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The Infinite Improbability of You (or Me)


(Stephen Oberauer) #1

I have an idea relating to consciousness, which I consider extremely important, and I haven’t heard this idea before. So I don’t know if it’s something that is covered quite extensively in philosophy that I haven’t read, or if it’s just something that hardly anyone has thought of, or if I’m simply wrong. Hopefully this forum contains the kind of deep thinking, open minded people who will be able to review my idea and give me rational feedback on mistakes in my thinking, or if what I’m writing actually does make sense…

If I were to guess, I’d say that most non-religious folk believe that one is born once, one dies, and then one ceases to be conscious ever again, in any form.

Mathematically, however, there are problems with this theory.

Before I assign numbers to variables, and create formulas, I have to first define an expression I’m going to use. The expression is unique experiencer, or unique point of experience, or if you prefer, perhaps, unique perspective of experience explains it better. Whatever it is, it’s me, or it’s you. It’s that thing that people who believe in re-incarnation believe will be re-incarnated, and that thing that people who believe in heaven and hell, believe will go there. I’m tempted to call it a soul, but that might have not have a very well defined meaning, and it’s not some kind of mystical spirit that could remember past lives. It’s also that single thing that is exactly the same in your future self, your present self, and your past self, regardless of whether you lose your memory, or have every atom in your body replaced, one at a time. It’s that thing that, in your or my case, there appears to be only one of in the entire universe.

Perhaps a quick example will help here, so imagine you only care about yourself. You know that your memory is about to be wiped and you’re going to be cloned. They’re going to create an exact duplicate of yourself, with exactly the same structure on the atomic level. So, who do you choose to own your money and possessions after the procedure? Typically people would choose the original person, because they believe they are a unique experiencer.

Following me so far?

Let me convert this theory into numbers and show you the problem:

Number of potential unique experiencers = ∞ (infinite)
Number of me (single unique experiencer) = 1

Ask yourself this question, “What is the probability, therefore, of me being born?”

The answer is 1/∞ (number of me / potential unique experiencers). I call this infinitely improbable.

In other words, before I was born, the chance I would be born, given a finite period of time was infinitely improbable.

Lets carry on the maths…

One could say that, given an infinite period of time, one could therefore be born, but it doesn’t work like that, because only 13.8 billion years have passed. I say only, because 13.8 billion / ∞ = almost nothing. In fact it doesn’t matter how many years have passed, because anything / ∞ = almost nothing.

So, the fact that the infinitely improbable event of my birth has occurred, means that it is infinitely unlikely that my premise is right.

The ∞ is wrong (there must be a finite number of potential unique experiencers).

So, how many potential unique experiencers are there then? The only logical number that I can think of is 1. If there were more, then there would have to be some kind of pool of unique experiencers that gets re-used. For example, if there were an arbitrary 1 million, then after the millionth life form is born, the first gets re-used. But what happens if there are 1,000,001 alive simultaneously? Is the newest unique experiencer two life forms?

The simplest answer is that we are all simply, a single, unique, experiencer. We are all me. In the same way that I am my future self and my past self, I am you, and I am the slugs in my garden.

A possible model for my theory is that we don’t simply exist as a single point in time (one dimension). We exist in at least two dimensions: time is one dimension and consciousness generators is another. By consciousness generators I mean things like brain cells or neurons. I’m not a neurologist, so I don’t know exactly what the second dimension is, but it makes sense to me that the smarter a life form is, or the bigger its brain, the more likely we are to be that life form at a given point in two dimensions, where one dimension is time.

Well, that’s my theory anyway. If you’re an open minded critical thinker and have any thoughts on this, please feel free to share them. I’m more interested in being less wrong, than being consistent with what I’ve written.

For more of my thoughts about this theory, check out my other blog post:

http://soberauer.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/questioning-life-after-death-using.html


#2

wouldn´t that be the case with so many other things? snow flakes or cristals for example? they are considered unique in their structure although made of the same substance. so for a single snow cristal it is also infinitely improbable, to emerge in that special shape it did occur, but that does not lead to the conclusion, that there has to be a limited pool of snow cristals and that they will be re-used. or did i miss your point?


(Stephen Oberauer) #3

It’s a bit of a tricky one to explain, because the maths only works from the point of view of the person who the maths is about. A snowflake cannot say “me” or “I”, but you can. What I look like, my structure, the number of arms or eyes or teeth that I have is irrelevant. The fact is that from my point of view I am alive. If there are infinite number of possible unique experiencers then the probability that I am currently alive is infinitely small. Let me put it another way: The possibility that I’m not alive is infinitely large, compared to the probability that I do exist, which is limited. It’s binary - either I’m alive, or I’m not… unlike the snowflake example, which can have an infinite configuration of shapes.


#4

ok. the structure is irrelevant but i chose this example to refer to the uniqueness you mentioned.

that is not, what i meant. imagine you draw a unique snowflake out of your phantasy. the probability that you will ever find the real version of it is also infinitely unlikely. but the situation would not change if you would have an AI or better: a god at your service who can check every snowflake ever fallen in the past and will be emerge in the future, whether yours is beyond them. or would it? if not, and the emergence of your snowflake is anyway infinitely improbable, wouldn´t that be the same with every single unique snowflake, no matter if it already occured in reality or not?

on the other hand if you say “i” you will have the problem not only to question your premise whether the idea of infinite numbers of unique experiencers is wrong and a finite number would be right, but to question it if any number more than one could be right. you will end up in solipsism and this idea could not be disproved.


(Michael Hrenka) #5

I think it’s really hard to define something like a “unique experiencer” clearly. If we abstract everything away from consciousness we are left with consciousness in itself. We have no basis to make distinction between different consciousnesses once we abstracted away all differences that make “experiencers of consciousness events” different. The end result is a singular universal consciousness. There was a guy (can’t remember his name :frowning: ) who unfortunately committed suicide a few years ago who had a similar theory about some singular “universal identity” (or some similar term). It seems like this idea is something that is rediscovered again and again.

Well, at this point, your further elaborations to some degree already become moot, because you don’t have to apply mathematics, but can realize on pure philosophical grounds that there can only be only really one “unique experiencer”.

I think patternists would be more likely to give their money to the clone, because after the memory wipe, the clone has a mental pattern that is much closer to your own current mental pattern than the person you will become after the brain wipe. With that reasoning, the true continuation of yourself is actually your clone, while your memory wiped self will be a bad copy of your current self.

What kind of question is that? If it’s an a priori question, then you are right with your answer that it’s astronomically unlikely that an individual will be born that is absolutely identical to you.

However, if it’s an a posteriori question, then you already know that you were born, so the answer is 100%. You know that you were born, so the probability of you being born is 100%!

I wonder why the apparent infinite a priori improbability of exactly you being born should prove anything at all. Your reasoning doesn’t sound strictly convincing to me.

Why would re-use of “unique experiencers” be an actual problem? If there is only one, then this single one gets reused arbitrarily many times without causing any serious problems!

Yes, but this does seem to follow less from your questionable mathematical argument, but more from thinking about consciousness as abstract entity itself.

Yes, that’s an interesting model. I kinda like it. :smiley: