Discussion Board

Topic: Continuity of Existence

From: Scott Maasen
Location: Springfield, MO
Date: 05/03/2009

First let me say I am in awe of Greg Bear for his work. I am a wireless communications technician working on finishing my degree in physics. I have two questions that I am interested in that I have spent a lot of time considering. One is the apparent substrate that the Universe seems to align with (how do particles Know they have rotational velocity for instance). The other problem relates to continuity of existence.

What part of you is not replaceable? If an advanced race of aliens were to sneak into your bedroom late at night while you were asleep and remove your leg and replace it with an exact replica would you cease to exist? The obvious answer seems to be no, that you would go on being you and not even notice the change as long as the new leg performed the same and looked the same. But what isn't replaceable? Is there a soul that resides in your organic container that clings to you? What if they changed all but your head? What if they changed half of your brain with a perfect replica?

I have three theories about continuity of existence. First we have a soul and the continuity exists there. This is problematic in that we can observe that the brain appears to process information in a way that indicates it is a biological computer.

Second theory is perhaps a bit scary. It is possible that continuity exists but that it can be broken without our realizing it. We could have a continuity that goes on until something disrupts it such as trauma or perhaps even sleep. A person that wakes up may have all the memories of the person from the day before, but that person may have ceased to exist.

The third possibility is that continuity is only an illusion. I think this is the most likely but it has implications. We think we are traveling through time and our existence continues without cessation, but in reality every second we cease to exist and a new existence with our memories takes its place unaware that there is no continuity.

This problem can be seen clearly perhaps in science fiction technology such as matter transporters that would break down people into information and then re-solidify them. Also when considering electronic intelligences that could be paused and restarted, or even have copies started up on simultaneous systems and each believe they are the true beings with continuity from their conceptions.

Trying to keep this short and just give an overview. Existence interests me as it should everyone since it is significant to the question of life and death. I question the statement *I think therefor I am*. Don't panic however because even if continuity is an illusion, it is a rather workable illusion that we've been living with all our lives.

Since I'm taking up time I'll throw in a third question to ponder. Time. Is time infinitely divisible or is there a unit of time that is quantitative? It would have to be really a small slice, but if the universe is an information computer, what is it's processing speed? The speed of light comes to mind obviously, but does that mean that a particle traveling through space jumps from point A to point B with no intermediate location? I think if we could determine if time had a limit as to how divisible it was it might give us clues about how it really does work.

I want to thank Greg Bear for his work in Science Fiction. It stirs the imagination and that is truly a gift to the rest of us.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Greg Bear
Date: 05/12/2009

All great and fundamental questions, Scott, for which your guesses are likely as good as mine. Brings into question the whole idea of uploading into virtual brains--would we be the same, or just pale copies? There is no adequate answer, I think--but I wonder what it would "feel" like... What silicon would "taste" like compared to flesh?

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 05/18/2009

Mmm, fundamental questions for minds of a certain status. At least at some point, one might still ask the questions but not really care what the answers are.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Greg Bear
Date: 05/22/2009

In the EON universe, partials report back to their primary and their experience is integrated, so there's no lapse of "continuity," what ever that means under these circumstances! The same philosophical problems apply, of course.

As for "space time granularity," this has been part of my thinking--and pretty standard physics--for many decades now. I first heard of the "Planck-Wheeler length" back in the early seventies--a fascinating concept. Wonder why the attribution has been reduced to simply "Planck length"?

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Greg Bear
Date: 05/22/2009

Until they come to upload you into the Kurzweil continuum... Can you still kick and scream, virtually?

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 05/26/2009

"Until they come to upload you into the Kurzweil continuum... Can you still kick and scream, virtually?"

I'm assuming you're responding to me, here. Well, that's what everyone ends up with - some kind of 'ultimatum' circumstance. Even Dan Simmons intones this. I refer, and perhaps somewhat defer, to Voltaire...

...on his deathbed in response to a priest asking that he renounce Satan: Now, now my good man, this is no time for making enemies.



By the way, the hologram thing goes back to the 60s. It's reached popcul in the 80s, and only pervasively in the mid-90s.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: m k o
Location: kl ont
Date: 05/28/2009

I've got a different take on continuity. I think you're always just busy being somebody. It's always "me", no matter who it is. Being alive is the only
game in town. You're just born, apparently out of nothing. The Brightness!
As for uploading minds; when I think about the fact that there's roughly 60 trillion cells in the body, each one capable of computation and awareness, summing up into networks of networks of networks...well I think like Greg said, that mind IS the illusion. It may be no more transferable than digestion. Maybe our sense of "self" and separation and willpower is simply what it feels like to have an active and alert immune system, sharp and on the hunt. We may be able to grow odd little thinkers eventually, but the idea of getting "me" into some home-made matrix might remain academic for a long time
to come. More fun to just make babies.
p.s. Greg! Ursa Major! Quantico + Mariposa = Queen of Angels? I'm giddy.
QL found a good path. Can't wait to follow.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Greg Bear
Date: 05/29/2009

Ah! So they throw us into a wood chipper and scan us as we fly past, then reassemble us in VR? sounds like a good possibility for a Coen Bros. sf film!

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Greg Bear
Date: 05/29/2009

In the 60s and 70s, VR was often expressed in terms of living in a networked dream world, for example, GRAY MATTERS by Hjortsborg or THE DREAM MILLENNIUM by James White.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Greg Bear
Date: 05/29/2009

Just putting the finishing touches on MARIPOSA now. November launch!

Re: Continuity of Existence MARIPOSA)

From: Andrew Carpenter
Location: Cauterets, France
Date: 06/02/2009

Cant wait!

Please let me know when I can pre order

Thanks

Andrew

Re: Continuity of Existence MARIPOSA)

From: Greg Bear
Date: 06/03/2009

Galleys will be out soon, so I assume pre-orders will be possible within a few weeks. There is no planned UK edition as yet.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Bill Goodwin
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Date: 06/05/2009

To Scott Maasen: Ask not for whom the Bell continues...how do YOU know the particles have angular momentum?

Continuity goes right to the heart of what we are. As living beings we work to maintain internal continuity against external chaos; as thinking ones our identity depends on memory--in which experience seems to transcend time and space, remaining continuously "here and now."

Meaning that reality seems to sit on a fence with regard to spacetime. Phenomena like quantum entanglement suggest that in some sense (that infinitly useful phrase!) the universe never truly gave up its original point-state. I suggest that this fence divides mind and body (subjective and objective) quite neatly. When we speak of continuity, after all, we're just lending-out the wholeness of that undivided state, which we experience inwardly as "self." We "understand" by bring things under that umbrella, turning disparate elements into "systems" (speaking of selfhood is akin to speaking of a collection of objects having a single center of mass).

The upshot: one needn't worry too much over whether one is the same person as yesterday, or would be the same person stepping out of a matter transmitter. "Me, Now" is the original singularity, accept no substitutes, and any sensation of identity is it's own justification. All secondary understandings (including that of physical, post-big-bang history) are backtracking.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Kevin N. Kaskey
Location: Norfolk, VA, USA
Date: 06/08/2009

Hmm...

Guys, I've been pondering continuity, soul, and our ultimate effects upon the whole of the universe (or creation) for a long, long, time. When I was younger I flew between Carlos Castaneda, the Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, the evidence of physical inquiry, and comparative religion with grave and earnest intent to feel out my way through "It All". More than the simple, philosophical inquiry of "do we exist" I've been pondering on degrees of "do we matter" in the grand scheme of things. What parts of us are physical processes with inevitable inputs and outputs, and what parts of us are magic, mojo, music and voodoo? Are there distinctions, and ultimately, do they matter?

Well... just after I had figured I had "grown up" past care either way -- just as I was certainly going to continue to be whatever it is that I am for the foreseeable future, things in the day-to-day physical realm became regrettably impossible to ignore, and I had to deal with some VERY harsh physical issues that put a whole new spin on this stuff for me, personally. Death loomed near (again) in a new, personally unexplored way.

Last year, around March, I suffered an almost catastrophic heart attack. I didn't even know I had had it, if you can imagine that. But a month or so later after I had been stabilized sufficiently, I then underwent open heart surgery to have a triple bypass (I'm just about to turn 41 in a week, so I'm so exactly an "old guy" or anything -- so this was totally out of the blue).

I was "taken offline" on a heart-lung machine to keep things sorta percolating for a total of 5 (five!) hours of unconsciousness the first time, then there was another related surgery that put me out of commission in a similar fashion for another 3 (three) hours. Total of "not here, exactly, but definitely elsewhere" time of 8 (eight) hours. I stubbornly/critterly "came back" each time; however, "who" and/or "how much" of me "came back" is in raging debate within me still.

I have to personally testify that "not as much of me came back as went into the situation", and it is very existentially odd, noticeable to me, and frustrating and peculiar all around. It has definitely made me wonder again repeatedly just how "survivable" and permanent our real core programming and relevant "stuff" really is.

Did I come back only a caretaker of the reduced memories that Kevin once had full and complete mastery over -- a well-meaning Golem built of the very fabric of our chemistry for the sake of temporal "completeness" or something equally as weird? Or am I simply the same guy, just injured in a way that now forces me to compensate and adapt in ways I had never imagined before? I certainly do not have the answers here. But I am definitely appreciating the questions again.

Mr. Bear (and Co.) I've found your insights very intriguing for many years -- both in and out of fiction. My personal feelings toward the subject of our consciousness' continuity have been tested and shaken recently -- perhaps for a good reason, perhaps not -- nevertheless the parts of me that are left more-or-less intact occasionally squirm in uncomfortable adaptation to whatever process began when "I left involuntarily and came back" due to medical intervention. I am certainly not the same creature I was only a year ago.

My personal feeling is that, "yes, something of us persists between states of existence, but the quality of continuity of experience is directly proportional to the quality and integrity of the fundamental 'operating hardware and software' that is available to 'run' the current state of the individual in question." My hardware and software have been subtly compromised, and yes, I can tell the difference -- if there were something better to "run me on", I'd jump at the opportunity to migrate (though not necessarily as an early adopter -- see Alastair Reynolds ;-)

Thanks for your time and place to ruminate over this stuff,

Kevin N. Kaskey

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Greg Bear
Date: 06/09/2009

Happens to all of us, to a greater or lesser extent! Discussing "waking up" with a friend who's a sleep therapist points to the extreme complexity of simply rebooting each morning, with attendant medical problems that for some folks occur... just after waking up.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 06/21/2009

........I just never was compelled to think along most of these lines. The only thing I've been concerned with is 'order'. Specifically, my own funxion - that is, how accurate, and insightful, is the model in my mind of the cosmos of the cosmos. (Get that?) Death, personal meaning, purpose....all that shit has no bearing or is simply irrelevant. It also has the advantage of the analogue of a bullshit detector: it keeps one from internal drama.

Tangentially, I'll share something recent I experienced and wrote about, for exactly circumstances such as this:

My aunt translated yesterday. She didn't go out kicking and screaming. She was ready. I was ready. I saw her last Friday, just before I went to my 20th (and first) high school reunion. She'd been in a sordid physical state for the last two years, and I wondered if things might...change...soon. And around that day or before, and through yesterday, I'd been feeling bright and illuminated. Clean. I feel even more so. And I feel ever...closer...with her. Incidentally, my serenity, as she mentioned to me last Friday, is one reason she and I were so close.

People express themselves out of emotion. However, the emotion, let alone the intent, behind their expression isn't necessarily what the audience might think. I expressed the above for two, related, reasons:

- to share my experience of the event, which is that she transcended this frame, and it's a wonderful feeling I have. She is more 'with me' than ever. (No, she was not a Jedi. Heheheheh.)

- and to perhaps, at least somewhat, relieve you of your fears of something that isn't. Death.


This was my first such experience, I think. Before it, I was similarly untroubled/unworried. I do have the advantage of interest in and care for my physical (and 'spiritual') health, so ain't likely ahm gonna have a heart attack or stroke. I recommend the same to others.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 06/21/2009

Whoops. After "simply irrelevant" it should say something like, 'the lack of these.....has the advantage....'. Proof reading in those little boxes, ehn.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Greg Bear
Date: 06/22/2009

A good passing. Thanks, patrick.

Re: Continuity of Existence

From: Greg Bear
Date: 08/18/2009

Very good!

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