Skeptics Guide to the Universe Forums

General Discussions => Religion / Philosophy Talk => Topic started by: Igor SMC on August 31, 2019, 07:40:12 AM

Title: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: Igor SMC on August 31, 2019, 07:40:12 AM
Ok, I know the title of this topic sounds horrible, but since it has a limit of characters, I couldn't write everything... so here it is, properly formulated: "Could a temporary suspension of brain activity equate the Teleportation 'continuity of the self' problem"?

Science proved that the "self" is an illusion, since it is the emergence property of many different modules from the brain working together. Each module can be deactivated and messed up in a way to change our "self", therefore, there isn't a center to our experiences. There are many, many neurological experiments that prove that explicitly. What I mean by "continuity of the self" is the philosophical question that tries to frame our sense of "I".

This is one version of the continuity problem:

Quote
In Divided Minds and the Nature of Persons (1987), Parfit asks the reader to imagine entering a "teletransporter", a machine that puts you to sleep, records your molecular composition, breaking you down into atoms, and relaying it to Mars at the speed of light. On Mars, another machine re-creates you (from local stores of carbon, hydrogen, and so on), each atom in exactly the same relative position. Parfit poses the question of whether or not the teletransporter is a method of travel. Is the person on Mars the same person as the person who entered the teletransporter on Earth? Certainly, when waking up on Mars, you would feel like being you, you would remember entering the teletransporter in order to travel to Mars, you would even feel the cut on your upper lip from shaving this morning.

Then the teleporter is upgraded. The teletransporter on Earth is modified to not destroy the person who enters it, but instead it can simply make infinite replicas, all of whom would claim to remember entering the teletransporter on Earth in the first place.

Using thought experiments such as these, Parfit argues that any criteria we attempt to use to determine sameness of person will be lacking, because there is no further fact. What matters, to Parfit, is simply "Relation R", psychological connectedness, including memory, personality, and so on.

This thought experiment requires a teleportation device... which is impossible. But I think that maybe that same problem could be framed within a more realistic scenario...

First, I would like to point a scientific fact that even the vast majority of skeptics and science enthusiast get wrong. We are not our brains. At this point, probably you are thinking that I am going to say something about the soul or any other religious BS. I can guarantee you that is not going to happen not even by a bit. I'm just saying this to point out the confusion that many people make. WE ARE NOT OUR BRAINS. We are the ACTIVITY of our brains. There is a very important distinction here.

To confuse our brains with our sense of "Self" is literally the same as confusing the CPU of your computer with any software is running. Softwares are 100% caused by the physical properties of the hardware. We know that even if a person cant explain a certain software in all the detail, that person can be sure that there is no need to summon any supernatural explanation for its functionality. If someone plays the guitar, the music we hear can be 100% explained by physical properties of the instrument... yet, the music and the guitar are completely different things. I could keep adding examples, but I'm sure everyone already got the point: The activity is 100% caused and explained by the physical properties of the object generating it, yet, they are different things.

I dont know if that is physiologically possible (For the brain to stop ALL its activity for a short period of time without killing the person), but since it is an thought experiment, let's assume it is. Just remembering that by the "activity being stopped" I mean just synapses and "processing" phenomena, not including the irrigation of the brain with blood. etc...

So, what do you guys think?

1) Would this scenario be philosophically equivalent to the Mars Teleportation problem?
and
2) When the brain is "restarted" after the brief suspension, would you consider the "New Self" a different entity from the previous one?
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: stands2reason on August 31, 2019, 08:40:16 AM
It has nothing to do with continuous brain activity when being teleported. It is continuitity in the state of matter itself, i.e. an independent instance of someone's brain produces an independent instance of consciousness.
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: daniel1948 on August 31, 2019, 10:20:24 AM
Could a temporary suspension of brain activity equate the Teleportation 'continuity of the self' problem?

No.

Because once brain activity ceases completely, you are dead and cannot be revived, any more than you could be teleported.

Science proved that the "self" is an illusion

This is not true. The idea that "self" is an illusion is one plausible way to think about the evidence, but it is not "proven" by any means. We know far too little about consciousness to be able to make such a categorical statement. We know (or at least it's very reasonable to believe) that consciousness arises as an emergent phenomenon. But we don't know what consciousness actually is.

The only similarity between a "transporter" and revival of a person after brain activity has ceased, is that both are impossible. BTW, quantum uncertainty means that you can never recreate a person (or anything else) exactly, because it's impossible to know the exact state of every particle.
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: brilligtove on August 31, 2019, 11:12:10 AM
BTW, quantum uncertainty means that you can never recreate a person (or anything else) exactly, because it's impossible to know the exact state of every particle.

I think knowing/measuring the state of a quantum system is somewhat separate from being able to replicate that system. That would allow for recreation without having to know the details.
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: The Latinist on August 31, 2019, 11:37:46 AM
What exactly is supposed to be the implication of consciousness being discontinuous?
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: brilligtove on August 31, 2019, 12:59:35 PM
My experience of consciousness is discontinuous. whether it is a matter of an innate process like sleeping or forgetting, or an external one like anaesthetic or drink, the continuous narrative that I experience is really a cobbled together patchwork. To me, discontinuity is the natural state for our consciousness. The isolated bits are stitched together by a separate "coherent narrative showrunner" process.

What exactly is supposed to be the implication of consciousness being discontinuous?

I think the reverse question is also important: what are the implications of a truly continuous consciousness?
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: The Latinist on August 31, 2019, 02:36:34 PM
Well, that’s pretty much my point.  The OP seems to think it’s terribly significant that consciousness might not be continuous; but I’ve never had the understanding that it *was* continuous, so I don’t find the “problem” problematic...
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: Igor SMC on September 03, 2019, 04:28:06 PM
It has nothing to do with continuous brain activity when being teleported. It is continuitity in the state of matter itself, i.e. an independent instance of someone's brain produces an independent instance of consciousness.

Indeed, that is a significant difference between the teleportation problem and the one I presented... But the main point still remains. If an atomic-precision replica would give rise to a new Self in Mars... How would that be different from one brain that had stopped completely for a very short time, give rise to a "New Self" after it is turned on again?

Because once brain activity ceases completely, you are dead and cannot be revived, any more than you could be teleported.

This is not true. The idea that "self" is an illusion is one plausible way to think about the evidence, but it is not "proven" by any means. We know far too little about consciousness to be able to make such a categorical statement. We know (or at least it's very reasonable to believe) that consciousness arises as an emergent phenomenon. But we don't know what consciousness actually is.

The only similarity between a "transporter" and revival of a person after brain activity has ceased, is that both are impossible. BTW, quantum uncertainty means that you can never recreate a person (or anything else) exactly, because it's impossible to know the exact state of every particle.

About the ceasing of brain activity resulting in death: This is not true. We know from cell studies and experiments that you can stop all the synapses from a single cell for brief moment, and that cell will not die because of it. Cells die for lack of blood irrigation or lack of excreting metabolic byproducts. And here lies another nuance of the difference between the Self, and the Brain. If we stopped 100% of brain activity long enough just to create a discontinuity gap (let say, 5 seconds would be enough), YOU the Self would be completely absent from this world... but the brain cells would still be here, receiving blood and healthy.

About the self being an illusion: Yes, it was scientifically proven. Science cannot tell us everything about the brain yet, but at least this we know. There is no Self. There is no "center" to our experiences. The illusion of the self regards the "Unity of the Self", it is not about how all the underlying mechanisms work or integrate. Imagine that you are talking to someone on Facebook, and that person is extremely smart... knows almost everything about subjects A, B, C... etc. One day, you discover that that account is not run by a single person, but instead, a team of several specialists on each area. Here, you can tell that you discovered that the "Self" of this account was an illusion, even if you still have no clue about how all the other parts of the group function.

What exactly is supposed to be the implication of consciousness being discontinuous?

The discontinuity would allow us to say with 100% certainty that the brain "booted" a new "instance of the self". Equal to the previous one... but a new, separate instance nonetheless.

My experience of consciousness is discontinuous. whether it is a matter of an innate process like sleeping or forgetting, or an external one like anaesthetic or drink, the continuous narrative that I experience is really a cobbled together patchwork. To me, discontinuity is the natural state for our consciousness. The isolated bits are stitched together by a separate "coherent narrative showrunner" process.

I think the reverse question is also important: what are the implications of a truly continuous consciousness?

Well, that’s pretty much my point.  The OP seems to think it’s terribly significant that consciousness might not be continuous; but I’ve never had the understanding that it *was* continuous, so I don’t find the “problem” problematic...

MRI scans prove that when we sleep, forget, are under anesthesia or drunk, even in a coma... Brain activity persists. The continuity is never broken.

About the implications of a truly continuous consciousness: Think about the evolution of species. We have a continuum, so we can never point to a specif point and say with all certainty "on this very moment, a new species arose, distinct from the previous one". The same goes for the Self. If we have a continuum, we don't have a sharp point of separation. If the brain completely stops for 5 seconds, we would be able to say that the matter created a new Self, a different instance of the previous one.
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: The Latinist on September 03, 2019, 04:40:24 PM
Yeah, I disagree that that has any implications whatsoever.
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: brilligtove on September 03, 2019, 06:10:50 PM
MRI scans prove that when we sleep, forget, are under anesthesia or drunk, even in a coma... Brain activity persists. The continuity is never broken.

About the implications of a truly continuous consciousness: Think about the evolution of species. We have a continuum, so we can never point to a specif point and say with all certainty "on this very moment, a new species arose, distinct from the previous one". The same goes for the Self. If we have a continuum, we don't have a sharp point of separation. If the brain completely stops for 5 seconds, we would be able to say that the matter created a new Self, a different instance of the previous one.

Brain activity ≠ consciousness.

There is ample evidence that consciousness is not continuous. We even have a special word for that state.

As for continuity of existence overall - I find the driftwood boat problem interesting as an example of how asking the wrong question inappropriately restricts the solution space. Your body is a thing, but it is also dynamic processes.
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: daniel1948 on September 03, 2019, 11:01:41 PM
About the ceasing of brain activity resulting in death: This is not true.

Nobody has ever been revived or come back to life after complete cessation of brain wave activity. Period. When your brain activity stops, you are dead. The individual cells in your body will take longer to die, and be kept alive for a long time. But you will never wake up again.

About the self being an illusion: Yes, it was scientifically proven.

Any time someone says that X was "scientifically proven" it means they don't know what they are talking about. We don't even know what the "self" is, so it's preposterous to assert that it's been "scientifically proven to be an illusion." You can certainly make a good argument that it is an illusion, but that is just one philosophical position. And it's philosophical because it's not even a question that's amenable to scientific study.
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: Igor SMC on September 04, 2019, 02:35:16 PM
Quote
@brilligtove
"activity ≠ consciousness"

Sorry, my mistake. I confused the words. Consciousness is one thing, the "Self" is another. The Self is an Illusion, consciousness is not.

Quote
@daniel1948
Nobody has ever been revived or come back to life after complete cessation of brain wave activity. Period.

Well, that is true. In this thought experiment, I'm using "cessation of brain activity" in a way that it is not seen in real life. I'm talking about just 1 single second without synapses. We can say for sure that does not kill the cell, because in a lab scientists can actually do that. They inhibit the signal processing of a cell with neuro inhibitors, and restore it later. The cell doesn't die.

Quote
Any time someone says that X was "scientifically proven" it means they don't know what they are talking about. We don't even know what the "self" is, so it's preposterous to assert that it's been "scientifically proven to be an illusion." You can certainly make a good argument that it is an illusion, but that is just one philosophical position. And it's philosophical because it's not even a question that's amenable to scientific study.

When speaking about the mind, there are many different aspects of subjectivity. Thinking, remembering, perceiving, being conscious, etc. These are all separate subjects. When people refer to the "Self", it means a center to our experiences. A monolithic, indivisible thing. This concept was scientifically proved wrong in the experiments published on Roger Sperry's paper, that would award him the on physiology and medicine Nobel Prize in 1981.

(https://www.nature.com/news/polopoly_fs/7.3303.1331639158!/image/Two-minds.jpg_gen/derivatives/fullsize/Two-minds.jpg)

The split brain: A tale of two halves
https://www.nature.com/news/the-split-brain-a-tale-of-two-halves-1.10213

The split brain surgery explicitly creates two "Selves" within one person. Each one has its own thinking. Each one has its separate memories, tools, etc. In this way, it was proven that the sense of a indivisible, central Self, is an illusion.
Title: Re: Could temporary loss of brain activity equate the Teleport Continuity Problem?
Post by: The Latinist on September 04, 2019, 03:34:10 PM
What do you mean by 'self' Igor?  You seem to believe the thing is dreadfully important, but I'll be damned if I can figure out what you mean by it...or whether I even think it exists.