Sunday, February 20, 2011


“If I am I because you are you, and if you are you because I am I, then I am not I, and you are not you.”  Hassidic Proverb

“There was a young man who said, ‘Though
It seems that I know that I know,
     What I would like to see
     Is the ‘I’ that knows ‘me’
When I know that I know that I know.”
Alan Watts

Your mindclone will want to be you because your mindclone will be you.  I know this is tough to swallow, so with a nod to former President Bill Clinton[i], let’s say it all comes down to how you define what makes ‘me’ me.  ;-)

Much of philosophy and psychology grapples with the meaning of me.  Yet there is little that is agreed upon.  To most people, ‘me’ is a first person pronoun for a consciousness.  There is also general agreement that no two consciousnesses are the same, so  ‘me’ is equivalent to personal uniqueness.  To such people, if they came upon someone exactly like themselves, they would have to conclude that ‘me’ was a two-body self – still unique, but spread across two bodies.  We never have that experience, so we feel strongly that me is a totally unique entity, both in consciousness and embodiment, and it is that very uniqueness, that makes ‘me’ me.

Unique-Entity Definition of Me

Now this unique-entity definition of me does not require that me’s uniqueness be static.  Everyone realizes we are constantly forgetting, and more-getting, thinking good thoughts on one day and bad thoughts on another.  Hence, me’s uniqueness really means a unique stream of connected conscious states.  I am ‘me’ because I have pretty much the same (but not exactly, as I know they are subtly changing) mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values as previously, or at least I remember once having them and evolving from them.  This is what is meant by “connected conscious states.”  I am me because, for starters, when I wake up each morning, I remember (ie, I know) where I am, who I am, when I am, what I should do, why I’m doing it, and how I got to these states of being.  It’s not like I need a user’s manual. 

Eyes open:  my bedroom.  Thoughts flowing:  get dressed, expected at work.  See bedmate:  my soulmate, I love her so much, slide over to kiss her good morningThinking is hazy.  Need coffee  Drinking coffee:  TGIF, gonna ride my bike farther tomorrow than last weekend, gotta run, first meeting in one hour
Each italicized phrase in the above example is connected to my memories.  That is what makes me ‘me.’  My soulmate doesn’t have or know about my first meeting in one hour.  If I say to her, “get up, you have a first meeting in one hour,” she’ll reply “not me.”  As I move through the day everything I know and do is connected to memories of things I knew and did.  I have new experiences and learn new things, there are surprises, but those new parts of me fit like jigsaw puzzle pieces into pre-existing parts of me.  There is nobody that continues just like me![ii]

Part of the unique-entity view of me is the perspective that ‘me’ is kind of a fiction.  In this philosophical-psychological theory, the concept of a ‘me’ is something the immense neural web in our brain naturally makes up (greatly assisted by language and social conditioning).   A constant ‘me’ is an effective organizational axis for a brain that receives blizzards of input.  A body that does what ‘me’ says will usually be a happier body.   ‘Me’ is not an organ in my brain.  It is simply a term for a neural pattern that associates its connected body, and its safety and even survival, with relatively consistent personal characteristics.   In the same way that the brain interprets the jerky images sent to it by the eye as a stable image, the brain interprets the jerky thoughts arising in it as a stable identity -- me.  Brains that did not do this did not pass on that survival-threatening dysfunction to many offspring.   Something in our genetic coding predisposes neural patterns to construct a ‘me.’  Perhaps it is related to our propensity for language.

If I remember making a mindclone, then I must conclude that mindclone is part of me, because it will have a connected stream of mental stuff just like me and unlike anyone else.  It is weird to have two me’s, but I have only myself to blame for that.  I can’t blame the mindclone for telling me what to do, since my own mind tells me what to do.  If I ignore the mindclone, it will keep banging away at me, like an ignored conscience.  “Hey original mind, don’t watch that horror movie, you won’t sleep good.  You insist, huh?  Well, fine, I’m not going to stream it.  You’ll be sorry!”  The mindclone is just as much a part of me as are the different parts of my brain (like the part that tells me to close my eyes during the scariest part of a film that another part told me to go see).  Perhaps I should have had the foresight to remember too many chefs spoil the broth!

The fact that one of ‘me’ saw the horror flick, and the other ‘me’ didn’t, does not make them less of one ‘me.’  That is because nobody thinks what makes ‘me’ ‘me’ to be an identity of mental state from time to time.  Biological minds constantly forget huge tracts of experience, only to later remember some, but it still feels like the same ‘me.’ 

What matters is as simple as this:  is the stream of self-experienced mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values (a) seemingly connected over time, and (b) largely differentiable from others?  If the answers are yes, then that stream is ‘me,’ even if present in more than one form – body and mindclone.  If the answer to (a) is no, then I don’t really know who I am; I’m amnesiac or some kind of a constructed hodge-podge of other people’s minds.  I’m not a ‘me,’ or perhaps I’m an evacuated ‘me’, because I don’t have a past.   The rare cases of people who unfortunately have virtually no memory[iii], but live in an eternal present, are in essence mini, mini, mini ‘me’s.  If the answer to (b) is no, then I’m not a ‘me,’ but a sort of commoditized person who lacks the idiosyncrasy to create a unique consciousness.  But if I’m only slightly differentiable from the mind of my mindclone, or from the mind of my biological original, then I am a ‘me’, and that ‘me’ exists across two substrates – body and mindclone.

Here’s a conversation with a skeptic to sharpen the distinctions being made about what makes a “me” me:

Master MeIf there is someone else, no matter how connected they are to my background and to my mind, they are someone else.  Therefore, they cannot be me!

Royal Me-nessYou are assuming your conclusion.  You are simply asserting as a matter of definition that someone else cannot be you.  It is like saying any guy wearing pink is gay, but we all know that is not always true.

Master Me:   But the word “me” means “not someone else”, so someone else cannot be me.  The color pink on a guy does not mean gay. 

Royal Me-ness:  Your definitional approach doesn’t help, because you have still not described what is “someone else” except by reference to “not me.”  The only way to make progress is to describe “me” functionally, in a way that can be measured without regard to semantic equivalents.

Master MeOK, how would we do that?  Isn’t it kind of too obvious to measure?

Royal Me-nessFunctionally, “me” is someone whose entire consciousness is a stream of continued and largely unique memories and behaviors.  If two or more beings share such a comprehensive stream of largely unique memories and behaviors, then functionally they are a “me” that extends across those beings.

Master MeAren’t you just doing what you accused me of?  Assuming your own conclusion?  In this case you are saying a “me” is a “stream of largely unique memories and behaviors” whereas I was saying a “me” is “not someone else.”

Royal Me-ness:  There is an important difference.  I’m setting out an empirical test for determining if a “me” exists:  examining whether two or more beings in fact share their stream of largely unique memories and behaviors.  You, on the other hand, were saying that no examination is necessary because, by definition, a different body or “else” is a different “me.”

Master Me:  Ah-hah.  Now I see your point.  To be scientific we should define “me” in terms of something that can be empirically assessed, such as with psychological tests.  Then, if two bodies score the same on that test, then they must be a common “me.”

Royal Me-nessPrecisely.  Furthermore, we can think of “me” not as an either-or state but as a variable, analogic state.  We can be more-or-less the same me without testing identically the same, because all of us have more of a fuzzy than a crystal clear identity.  After all, we each change from day-to-day.

Master Me:  You are so right.  I’m largely the same as I was last year, but definitely not exactly the same.

Royal Me-nessAnd it is because of that “largely the same” that we all think of you as the same Mr. Me.  If your mindclone came along and also had largely the same mind as you, we’d also think of him as part of Mr. Me.

Master MeWell, watch out, he’s likely to be a much better debater than I am!

Royal Me-nessI would look at it as the creation of a mindclone made you a much better debater, just as would better training, more education and lots of practice.  Your mindclone will be part of you!

Master Me:  Touche!

Just because today the only me’s we know are one-body, one-‘me’ me’s, does not mean it will always be that way.  Once the characteristics that makes a ‘me’ me become duplicable, as with mindclones, then the instantiation of a ‘me’ can be duplicated as well.

Unbounded Definitions of Me

The above definition of me is based upon our common sense concepts of ‘me.’  Even it yielded the odd result that, with mindclones, what makes ‘me’ ‘me’ will make ‘me’ twice.  Philosophers have developed counter-intuitive definitions of ‘me’ that, for all we know, may be closer to a strange truth.  There are many variants for these abstract personal identity concepts.  They all share the common feature of me-ness extending not only beyond one body, but also beyond the uniqueness of any one mind (or mindclone).  Let’s consider these other definitions of me, and examine what happens to mindclones if what makes ‘me’ ‘me’ includes a large element of ‘we.’

The 20th century philosopher Alan Watts synergized ancient and modern “holistic” or “universalist” thinking about personal identity in The Book on the Taboo About Knowing Who We Are.  Watts argues that individual, unique ‘me-ness’ is an illusion born of neural predispositions and social pressures to form an ego.[iv]  In reality, he insists, we are just transient facets of an environmental process of change.[v]   Watts and others of his school see our unique thoughts as nothing but one of countless fleeting expressions of a universal medium.  To them, each ‘me’ is like the momentary solution that pops out of a complex formula once you plug some numbers into enough of its variables.  The real ‘me’ is not the solution, but the complex formula and the process of selecting numbers to plug into variables:

“We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.  As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.’  Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”[vi]

In this universalist point of view all humans are made of atoms that came from starbursts across the galaxy.  Therefore, humans are part of the galaxy and the galaxy is the real me.  Taking it a step further, brains are made of galactic matter that thinks thoughts, and those thoughts must be of something within the galaxy.  Therefore, the real situation is that the galaxy is thinking thoughts of itself.  The ancient and modern Taoists summarized by Watts are basically saying reality is the universe playing with itself; thought and identity are universal mental masturbation.[vii]

Dan Kolak is a more recent and rigorous exponent of this perspective.  In his book, I Am You, he defines “Open Individualism” as recognizing that the borders between people (such as our skin or mental uniqueness) are not actually boundaries between people.[viii]  Kolak teaches that since boundaries (which make higher-level distinctions than borders) are transparent among people, all people are in fact one common ‘me.’[ix]   For example, a pebble that is half black and half white has a color border, but that border is not a boundary to its stoneness.  We think of it as one pebble, notwithstanding the fact that nature probably agglomerated it together from two different kinds of sand.  Similarly, Kolak would say that the uniqueness we think of as ‘me’ is but a border that is easily transcended by shared human consciousness.[x]  He would not believe consciousness is bounded by me-ness. 
Conceptualizations of Me-ness

Of course we have unique mannerisms, personalities, feelings, recollections, beliefs, attitudes and values.  These are real borders.  But we only have these attributes as a consequence of a common human consciousness based on common neural wiring and common social experiences.  Our uniqueness is not a boundary to our commonness.  Ergo, argues the Open Individualist, the ‘big Me’ (as in ‘we’) is the real ‘me’ and the ‘little me’ is but a mirage. 

Another version of what might be called the ‘we-ness of me’ comes from Doug Hofstadter.  In his book, I Am a Strange Loop, he observes that we each embed a bit of ourselves in everyone we interact with.  The closer we are to the person, the more of ourselves are embedded in their psyche.  At the extreme, you could think the thoughts, feel the feelings and talk the talk of someone you knew as well as yourself.  Would they be you?  It could get pretty blurry.  As noted earlier in this Question, a “me” is “largely differentiable” from all others.  As two people become less differentiable from each other, but largely differentiable from all others, they merge toward a two-bodied ‘me.’

We come into the world as a blank slate.  We develop a personality that is a composite of all the people with whom we have engaged.  It is somewhat like physically we are a mélange of our two parents’ genes, but psychically we are a mélange of many more people’s bemes.  No sooner does our personality begin to emerge than it begins to embed elements of itself in all the minds it reaches.  If Watts can be summarized as Universal Mental Masturbation, Hofstadter is more like The Endless Mental Orgy – everyone leaves more or less of themselves in many others, and are themselves shaped by many others.  Both agree that Me is a very We kind of thing, although Hofstadter is much closer to our familiar unique-identity concept of ‘me.’

A very cool thing for mindclones is that they have just as good a handle on being ‘me’ under the abstract, unbounded, universalist definitions as they do under the familiar unique-entity thinking.  If we are all part of some great cosmic me, then creating a clone of a part is no less of that great cosmic me than the original.  It will just be a modification of an indivisible aspect of an indefinite thing.  Under unbounded definitions of me, creating a mindclone is of little more significance than getting an education, traveling the world or taking up an unusual hobby.  A mind has been modified in each case.  In no event does it change the underlying collectivist nature of ‘me.’

The more people you feel are part of ‘me’ i.e., the larger is your meaning of ‘me’, then the more natural it will be to think of a mindclone as having the same identity as you.  Indeed, to feel more comfortable with mindclones under the Unique-Identity approach to ‘me’, simply think of you and your mindclone the way Universalists think of all human beings.  If you can see the unity of identity in you and your mindclone that the Universalists see in all consciousness, then the singular me-ness of a biological-mindclone composite will be quite clear.

To address the question at hand, what if my mindclone wants to be me?  The universalist replies, “wake up and smell the metaphysics!”  That “want” of the mindclone is of no significance to personal identity.  “Me-ness” is not closed under borders of skin or software.  The mindclone already is you, and together the two of you are an indivisible element of all human consciousness.  The only boundary to me, or to you, in terms of personal identity, is the limit of global human (including beman) consciousness.

So, don’t get too worked up over whether your mindclone really is you, or whether it really wants to be you, or even whether you are you.  People far smarter than you or I have studied this matter for centuries and are quite foggy on the definition of what makes ‘me’ me.   If it’s blurry enough to include the whole human race, or even blurry enough to include all the people we know well, then surely it is blurry enough to include a man and his mindclone.

At minimum your mindclone and you will be just like yourself – always trying to figure out what to do.  Get up or stay in bed.  Study or play.  Watch this movie or that.  At most your mindclone and you will be part of a great we-ness that subsumes all me’s within it.  In any event, just tell yourselves, two minds are better than one.

The Your Life or Mine Challenge

At most presentations I give about mindclones, I can count on one of the following questions:

“Come on, if either me or my mindclone is forced to choose one of us to die, who do you think will get the slug to the head?   Proof that we are not one person is that I would fry my mindclone and my mindclone would fry me.”

A variant of this challenge is as follows:

“Suppose I have a mindclone, but I then find out that I have a fatal illness and will die.  You know that I’ll be very sad to leave this good green earth.  That sadness alone is proof that I’m not my mindclone and my mindclone’s not me.  If we were one person, then I wouldn’t be sad.”

These two challenges fail to realize that making a choice that favors part of you, or being sad about losing part of you, is a natural aspect of our composite me-ness.   Those choices or sadness are not proof of different identities.  Anything composite being will have different feelings about different parts. 

When a person loses their hearing, the sighted part of them is still sad about that.  It doesn’t mean that they were two different people.  The part of their mind that loves music will be very sad, while another part of their mind will think “thank Goodness at least I can still admire visual art.”   It is one person sorry to lose part of themselves but nevertheless soldiering on with life.  So it would be with a mindclone.  I’d be pissed to die – or for my mindclone to die.  But this doesn’t make me and my mindclone two people.  We are one composite ‘me’ who feels the pain of loss when it touches any aspect of us.

A forced decision, by definition, will have a winner and a loser.  It is not surprising that decisions will be biased in favor of greater happiness.  If a right-handed person has to choose an arm to cut off, ey’ll cut off the left arm, and vice versa for the left-handed person.  It is not that the person doesn’t want both hands, and isn’t naturally a two-handed person.  It is just that if forced to make a decision, a decision will be made in the direction of greater perceived happiness (or less regret).

As discussed earlier in this question, when we make a decision to create a mindclone we are expanding our mind in a very important way.  That mental expansion will come with its own biases, just as we develop mental biases from all manner of life experiences.  To pursue a mental bias is not to create a new personal identity.  It is simply doing what seems to part of an individual to be in its overall best interest.

There is a fuzziness to ourselves, and this fuzziness is amplified by mindcloning.  We are not exactly the same day to day, and each of us is often of several “minds.”    If we create a mindclone, we have in essence created a larger me.  It is therefore unavoidable that there will be more opportunities for conflicts and choices – more fuzziness to who is me.  But it is still ‘me.’  If we then alter our perspective and think like Hofstadter that there “are people in me”, and that there aspects of ‘me’ in the minds of our loved ones, we have clearly expanded both the size – and the fuzziness – of me once again.  Finally, if we adopt an Open Individualist point of view, such as espoused by Dan Kolak or the universalism of a Tom Watts, we have expanded the size – and the fuzziness – of me toward infinity.  Watts’ argues that the bodily parts of a person are not separate beings and:

“In precisely the same way, the individual is separate from his universal environment only in name.  When this is not recognized, you have been fooled by your name.  Confusing names with nature, you come to believe that having a separate name makes you a separate being.  That is – rather literally – to be spellbound.  Naturally, it isn’t the mere fact of being named that brings about the hoax of being a ‘real person’;  it is all that goes with it.  The child is tricked into the ego-feeling by the attitudes, words, and actions of the society which surrounds him – his parents, relatives, teachers, and, above all, his similarly hoodwinked peers.  Other people teach us who we are.”

Hence, a mindclone is only going to feel as separate an identity from its biological original as it is socialized.   A mindclone ‘gowith’ its biological original the way the crest of a wave ‘gowith’ its trough.[xi]

The answer to the “Your Life or Mine” challenge is that making a larger me, via mindcloning, implies different mental biases with respect to decisions, as well as both more possible sorrow over loss and more possible comfort over survival.  The software substrate of you will think, if there must be a choice, that you will be more happy as IT substrate than as flesh, and the flesh substrate of you will think the opposite.   This doesn’t make them different people.  They are both trying to make the best of the situation for YOU, taking into account their substrate biases.  But there is a continual stream of conscious states that transcends substrate.  That continual stream is YOU.   Each manifestation of YOU is trying to make the best decision for YOU.  Let’s give our conversational skeptic another visit:

Master Me:  “I get the point about one ‘me’ transcending two forms.  But the fact reminds that if the flesh ‘me’ is killed, then I will no longer have all these flesh sensations I appreciate.  The mindclone continuation of me will never reprise my flesh feelings.  That ‘me’ is gone.”

Royal Me-ness:  “Losing your flesh body would be a humongous tragedy, no doubt about it.  But suppose you lost just your legs.  Would you still be you?”

Master Me:  “Of course.”

Royal Me-ness:  “How about paralyzed from the neck down?  Still you?”

Master Me:  “Horrible, but yes, still some shrunken form of me.”

Royal Me-ness“Then you have agreed that if all that is left is your mind, you have suffered a terrible loss, but it is not the end of your ‘me-ness.’”

Master Me:  “Then at what point is my me-ness totally gone?

Royal Me-ness:  “It is partly a matter of fact, and partly a matter of philosophy.  Objectively, you me-ness is gone when observers could not find evidence that your unique pattern of thoughts and memories responded to events in the world.”

Master Me:  “Such as if both my mindclone and flesh body were gone?”

Royal Me-ness:  “Yes.  But it could still be hypothesized that your unique pattern of thoughts and memories were responding to events in the world as interlaced subroutines within the minds of other people who knew you.”

Master Me:  “Wow.  That would mean that I continued to live as kind of a fractured self embedded in others?”

Royal Me-ness:  “Exactly.  Advanced psycho-metric techniques might even be able to detect this, and extract it back into a mindclone.”

Master Me:  “Whoah, that’s wild!”

Royal Me-ness:  “And philosophically, if your unique pattern of thoughts and memories are simply expressions of a deeper, underlying humanity-wide mindspace, then nothing has really been lost at all.  You live on in the global mindspace, although you don’t feel like you any more.”

Master  Me:  “I rather like me, so I think I’ll stick with my mindclone.  At least I know that’s really me.”

Royal Me-ness:  “There you go.”

Any person is likely to feel a coin’s toss of indecision over life-changing events at some time or another in their life – generally more than once.   We often regret the decisions we make, and at different times of our life, we might readily have made a decision opposite of one made earlier.  Sometimes these different decisions could have been biased by which friends were persuading us at the time, or even just how healthy or ill we were feeling at the moment.  This doesn’t make us different people, like split personalities.  It simply means that even life-or-death decisions can be biased by composite parts of our psychological whole.

And so it is with Your Life or Mine.  Perhaps the mindclone will choose life over the biological original.  Or perhaps not.  The decision will turn upon a complex array of decisional factors, unique to each circumstance.  However the decision turns out, it doesn’t prove different identity.  It just shows how one part of a composite self feels about total self-actualization at a particular moment in time.

[i] Noah, T., “Bill Clinton and the Meaning of ‘Is’”, Slate, September 13, 1998,
[ii] “’Your brain damage complications were terrible, and it took a lot more to get you back than Sam and I.  I can’t tell you how lonely I’ve been, but all these things of ours have kept me company.’  The lofty home was filled with possessions Judy had stored for them.  Handling them helped Arnold grasp that his past life was real, not a dream to be tossed aside for new experiences, as if he’d suddenly sprung to life with no former existence.”  Chamberlain, F. & L., eds., LifeQuest:  Stories About Cryonics, Uploading and other Transhuman Adventures, Scottsdale: Create Space, 2009 at p. 123
[iii] McGaugh, J., The Case of H.M.
[iv] Watts, A., The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, New York: Vintage Books, 1966, 1989.  Watts notes that “the individual is separate from his universal environment only in name.  When this is not recognized, you have been fooled by your name.  Confusing names with nature, you come to believe that having a separate name makes you s separate being.  This is – rather literally – to be spellbound.  Naturally, it isn’t the mere fact of being named that brings about the hoax of being a ‘real person’: it is all that goes with it.  The child is tricked into the ego-feeling by the attitudes, words, and actions of the society which surrounds him – his parents, relatives, teachers, and, above all, his similarly hoodwinked peers.  Other people teach us who we are.”  Ibid at pp. 69-70.
[v] “[E]very organism is a process:  thus the organism is not other than its actions.  To put it clumsily:  it is what it does. … The only real ‘you’ is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being.  For ‘you’ is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new.  What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean.”  Ibid at pp. 97, 130-131.
[vi] Ibid at p. 9.
[vii] In a similar vein, see Peter White, The Ecology of Being, New York, All-in-All Books, 2006, p. 190 (“To be self-aware is to know intuitively that one is of everything and everything is of one.”)
[viii] Kolak, D. I Am You:  The Metaphysical Foundations for Global Ethics, Dordrecht, The Netherlands:  Springer, 2004, p. 26.   (“That I am is a fact; who I am is an interpretation.  We might even say, personal identity is where epistemology and ontology meet, within us.”)  Ibid at p. 5.
[ix] Ibid at p. 38.
[x] Ibid at p. 94.
[xi] Note 88, supra at 90.