Aug 232012

In trying to continue my posts on mental plasticity, I’ve found I need to expand on a related subject before I can continue. The following was originally posted at LessWrong.


If an AI was asked today how many human individuals populate this planet, it may not return a number the several-billions range. In fact I’d be willing to bet it’d return a number in the tens of thousands, with the caveat that the individuals vary wildly in measure.

I agree with Robin Hanson that if two instances of me exist, and one is terminated, I didn’t die, I simply got smaller.

In 1995 Robert Sapolsky wrote in Ego Boundaries

“My students usually come with ego boundaries like exoskeletons. […] They want their rituals newly minted and shared horizontally within their age group, not vertically over time,” whereas in older societies “needs transcend individual rights to a bounded ego, and people in traditional communities are named and raised as successive incarnations. In such societies, Abraham always lives 900 years–he simply finds a new body to inhabit now and then. ”

Ego boundaries may be more rigid now, but that doesn’t make people more unique. If anything, people have become more like each other. Memes are powerful shapers of mental agents, and as technology allows memes to breed and compete more freely the most viral ones spread through the species.

Acausal trade allows for amazing efficiencies, not merely on a personal level but also via nationalism and religion. People executing strong acausal trading routines will out-compete those who don’t.

Timeless Decision Theory proscribes making decisions as if choosing the outcome for all actors sufficiently like yourself across all worlds. As competition narrows the field of memeplexes to a handful of powerful and virulent ubermemes, and those memeplexes influence the structure and strength of individual’s mental agents in similar ways, people become more like each other. In so doing they are choosing as if a single entity more and more effectively. To an outside observer, there may be very little to differentiate two such humans from each other.

Therefore it may be wrong to think of oneself as a singular person. I am not just me – I am also effectively everyone who is sufficiently like me. It’s been argued that there are only seven stories, and every story can be thought of as an elaboration of one of these. It seems likely there are only a few thousand differentiable people, and everyone is simply one of these with some flare.

If we think of people in these terms, certain behaviors make more sense. Home-schooling is looked down on because institutional schools are about making other people into us. Argument and rhetoric isn’t just a complete waste of your free time, it’s also an attempt to make Meta-Me larger, and Meta-SomeoneElse smaller.

Added Bonus: You no longer have to have many children to exist. You can instead work on enlarging your Meta-Self’s measure.

  2 Responses to “How Many of Me Are There?”

  1. I am quite happy to see that you share this view with me. I was wondering if you feel your ‘is’ function is binary (A thing is either you or not)? I consider myself a patter and the density of that pattern is highly variable. I suppose this means there is a ‘soundlogic field’ around the universe, with a very high concentration right where I am. I was also wondering how you feel this works with non-sentience, that is, can a rock have a being youish property? I myself consider things I create that hold and represent my pattern a part of me, at least to some portion.
    I also was wondering how your utility function responds to youness in the universe? I find mine seems to respond higher to higher densities at an increasing rate (The number of people who are 1% me that I would require to replace me would be quite massive).
    When you are around friends or family, do you ever find yourself thinking things like “I love being surrounded by me”? When my family is in the car and a chain of dialog between my family members is highly representative of my identity I find myself thinking that.

    • No, I think the whole point is to identify memetic-relatedness in others, so it’s surely not a binary on/off. And naturally I care far more about things more like me – as the old joke goes, I wouldn’t die for my brother, but I’d die for two siblings, or eight cousins. ;) I imagine that being surrounded by people much like me would be great, but unfortunately my family isn’t very much like me, and even my friends think I’m very unusual. I’ve never been to an LW meet-up… I think I’d like to go to one someday…

      I consider objects able to hold information also able to hold some measure of “me-ness”. I identify with MoR to such a degree that I decided that helping to spread it would help to spread me as well, which is one of the reasons I do the podcast. :) It’s also why I refuse to watch or read certain things… I don’t want to be corrupted by their author’s thought-process if I consider him/her sufficiently malicious, or the work itself to be corruptive (like most of the torture-porn horror movies). Interestingly, I don’t mind reading any religious texts, because they were written at a time where memetic-infection was such a poorly understood process that they’re absolutely crap at actually influencing one’s thoughts on their own. They need the help of charismatic humans to actually do anything.

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