ME (part two) Tony Kelly
Let's assert: "If two apparently different hypotheses give at all times identical results the two hypotheses are in fact one hypothesis." In Symbols of the Hag I suggested that the whole universe was created only five minutes ago complete with a built-in artificial memory of a pseudo-past. Well now, here's a similar riddle for Midsummer: How long have I been experiencing my life as Tony (Substitute your own name to understand my meaning)? Suppose I came to be associated with this body a few seconds ago, acquiring at the instant of association all this body's memories so that I have the illusion that I've occupied it all my life. A few seconds ago I might have been a grasshopper, appropriately stocked up with the grasshopper's memories and experience. I might have been a cow, a worm, a blade of grass, a wisp of smoke. The fact that I can remember events in my life from many years ago is not evidence that it was I who had those experiences; I've merely taken possession of the memory of them temporarily. So I might have been a beetle a few seconds ago, or a few milliseconds ago, or a few microseconds ago..... Who or what might I be in a microsecond's time? Whoever or whatever it is, it will seem as if I've always been this, just as now it seems as if I've always been 'Tony'. Nor will I have any complaint since when I'm a slug I'll be attuned to, and only to, being a slug. I prefer being human, of course, but the only reason I prefer being human is because I am human. I wonder how many different people wrote that sentence? Millions? Millions of millions? It seems to me as though I wrote it. But it couldn't have seemed otherwise, no matter who or how many wrote it. I don't know the answer to that riddle. I do know that the answer lies in rephrasing the question. Two concepts which are intrinsically indistinguishable are one and the same concept. I don't know how to make them identical. Do you?
Now to continue with something not quite so obscure..... I've said quite a lot about me previously, and there's a bit more about me in The Inn. I wish I could say something about you, but you're a much more difficult subject and there's little indeed I can say. But I won't be discussing the subject of them except insofar as it crops up inevitably in talking about you, about me and the about the related subject of pantheism. Let's begin by picking up the threads from the last four paragraphs of my previous article on this topic where we were thinking about robots and mind-changing drugs, and let's think about robots again. We made a robot which was itself capable of making more robots and, as we saw, random errors in the making, coupled with natural selection of the most improved models, led to an evolving robot society. This wasn't a teleological process; the end was not predetermined; indeed, for the most part neither was the means. The direction taken, the actual path of evolution, is not determined by the inventor. Whether the inventor created an especially intelligent robot initially or a relative idiot, the actual development thereafter rapidly becomes quite independent of the original models who are soon outmoded. Further, the robots themselves are not limited by the creator but soon evolve to surpass the creator in every way. So if we were to look on such a society of advanced robots and were to think that, to create such marvels the creator must be himself even more marvellous, we would be mistaken because the creator himself, compared with the evolved creations, was relatively stupid. The creation exceeds the creator. If we saw such a robot society, what could we infer with the regard to the creator? In fact, we couldn't infer anything at all.
Now instead of making robots out of metals and silicon powered by renewable chemical batteries, let's use different materials for our first robot. Let's use carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sodium, calcium, sulphur, phosphorus and so on; in other words, let's make an organic robot and in particular let's make a human being or a cat or something equally beautiful like a lizard or a butterfly. This might seem amazingly difficult, but in actual fact it's quite easy if we go about it in a leisurely way. Here's why. Looking at the examples we have before us of human beings, lacewings and beetles, ferns and toadstools, what can we infer about their creator? Nothing! The creator might have been quite unintelligent. More, he might have been without any intelligence at all for all the difference it would make. In fact, he's quite superfluous. The organic robots, once started, evolve of their own accord. But what of the start? Well, the easiest thing to put together would be the simplest kind of replicating molecule, and the easiest way to put together a replicating molecule is to keep throwing molecules together at random until one turned up that was replicating. And as soon as such a one appeared it would begin replicating, and away it goes. And after some hundreds of millions of years we arrive, en route, at robots like butterflies and humming birds and spider monkeys and other such people. Would they be aware or sentient or conscious? Whatever these words mean (and they may not mean anything at all in the third person) we didn't need to introduce them at any stage.
Now, not having introduced them at any stage in the forward march of time, it follows that, if we trace the story backward in time, then at no stage are we called upon to eject them. If meaning can be attached to the statement: "That creature is sentient," then meaning, and a very, very similar meaning can be attached to the statement: "That atom is sentient." Nor is this the limit; we can extend the statement to subatomic particles like protons, neutrons and electrons, and since these are interconvertible with electromagnetic radiation, we can say: "Radiation is sentient." If any of those statements is meaningless, they are all meaningless and there are no sentient beings other than myself; but if one is meaningful, all are meaningful. The mystery is in the meaning.
So let's think about a particular proton; in fact, lets think about me (Adjust the pronouns from your own seat!) As a proton I feel attractions towards other particles and I move towards them, and they towards me. Some of these particles appear in the guise of neutrons (which I myself can do when I'm in the mood). And now I've joined up with some of them and orgnised a group of us and we're now, say, an oxygen atom. As an oxygen atom I again experience attractions towards other atoms. I said "I" instead of "we" didn't I? Yes, I'm an oxygen atom now, so what happened to you? You, the various protons and neutrons, are a part of me and I now call the whole group "me" (though when I'm under stress there can still arise a feeling of 'us' or even 'you' about my various bits and pieces). Anyway, I've now become a more complex molecule, and joining together with more complex molecules I've at last become quite an organised thing, a cell of activity in fact. But still I grow and I become a multi-celled organism, and again I say "I" rather than "we". Even now, I call my arms and legs and various bits and pieces 'me' instead of 'us'. But it's a difference of expression rather than of meaning, isn't it?
Previously I said: "I feel a lot of me is associated with my head, and a bit of knowledge of anatomy would ascribe this to my brain rather than to the outer shell." Pat has pointed out that the implication of this observation is fallacious; the brain really is overrated. The feeling that most of me is is in my head is due entirely to the fact that so many sensory organs are collected here, namely, the senses of seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting, and particularly the first three of these. Even if I'm thinking of an abstract problem, the feeling that it's going on inside my head rather than inside some other part me is almost certainly due to the fact that, in thinking, I tense muscles in my head (probably for atavistic reasons concerning attack or defence). Really, I'm spread all over me, but appear to be most evident in the parts of me of which I make most use. The best way to be convinced of this, perhaps, is to lie down in a relaxed state with someone you like and let them move their hands and fingers over your body in a way that gives you pleasure. Soon (unless you're very neurotic and can't let go) feelings will arise which have no apparent location while other feelings arise which are located solely in the part of the body being stroked. In some ways, the brain serves a function similar to that served by a desk- or pocket-calculator, which I don't usually regard as being very much a part of me. Even who I am or how I feel is made up of what I've done, which in turn is determined by my companions and surroundings, now and in the past, and by social habits and ideologies. Just how subtle are the things that control us can be realised, perhaps, at least by a bloke, the first time he walks naked in the wild. Almost immediately he realises that there are no pockets in a birthday suit and he appears to have a spare pair of hands!
Now compare the life-outlook or self-sentiment of a person brought up in a midle class area with that of someone brought up in one of the more violent slum districts, and again with someone brought up in the tropical rain forest. The three people grow up quite differently; they have vastly different outlooks and expectations, but most important of all, they have vastly different experiences of themselves. And these self-sentiments, so apparently fundamental to our experience, were planted on them almost arbitrarily. Interchange the three people at birth, and the result is that the person now growing up in, say, the middle class area is still the middle class person even though now in, say, the rain forest person's body. It's almost as if the person who is growing up is not an individual but is an artefact of the environment that created them. As a slime mould gathers itself together in its widely spread parts to raise up the pedestals of the fruiting bodies, so too this thing we'll call 'surroundings' gathers itself up and gives birth to its young through the womb of a woman, or a bat, or a slow worm or a fox, as the case may be.
When I was an amoeba and I divided into two, why was I only one of the two halves, what determined which half, and who was the other half? Let's consider an almost identical question in human terms. In an article in The Sunday Times of 25 May 1980 concerning identical (monozygotic) twins who, through some extraneous cause had been brought up almost from birth in separate and widely separated households with no contact with each other, it was observed how very similar they still were, even to choosing the same names (both first and middle names) for their children and even falling down the stairs at the same age and sustaining the same injury (Many examples were given). It's almost as if they and the events they encountered were two examples of the same individual living with the same events. Let's suppose I'm a single cell in a woman's womb. Normally I'll divide into two cells, each of which will also divide into two, making four, and so on, and eventually I'll be born as a single baby. Now let's suppose that when the first division happened, the two cells separated instead of remaining linked. In this case, each cell again divides into two as before, but now there are two babies forming. When the first cell divided and the two cells separated, which one of the two was I? Who was the other? Why wasn't I both?
And in a wider context, why am I a human being and not a bird or a gate post or a breath of the south-west wind? And what is another question: why am I not all of these? I don't know the answer to the first question, though I have made some progress in understanding the question. I do know the answer to the second, but now is not the time to disclose it; that would be to give you no time in which to work it out for yourself . . . . . . . . . . . . .