Uploading and Branching Identity
Cerullo (Michael A.)
Source: Minds & Machines (2015) 25:17–36
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. If a brain is uploaded1 into a computer, will consciousness continue in digital form2 or will it end forever when the brain is destroyed? Philosophers have long debated such dilemmas and classify them as questions about personal identity.
  2. There are currently three main theories of personal identity: biological3, psychological4, and closest continuer5 theories. None of these theories can successfully address the questions posed by the possibility of uploading6. I will argue that uploading7 requires us to adopt a new theory of identity, psychological branching8 identity.
  3. Psychological branching identity states that consciousness will continue as long as there is continuity in psychological structure. What differentiates this from psychological identity is that it allows identity9 to continue in multiple selves. According to branching identity, continuity of consciousness will continue in both10 the original brain and the upload11 after non-destructive uploading12.
  4. Branching identity can also resolve long standing questions about split-brain13 syndrome and can provide clear predictions about identity in even the most difficult14 cases imagined by philosophers.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. If we fully accept the empirical observations in split-brain syndrome we are led away from traditional views of identity. Instead, we are drawn towards a theory of identity where the continuity of consciousness can continue in multiple branches. Contrary to the assumptions of past philosophers, there is nothing incoherent or absurd about branching identity. We have limited intuition about things far removed from our day to day experience. Common sense physics has been overthrown by quantum mechanics15 and relatively. In a similar way we need to expand our views of personal identity. When we closely examine the possibility of branching identity it is not as unintuitive as we might initially suppose and can be abstractly understood in the same way we can come to understand modern physics.
  2. When discussing consciousness we can never expect complete certainty. We cannot know with certainty that solipsism is false or that we are not day-people who die each night when we fall asleep16. Yet our common experience has led us away from such views. Questions about personal identity are empirical questions, and just like any other fact about the universe and they will always be open to revision. Yet our best current understanding leads us to branching identity. The empirical evidence (split-brain syndrome) supports branching identity. Only branching identity can provide specific predictions in even the most outlandish scenarios. Finally, popping and fading/dancing qualia arguments support branching identity.
  3. Uploading17 has the potential to change the way we understand ourselves and our place in the universe. The breath-taking pace of technology has brought us to the point today where all the technology necessary for uploading18 is now feasible. If the progression of technology continues and animal experiments demonstrate the feasibility of uploading19 then this should be viewed as life extension technology. Brain preservation and later destructive uploading20 will preserve continuity of consciousness. The rational choice is to spend whatever resources are necessary to understand, develop, and apply this technology to those who choose to use it. The answer to our ultimate question is yes, it will be you that wakes up inside the computer.

  1. Introduction
  2. Theories of Identity
  3. The Failure of the Standard Approaches to Identity
  4. Machine Consciousness
  5. Uploading21 and the Standard Theories of Personal Identity
  6. Branching Identity and Intuition
  7. Conclusion

Books & Papers Cited


The paper is open access and available from Springer at Link.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Footnote 6: OK, but they only need to cope with “uploading” if this is metaphysically possible.

Footnote 8: “Identity” can only branch if we adopt a 4-dimentionalist – eg. perdurantist – approach to persistence. There’s nothing about this in the bibliography.

Footnote 9: Cerullo is far too sloppy in the use of this term. He’d be better off using the term “survival”, as Derek Parfit, which is (allegedly) not necessarily identity-preserving. .

Footnote 10: Footnote 14: Footnote 22: Maybe the same as "Chalmers (David) - Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia"

Footnote 24: I’m not sure what this is.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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