Re: Objective Anticipation

From: Stathis Papaioannou (
Date: Tue Mar 18 2008 - 05:09:04 MDT

On 18/03/2008, Lee Corbin <> wrote:
> Jeff and Stathis are reaching agreement that there is no such
> thing as a "self".
> Allow me to differ, albeit rather sarcastically.
> Please forgive the tone of my reply, but this is how I wish to proceed.

I can't speak for Jeff, but the parodic Stathis fails to even slightly
offend the real Stathis, making no statements that are inconsistent
with either logic or the empirical data. Just a few comments:

> Jeff: You know, most astronomers really don't understand that
> there is no clear difference between "star" and "its environment"
> .... or said another way, that there even *is* such a thing as
> a star.
> Stathis: Yes, it's actually patently false if you are looking for "objective
> truth". The definition of star, and the phony distinction between
> the star and its environment is a side-effect of our visual system
> and its lack of adequate discriminatory abilities.
> Jeff: I know exactly what you mean! In a more accurate approximation
> to reality, we really have nothing more than "atoms" and sub-atomic
> particles, and it really boils down to fundamental quarks, gluons,
> and the whole zoo according to the Standard Model, our fabulously
> successful theory of matter and energy.
> Stathis: Yes, exactly. We see that there is no clear boundary between
> star and non-star. It's a continuous rise and lowering of the
> density of quarks, gluons, and the rest, as you go from the
> center where there is the highest concentration (usually
> called the "center of the star") out towards the layers of
> lower density, there is no abrupt ending or boundary anywhere.
> When the solar wind, for example, is included, one can only
> say even roughly that a so-called star extends a light year
> or more in diameter.
> Jeff: Precisely. It's just an illusion, although it does sort of sound
> a bit weird or zen-ish to say that there are no such things as
> stars, but the whole concept ultimately has to turn out to be
> false.
> Stathis: It's even clearer that there is no such thing as a star if we
> examine the question from yet another direction. If you
> consider the entire possibility space that this clumping
> of subatomic particles has, there is no reason at all to
> consider that it's even the same clump from moment to
> moment! The entire collection of subatomic particles,
> extending maybe 30,000 AU in each direction from
> the "point" of maximum concentration --- ha! as if there
> *were* such a point <visibly exasperated at the fallacies
> of those who speak of a star's "center"> --- isn't at all
> the same from instant to instant. The trajectory in phase
> space is in constant motion at all times.

It's not a fallacy to speak of a star's centre, as long as the term
has some definition that we can all agree on. What is wrong is to
ascribe special significance to the centre, as if this had some basis
in physics rather than being a cultural peculiarity. An alien
civilisation might reference everything to the points where the star's
axis of rotation cuts a surface where the density is exactly one
seventh that of water at 56.356 degrees Celcius. They understand what
you mean by "centre" but are mystified as to why you find it special.
Are you going to tell them that they're idiots?

> Of course [continues my parody of Stathis], we understand
> how people and astronomers came to this faulty conclusion;
> it's just that having that sort of mindset was conducive to
> the survival of the "star-meme", a reification that enables
> it to spread easily from "mind" to "mind", and helps
> astronomers gain more information about what's out there.

Not exactly. We know that humans have come to "naturally" delineate a
star from the surrounding space and matter because of the way their
minds and sense organs have evolved to detect electromagnetic
radiation, for example. Aliens might consider the whole galaxy as
close to a homogeneous whole, with variations in temperature and
clumpiness only of interest to a scientist or a pedant. How would you
explain to these aliens that they've got it wrong? Where is their
empirical or logical error.

> Returning to the actual Stathis, who, after all, as I quoted above
> really did write
> > If you consider the entire possibility space of intelligent organisms,
> > there is no reason to consider that you are the same entity from
> > moment to moment or distinguish between self and other at all;
> well, one wonders based on this if he's some sort of nominalist (as opposed
> to realists who---most of us---do reify rather often).

By the definition in the Wikipedia article
(, I'm a nominalist rather
than a realist. However, I am a mathematical Platonist.

> Stathis---the real one, again---agrees:
> > Strictly speaking, yes; why should I care about some guy that wakes up
> > in my bed tomorrow morning and thinks he's me? Why should I care about
> > him even if he *does* have a lot in common with me and will tend to
> > further my projects? Since I know I won't be around anyway, making
> > plans beyond the next second is just evolution's ploy to help propagate
> > a certain set of genes.
> Well, as soon as you are uploaded, you can take care of that, Stathis!
> You can reprogram yourself so that you won't make plans for the
> future, so long, say, as you can contribute money or something to
> see to it that your projects continue to be worked on. Oh, you don't
> "want" to? (Actually, I wonder "who" this "you" is who's saying this
> right now.) But please see below.
> > In fact, so is having any sort of goal or feeling. But the point is,
> > understanding all this does not make me want to reprogram my
> > brain so that I am free of it... since that too would be contrary
> > to my programming. I'm a kind of willing slave.
> Don't give up so easily! You can free yourself from your slavery!
> Just give the AI who awakens you from cryonic suspension,
> or who oversees your uploading, explicit instructions to make
> those changes that you won't have the will power to do yourself.
> Do you want to be a "willing slave" forever? Besides, there must
> be other words for slaves who want to remain slaves.

 I don't want to die, and because I don't want to die, I don't want to
do anything that will make me suicidal, such as modifying my own mind
or allowing someone else to do it. I know beyond any doubt that this
desire to live (which incorporates beliefs about personal identity and
what counts as survival) is just something that evolution has
programmed into me, and that there is no objective basis to it. If a
person claims that 2+2=5 he is wrong, and if a person claims that lead
is denser than gold he is wrong; but if a person declares that he no
longer wishes to live he is *not* wrong, but simply stating a
predilection which happens to be contrary to the usual evolutionary
programming. But understanding all this as I do, I *still* would
resist anything that would make me suicidal. Moreover, I don't in the
slightest regret the fact that I am trapped in this way. This is what
I mean by "willing slave".

Stathis Papaioannou

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