Re: physics of uploading minds

From: Michael Wilson (
Date: Thu Oct 27 2005 - 21:36:40 MDT

Phillip Huggan wrote:
> The fundamental flaw appears to be in the belief that uploading (for
> immortality) only requires a copying level of resolution that is the
> smallest physical brain structure necessary to form one's mind. This
> would merely create another individual.

This view is personal philosophy, not science; you've started with the
(implicit) premise that 'people' are unique and consciousness must be
continuous somehow...

> The laws of physics that give rise to the fields neurons and
> microtubules operate under, would have to be reproduced as well for
> uploading to copy personal identity.

...and then looked for a way to justify that in terms of physics. Many
others, me included, take the view that consciousness need not be
continuous and when you copy someone, you create two beings that are
equally the 'original' person, and then proceed to diverge. People go
to silly lengths trying to prop up the 'single stream of consciousness'
view; 'it's not me unless the're a continuous stream of time-space
co-ordinates... it's not me unless quantum states of microfibres are
preserved... the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanisms is
impossible because the human soul is divisible...' but they are
essentially trying to find justification for an ungrounded human
intuition (and sometimes superstition) in physics, with all the usual
bad results of searching for justifications for a preexisting premise.

The real universe doesn't have indivisible souls, it has intelligent
systems which have differing degrees of similarity, and self-models
which include the simplifying assumption of continuous experience and
consciousness. When thinking about things like copying and uploading,
I'd say the important thing to think about is the frequency
distribution over experiences that you-like intelligences have; this
is the only view that survives a radically materialist perspective.
That isn't to say that various sorts of continuity aren't necessarily
important from a subjective point of view, though I don't think we
know enough to say which ones and how yet.

> I would take this further: uploading is too hard post-singularity;
> achieving it would require enacting new laws of physics.

You appear to be referring to absolutely perfect flash-uploading,
which is indeed impossible (as far as we know). Personally I suspect
there could be quite a lot of low-level imperfection in the process
with no noticable objective or subjective effect; the human brain is
accomadating in that respect. But if you /are/ worried about absolute
continuity, I suggest you forget 'scan-and-simulate' type uploading
and google 'Moravec transfer'; the first result that comes up is
actually a previous post to this mailing list (Eliezer summarised
it quite well in 'Staring into the Singularity', in 1996). I'm not
aware of any physical or (sensible) philosophical objections to this
process, which simply requires mature nanotechnology and brain science.

> Uploading = being god, and discussion of it doesn't belong
> alongside other mind/intelligence singularity hybrids.

I'm unclear where you get this from, unless you mean the supposed
need to create physically perfect copies. Being uploaded doesn't
automatically give you any exceptional powers, it merely introduces
the potential for them.

 * Michael Wilson

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