January 15th, 2006

Neural

What was I thinking?

Disclaimer: Inane ramblings on the nature of identity ahead! Reader assumes all risk of boredom and "WTF?".

Ever look in the mirror in the morning and find that the face staring back at you looks familiar? Not "looks like you", but just looks familiar, as in "yeah, I know that's [insert your name here], but how'd that get to be my face? Is this normal, or is it just me?

What defines me? Not in the "you're that meatbag who was late to work yesterday, you angsty dork!" sense, but in the sense of anima and animus. As near as I can tell, the critical elements that make up my identity are my memories, neural pathways (along with biases introduced by hormones and other physiological factors), and my running thoughts.

My thoughts. That's where identity starts to get fuzzy for me. Ever forget what you were thinking in mid-thought or mid-conversation? Aside from the sensation of being unable to find something (It's tactile for me. Is this normal?) it's just about the most disquieting sensation I can imagine. I can feel it when I lose a thought. It's like a little tiny bit of me dies, and I hate it! Unfortunately, my brain is a lump of swiss cheese, so this happens to me all time. (I long ago developed the habit of always keeping a pen and notepad with me to help work around this.)

This LJ post is a record of my thoughts. Does that mean that the server upon which it resides is a part of me? From the perspective of you reading it right now I'd say no, because it's just a record of thoughts that I had rather than the actual running thoughts themselves. But for me, right now, sitting here in front of Gir composing this post, these are my actual, running thoughts, implemented partly in my head and partly in silicon. Having them on the computer allows me to think in a parallel manner despite my "onboard" stack only being able to juggle one or two ideas at a time. This is why I'm able to think more clearly and more abstractly in writing than in conversation. Does this make Gir a part of me? When I have thoughts in progress cached on him to allow my brain to attend to other tasks and come back to them later I'd say yes. The same would apply to the notepad.

For the most part, Gir is much better able to retain my thoughts than my head is, so I lean on him for that task a lot. A lot. What was I thinking? I was thinking about this web page I was reading. I was thinking about these 24 other web pages I was reading. I was thinking about these 2 LJ comments I've been composing for the last couple of months or so. Having a crutch like a laptop to lean on allows me to put innumerable thoughts "into the stack" and finish them later. It's an enormous boon to my clarity of thought and overall mental health.

Until I fuck it up, that is. (I won't get into the details of how, other than to say that it was entirely my stupidity.) Then the little death of losing a thought becomes the gut punch of losing up to 2 months of work.

(As an aside, my apologies to both serolynne and redheadlass for not replying to your "please post a fake memory of me" meme. Janet, my memory of you was of a balloon trip followed by a picnic at the landing site. Cherie, my memory of you was a lengthy story about the summer that we spent stealing cars together, and of one in particular where we ended up being pursued by the cops, escaping only because of your driving skills. :-) )

So am I weird for getting nauseous when I forget what I was thinking in mid though? Are these questions of identity valid? Are they even important?

Launching off on a tangent...

As femetal has mentioned several times lately, Gir's current hardware (867MHz G4 w/640MB RAM) is getting a bit long in the tooth. After 3 years he still does his job adequately (HD space issues aside), but he'd do it better with a faster processor, more memory (he's maxed right now) USB 2.0, and a bigger hard drive (also possibly maxed). So I've been strongly pondering an upgrade.

The current top of the line 12" PowerBook would be a considerable performance boost, as well as allowing me to utilize my new iPod at full speed (USB 2.0 vs 1.1) and circumventing the problem with one of Gir's speakers being non-functional (grrrrr...). It would also be a simple matter to transfer the data directly from his current chassis to the new one.

Funny thing. A couple of times when I've mentioned this to people the response I've gotten has been along the lines of "You're going to get rid of GIR?!!? How can you bring yourself to do that??" Well, it's easy. By my way of thinking I wouldn't be getting rid of him at all- just uploading him to a new body. Same data. Even the same form factor. Same Gir. I've done hardware upgrades and replacements to him before- this would just be a more radical version of the same thing. In transhumanist circles it would be a non-destructive upload.

Now, of course, Apple has come out with the Intel-based MacBook and iMac lines. This changes things. Different form factor (GAH! Rumor has it that they'll be dropping the 12" machines as they complete the Intel migration. Heresy!). Would moving Gir to a 15" machine make him "not Gir" (understanding that the question is almost entirely subjective)? More importantly, it's a different hardware architecture. Since it's a different compile of the OS I could still use Migration Assistant to copy over user data, settings, and apps, but I couldn't just do a straight image from Gir's current hard drive to the new one. *Now* would it still be Gir? These questions are largely trivial minutiae now, but portend the much deeper issues that we as a species will have to address.

For now though, I have a more immediate question. Stick with the older architecture (and the backward compatibility that goes with it) and keep the form factor with which I've fallen so very in love, or accept a larger size as a tradeoff for a much more powerful machine with greater forward compatibility?

I was going somewhere with all of this mental masturbation, but I really don't remember now what the point was. (Yes, really. I'm not trying to be ironic here.) :-(
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