Whether one views a lifetime to be finite or infinite depends upon whether time is considered countably or uncountably infinite. There are as many points in a finite length of the real line as along the entire axis.


  1. But the resolution of your perception is not infinite. Obviously at a very minimum, you could take a quantum bound on how quickly a neuron could change states.

    Saying that there is an "infinitude of life" in a space of time too small for the smallest elements of your brain to change states is pretty misleading. There's only going to be a finite number of distinct thoughts that you will ever have.

  2. yeah.

    Of course this assumes that thoughts can be divided, and that for each distinct thought there is a finite amount of experience.

    I assume you can throw an information theoretic analysis at this. I believe there is a finite amount of entropy, when you integrate over the space-time extent of a given person, so there must be a finite amount of experience, if experience is measured in bits. If we restrict ourselves to the amount of experience that goes on to effect future experience, or that goes on to affect other's experiences, we are left with even more limited information.

    We ran into an anonymous old man when we were building our shantytown on the college lawn. He said something to the effect of "who you are is far more than your interactions with others", which seemed quite the opposite of what I had assumed : that we are a sum of our interactions with our environments.

  3. So we know (or perhaps "know") that our perception of time relies (roughly speaking) on the amount of thought/experience/qualia that occurs during a period of time. I'll try to find it when I get home, but I recall reading somewhere about experiments that measured the speed of people's perception (~ their frame rate) in some way; it also talked about some people who were clear outliers. So for example my natural rate of qualia is probably slower than yours (symptoms being slow speech, occasional inability to react to conversation in "real time".) Of course we can also modify this chemically to some degree (or possibly what we modify is actually something else, but it seems related.) Would it be possible to use this as a measure on life (thereby ignoring the local structure; we don't care what time is under a sufficiently powerful microscope)? The amount of life you've lived is the integral of your qualia over time, or something like that? Would this have a point?

  4. If you are going to use entropy/information theory, you have to already believe there are discrete microstates, which is the same as assuming that a thought is a discrete event (hence finitely many in a finite period of time), so even posing the question that way already yields the answer.

    Individualism is a deeply flawed ideology, to be sure. If the old man is right, he obviously could never hope to prove it -- he is effectively conjecturing a nonphysical aspect to our "selves", i.e. a soul.

  5. Theres also all this time lost in loops and disorganized thoughts, experiences which locally seem to be meaningful, but repeat, so the total entropy is much lower than one would estimate from a brief snapshot.damn it, can't wake up.

  6. Yeah, its true. I'm not sure if the concept of information implicitly requires "read out", if it is possible for a system to contain an infinite amount of information but only a finite amount of this information ever matters for outside interactions. I don't know enough quantum to be reasonable here.

    I assume what the old man was saying is that we have a lot of experiences that we can never re-express. F mentioned a thought along these lines some time in the past. I don't think this is equivalent to a soul, since I tend to think of souls as either something distinct from physical reality ( in which case I don't believe in them ), or the sum of our subjective experience ( in which case our interactions with others are critical to the definition of the soul ). See "I Am a Strange Loop".

    man, my head is really not thinking coherently at the moment. can barely speak in meat-space, but this conversation seems fluid enough.

  7. Well, Beck, thinking of it as integrating a measure lets you avoid that. Maybe we can define some sort of symplectic manifold of mental states and then define quantity of life as the action along the path that a person has taken? OK, I'm going into math fantasyland here.

    As for the old man's idea, I don't think it conflicts with the physicality of the mind -- there's a lot in genes and essentially random environmental factors that might affect who we are without being easily reducible to our interactions with people and things we are conscious of. Genetic involvement is something that clearly can be proven, via twin studies and such -- random environmental factors, less so, but certainly people like Steven Pinker (who are not everyone, of course) believe that controllable environmental factors only account for about 10% of psychological variation.

  8. Oh and that study I was talking about may have actually just been blatherings by Sherpajack.

  9. Thanks for your honesty, F.

    I really wish, for instance, the Bush administration would have had candor like that "you remember all that stuff about Iraqi WMDs? yeah that may have actually just been blatherings by Sherpajack."