Sunday, October 30, 2011

Immortality and the Multiverse

Have you seen Roger, G3XBM's new blog, Miscellaneous Musings?

I especially liked his recent post on the simple pleasures. I'd say he's spot-on. 

I wanted to comment on his topic, "Death in a Multiverse," only, it overcame the space provided. I'll just post it here on my blog.

I enjoyed reading your comments, Roger.

Suppose it were factually true that a nearly identical replica of you will continue to live somewhere in the Multiverse following your death here. Would having a nearly identical replica of you carry on somewhere "out there" effectively extend your conscious life?

Fortunately, there is no need to wait for our death in order to test this idea. The test consists of one straight-forward question, namely; Have you lost consciousness at any time since you were born? This test can be administered at any time and the results stand for all time.

The very notion of immortality stands critically on the precept that our consciousness is independent of a functioning brain or body. Thus, the test for absent consciousness is valid regardless of the present state of our brain or body. Plainly speaking; we need not wait until we die in order to test for the continuation of our consciousness. Again, this is so because immortal consciousness is not contingent upon a functioning brain, or the lack thereof.        

I've taken the test and the results are unambiguous. In fact, I have lost consciousness several times in the course of my life. In each case my experience abruptly halted, only to restart at a later time. While my consciousness was "off-line" I had no dreams, nor could I reflect upon the fact that I was unconscious. Upon waking I noticed the world had apparently gone about its business while I was entirely absent from it. No "hot standby" rushed in to pick up my loss of consciousness. No secondary "light" was illuminated. Until my brain had "re-booted" there was for me only time-less nonexistence.

Indeed, those missing moments stand out no differently than the semi-eternity during which my consciousness was absent from the world prior to my birth. Of course, the fact that our consciousness suddenly arose with our physical birth should have been the first tip-off that our consciousness might not survive without our brain/body.

There is little that we can say about the world with metaphysically warranted certainty. However, it seems a fair bet that none of us will survive the death of our brain. Some of us won't survive until the death of our body (e.g. terminal coma, advanced Alzheimer's, etc.).

This isn't the last word on the subject. Granted, the person who presently peers at the world through my own eyes will eventually disappear. But new consciousness will continue to reappear (i.e., children will continue to be born). Of course they won't bear my personal identity, but they will be somebody.

Well, I wasn't born "me" either. I was born a "somebody" that eventually became a "someone;" the same as they will. They won't have my memories or share my person proclivities, but I wonder how much do those particulars actually matter? I admit it's a head-banging question, but if a child is born a nebulous "somebody," just as I once was, what is it that distinguishes one raw consciousness from another?

I believe the question has much to do with the notion of identity. I can imagine looking out through these same eyes even if my life had been radically different. If primal consciousness is fungible, then what stands between the individual consciousness within which each one of us awakened? If consciousness does not arise stamped with a "serial number," what could there be to distinguish one newly minted consciousness from another?

I don't see this as some backdoor path to personal immortality. Neither do I envision it as some type of reincarnation. Rather, I think that we ought to re-examine our concept of Self. And I think that we could do worse than to merge, or at least blur, our notion of individual self with that of our brethren; past, present and future. I suspect that I exist in this broader sense, and in some degree, in every conscious being.

If you have an interest in the subject of personal identity then you might be interested in Derek Parfit's masterpiece, Reasons and Persons. A sample of his arguments may be found here.


  1. That was an interesting read. I have a comment, not because I disagree but just as conversation. Actually, I mostly have not decided what I believe or rather, I believe that I do not know.
    Anyway, how do you know what happens to 'you' when you are unconscious? If you are not unconscious now then it is only a memory. Do you remember every moment when you were conscious? If not then that doesn't negate the fact that you were. Hypothetically (and I'm not really proposing this) let's say your 'consciousness'/'self' or whatever you want to call it goes to some magical land when your brain is 'unconscious'. What if your memory isn't part of that. Then when you wake up you would never know. Or... what if you do take your memories with you, you just don't bring new ones back. Still, you would never know. I'm not saying this happens, my point is that all one can say for certain is that they made no new memories outside the body that they can recall inside it.
    I don't want to believe that I will not exist one day. I know that wanting (or not wanting) something has absolutely nothing to do with making it true or false. Maybe it would be nice to just delude myself. I think many people do!

  2. What do I think? (not that anyone asked) It's been demonstrated that our personalities change with brain damage so it makes sense that our personalities reside in the brain. Our memories have been accessed just by stimulating the brain so obviously they are there too. The brain is made up of many (any word for many is an understatement) neurons. And the neurons are switches, not unlike a switching transistor but more complicated. A logic switch with many gates, operating off both chemical and electrical impulses. Is a piece of me in each of those switches/neurons? No. If you take one out (please don't) and place it in a petri dish it will live on it's own. You could even string some together and they would send impulses back and forth. That could hardly be called a thought though and it wouldn't be conscious. I don't think it would be me at all.
    So it's not the pieces, it's the whole. Really, with neurons it's the connections between them that define how they function. So 'The soul is in the software' as a cheesy 80s scifi movie that I can't remember the name of said. That get's a little close to home. I'm a computer programmer, I write software. I don't write anything as complicated as a human mind and nobody alive today has of course but this kind of implies that the concept is similar. So would a computer program of sufficient complexity be a person, the same as me? I can certainly imagine that one could be simulated. Behaviors are complex sets of rules, memories just stored information, emotions and feelings internal state variables. Would such a thing really be conscious of itself though, would it posess a 'self' as a whole being as I do? Or would it be just a bunch of switches firing in an elaborate pattern?
    I think that 'self' requires something more to explain. Maybe a machine can have it too, maybe it comes into existance anytime that program of sufficient complexity does. A baby grows in a mother's womb from simpler chemical compounds as would a self-aware computer in a factory. I don't presume to know what that something is or how we get it. I don't think that I can know. I think presuming to know is where most if not all religions come from. I suppose I cannot even prove that I have this thing, or that anyone else does either. I want to call 'knowing I exist' a feeling but it's not an emotion like happy or sad, nor a sensation like hot and cold. It's something else. I hate basing any belief on such a 'feeling'. It's entirely unprovable, unscientific. It's the one thing I have left that one might label as 'religious'.
    Anyway, as to existing after death. If we do have something beyond 'physical hardware and programming' then maybe it exists after the brain is gone. Maybe not. I have no idea, I just hope that it does.

  3. Thank you both for your well-considered comments. I should like to reply to each when I have some time to get my thoughts together.


  4. Hi Mike -

    On birth and consciousness, Wordsworth said, "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting
    The soul that rises with us, our life's star
    Hath elsewhere its setting, and cometh from afar
    Not in entire forgetfulness
    And not in utter nakedness
    But trailing clouds of glory do we come
    From God who is our home."

    Ken GI4FLG