Re: Identity and becoming a Great Old One

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Fri Jan 27 2006 - 10:32:13 MST

Philip Goetz wrote:
> I suspect that if you worked it out, you would come to the heat death
> of the universe before a human brain needed to repeat state. If not,
> add another hundred neurons.

Yes, I'm well aware of that.

If our current model of physics is correct, we must eventually somehow
jump to a universe with different laws of physics, or do something else
creative, or die. Current physical models should permit me to get all
the living done which my current brain is large enough to actually want,
so that problem I bequeath to my future self. It'll probably be quite
some time before I can realistically want something that would require
me to escape the heat death of the universe.

One suspects that laying down new memories, learning new skills, and
becoming a person who can exist coherently with so much knowledge and
capability, requires the brain to grow at a (hopefully sub-cubic) rate
which leads into Great Old One territory much faster than the
requirement of not repeating yourself. But the part about not repeating
yourself is easier to see mathematically.

The point is that if you genuinely want to escape death, you have to
become a Great Old One eventually. And if you *can't* escape death,
what is the point of *not* becoming a Great Old One? It would seem
obvious that *not* wanting to *eventually* become a Great Old One must
be based *strictly* on a form of *very long term* death-fear, rather
than desire for life, or fear of any localizable discontinuity.

If you want life, Great Old Ones Have More Fun (or what's the point of
being a Great Old One?) If you're afraid of dying in the short term,
you won't cease to be you next week. You will never, from your
perspective, cease to be you in the next week. The argument against
becoming a Great Old One is based on fear of *eventual* change, that if
you dare to learn a little tomorrow, then you'll learn even more the day
after that, and *eventually* your future self will be so different that
your self of 2006 will have ceased to exist. But your self of 2006
cannot live forever as a pre-Singularity human, whether because of the
heat death of the universe, or because there's a finite number of
available brain states of finite size. So if you never cease to exist
as yourself in the next week; and it's either physically or
mathematically impossible to continue forever as a pre-Singularity
human; and you have more fun if you're allowed to learn things; that
would seem to force you down the slippery slope that leads into Great

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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