by Alexander Chislenko
I always wondered how far I can evolve without stopping being myself... It seems possible that the identity issue can be the ultimate limit to growth.
First of all, I think there is no such thing as an objective identity. So let us consider the pair of an object (whose identity we are discussing), and an observer/evaluator.
Let's throw some math at it: assume that our object is represented by a point O evolving along a path P in a phase space S. The Evaluator E is a function that projects S into an "identity space" I. Usually E assigns the same value to all points of a whole big area of S - a set of objects with "the same identity". So E[valuator] is essentially a map on a phase space.
Usually, at least when talking about conscious entities, we require that the objects with the same identity should not only be in the same domain, but lie on the same path. This is a simple axiom, we can accept it or not. It sounds somewhat artificial to me though. If one can evolve from O1 to O2 without losing my identity, why just not agree that O1=O2 as far as identity is concerned? Otherwise, we should consider 'virtual identities' which we can realize by actually going there.
OK, this is a foundation. No matter how small and shaky it looks, it can support the argument it was built for:
Growth vs. Identity Dilemma
I don't really care whether other Evaluators think about whether and when I am going to cross an identity border on my evolutionary path. Some of the Evaluators seem to be of interest though: those that are attached to the objects populating my current identity domain (i.e. those into which I can possibly evolve without losing my identity as I understand it in my current state). I would pay special attention to the part of this domain consisting of potentially reachable states. Now I want to choose my path through this thing. There's very little chance that I'll walk about it forever. (It is possible though that this border lies beyond my current concept horizon, which means that (subjectively and temporarily) I can enjoy the feeling of "eternal identity"). Sooner or later, though, my path will cross the border. We can call this point just a loss of identity, or a personal singularity, or death.
Do I want to go to this point? It depends of whether I like my domain. If I do not, I might. Here we could also note that death in this sense does not necessarily mean desintegration, it may well be expansion beyond recognition, which, without much logical reason, I perceive as a more appealing choice. In fact, though, they are not that easy to distinguish, since all my evaluation criteria fade near that border. Now I move along my path to the border, and look at it. My perception of my identity domain can change, and the crossing point may move. In the simplest case, it doesn't. That's how most humans perceive natural death. Sometimes it can move towards me (I can't think of good examples now). In case of expansion it looks like it will always move away, and *subjectively* I will never cross the border.
It raises some interesting issues though. What if I know that if I choose this path, I will soon come to a point D which currently looks like the most miserable and disgusting outcome of my life, with a full loss of identity. However, if I go and don't look too far ahead, I'd always be happy with my state and immediate prospects, until the very point D - and beyond. Should I choose the destination that I currently respect, or the path that will be enjoyable? Not an easy choice keeping in mind that upon coming to that nice destination I might change enough to meet it with disgust, and the entity that would enjoy the other path just won't be me...
I would expect that we all (not humans, extropians) will face some tough choices here as soon as we learn how to grow.
There is also an explanation why we don't see people "dying thru expansion". And this is just because we *define* our notion of identity as something that is preserved in the transformations we are used to seeing. When (not if) the transformations will become more drastic, this notion will be shattered. In fact, if we just look at our own lives, we go thru so many transitions that hardly preserve our identity in any reasonable definition of this word...
- - -
Now I am ending the message being attracted by a personal singularity point that I try to cross daily and that is only an example of a rich variety of identities that constitute something that I [?] call "myself". It's 2 a.m., time to sleep. I am discontinuing my conscious existence, and leaving this message together with all my belongings to the tomorrow's being who I have never seen and who will probably think that he is *me*. Hope he'll mail it.
- Alexander Chislenko
Originally written 07/10/92
Originally written 07/10/92