and so on, in an infinite regress; hence, whatever fixes computation can't itself be computational.

And there's no need for souls, or anything like that; anything non-material or non-physical. Computation is really concerned with structural properties: we can simulate something because we can instantiate the right sort of structural relationships within a computer. But relations imply something to bear them, something that actually stands in these relations; but that doesn't carry over to the simulation. After all, that's what makes simulations so useful: if they replicated every property of the thing simulated, they'd just be copies. A simulated tree and a tree aren't the same thing, and neither is a simulated mind and a mind.
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Old 05-16-2019, 04:01 PM
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Well, I gave an argument demonstrating that computation is subjective, and hence, only fixed by interpreting a certain system as computing a certain function. If whatever does this interpreting is itself computational, then its computation needs another interpretive agency to be fixed, and so on, in an infinite regress; hence, whatever fixes computation can't itself be computational.

And there's no need for souls, or anything like that; anything non-material or non-physical. Computation is really concerned with structural properties: we can simulate something because we can instantiate the right sort of structural relationships within a computer. But relations imply something to bear them, something that actually stands in these relations; but that doesn't carry over to the simulation. After all, that's what makes simulations so useful: if they replicated every property of the thing simulated, they'd just be copies. A simulated tree and a tree aren't the same thing, and neither is a simulated mind and a mind.
What makes simulations so useful is that they can be created for free and it doesn't matter how many times they crash/fail/explode as a result. Also being digital means you don't have a giant pile of crashed/failed/exploded things left lying around that you have to dispose of.

Inaccuracy of behavior or fuctionality, on the other hand, is not a valued aspect of a simulation, and it's bizarre to hear somebody say otherwise.
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Old 05-16-2019, 04:19 PM
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What makes simulations so useful is that they can be created for free and it doesn't matter how many times they crash/fail/explode as a result. Also being digital means you don't have a giant pile of crashed/failed/exploded things left lying around that you have to dispose of.

Inaccuracy of behavior or fuctionality, on the other hand, is not a valued aspect of a simulation, and it's bizarre to hear somebody say otherwise.
As someone who has written a lot of simulations, the biggest benefit I've found is that you can monitor the internals without interfering with the run. That's not something you can do in real life. Running a test on a real IC is fast, but seeing inside is damn difficult. Not true in a simulated version.
The big win for a brain simulation based on simulated neurons would be looking to see what happens in different psychological states.
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Old 05-16-2019, 04:09 PM
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A simulated tree and a tree aren't the same thing, and neither is a simulated mind and a mind.
No. A mind is a program running on a biological computer, so a simulated mind running on a simulated biological computer is still a mind.
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Old 05-16-2019, 04:30 PM
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Well, I gave an argument demonstrating that computation is subjective, and hence, only fixed by interpreting a certain system as computing a certain function. If whatever does this interpreting is itself computational, then its computation needs another interpretive agency to be fixed, and so on, in an infinite regress; hence, whatever fixes computation can't itself be computational.

And there's no need for souls, or anything like that; anything non-material or non-physical. Computation is really concerned with structural properties: we can simulate something because we can instantiate the right sort of structural relationships within a computer. But relations imply something to bear them, something that actually stands in these relations; but that doesn't carry over to the simulation. After all, that's what makes simulations so useful: if they replicated every property of the thing simulated, they'd just be copies. A simulated tree and a tree aren't the same thing, and neither is a simulated mind and a mind.
I'm wondering if you're familiar with the computational theory of mind and the fact that it's currently considered to be a major foundation of modern cognitive science, although it has its detractors. If not, you might find the link interesting reading, or if you are, perhaps you can elaborate on your apparent view that it isn't possible.

Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding what you mean by "computational", but it's fairly well defined in theories of cognition. In the briefest possible nutshell, CTM proposes that many or most (though not necessarily all) of our cognitive processes are computational in the sense that they are syntactic operations on symbolic mental representations. As such, these processes would have the important property of multiple realizability -- the logical operations could be just as well realized on a digital computer.
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Old 05-16-2019, 09:57 PM
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I'm wondering if you're familiar with the computational theory of mind and the fact that it's currently considered to be a major foundation of modern cognitive science, although it has its detractors. If not, you might find the link interesting reading, or if you are, perhaps you can elaborate on your apparent view that it isn't possible.

Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding what you mean by "computational", but it's fairly well defined in theories of cognition. In the briefest possible nutshell, CTM proposes that many or most (though not necessarily all) of our cognitive processes are computational in the sense that they are syntactic operations on symbolic mental representations. As such, these processes would have the important property of multiple realizability -- the logical operations could be just as well realized on a digital computer.

If you read the CTM page you linked, you will see that the writer uses the term computation much more broadly than you do (e.g. "and neural network computation"). I don't think it helps the conversation to insist on a narrow definition tied to syntactic operations on symbolic representations. And as that page points out, the term symbol isn't even well defined.
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Old 05-16-2019, 10:31 PM
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I've thought about this particular sci-fi notion quite a bit, and I consider it utter bunkum. There are several interrelated reasons for this, but the all come out to one result. You may be able to create an AI, quite possibly even one that is programmed to believe it is/was a human. But that basically has a null value; it doesn't mean anything and what you have won't behave or react as that person would have.

A human being's conscious is embodied in the vibrant, if often frail, flesh. The human is all of that flesh, including the brain but not limited to it. Its nerves, muscles, stomach and so forth are all an integral part of the greater whole being. Sometimes, humans being humans, we sacrifices one part for the rest, but we are diminished thereby. But, ignoring that, I am deeply skeptical that the human brain can be simply replicated in an binary format. Hypothetically, an extremely powerful computational device could store all the data necessary for the human at a given point in time, though I find it questionable as to whether it could.

However, even giving all of that, you would not, in fact, have the person there. The machine, however good or accurate, is not the human being. Its existence would be completely separable from the actual human life. Whether it is a "good" or "bad" thing wouldn't be precisely relevant here; it just wouldn't be the same thing as the human being. It would be as if I had a real gold bar placed on a desk, and a perfect digital image of that gold bar in a computer running in Second Life or whatever. The image might be good, or it might be bad, or it might be indifferent. It is not, however, an actual gold bar. It isn't a gold bar even if someone in the game values it exactly as much as a real gold bar. The two things are qualitatively different.

Or, to put it in another way, I see no moral or philosophical difference between that and, say, Cloning. You could clone yourself, creating a genetically identical being. Then you could, say, employ a team of psychologists, acting coaches, and educators to try and give it identical mental characteristics to yourself. However, the clone isn't you; her or her life is qualitatively different. The clone isn't necessarily good or bad per se, but you're going to a lot of trouble to try and arbitrarily force it to be the same as you. But the real living creature is naturally something quite different, even though it might share the same code.
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Old 05-16-2019, 04:03 PM
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It eludes me why anybody would even want their minds to be "non-computational" - doesn't that just mean that it doesn't work in a rational or coherent manner? That it's totally random?
Huh? No, of course not. Causality is a perfectly distinct notion from computation, and what's not computable isn't therefore unreasonable. That'd be like saying that only what's written down has a logical structure, but not that which the written text describes. Indeed, computation merely replicates the logical structure of whatever it implements, so this is just kinda backwards.

Anyway, what I want or don't want really has no bearing on the issue of what I have grounds to believe is true.
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