2005-04-13

Identity as a "Pattern of Information"

I just received this today from E-VERSE Radio:
"According to Greek legend, Poseidon's son Theseus sailed to Crete to slay the monster Minotaur. After his triumphant return to Athens, his ship was preserved as a memorial. As the vessel aged, decaying planks were replaced with new ones; eventually, all the original timber was replaced. Philosophers know the story of Theseus's ship as a classic example of the problem of identity. What was the true identity of the ship, the shape or the wood? A more contemporary example may be found in the form of my first car, a 1966 Ford Mustang with a 289-cubic-inch engine and a speedometer that pegged at 140 m.p.h. As a young man high in testosterone but low in self-control, by the time I sold the car 15 years later there was hardly an original part on it. Nevertheless, my '1966' Mustang was now considered a classic, and I netted a tidy profit. Like Theseus's ship, its essence — its Mustangness — was intact. The analogy holds for human identity. The atoms in my brain and body today are not the same ones I had when I was born. Nevertheless, the patterns of information coded in my DNA and in my neural memories are still those of Michael Shermer. The human essence, the soul, is more than a pile of parts — it is a pattern of information." – Michael Shermer
The idea of a pattern language has been revisited once more by Christopher Alexander in his fourth book, The Luminous Ground: The Nature of Order, which is described as presenting "a new cosmology that arises from the careful study of architecture and art, and above all from the practice of the arts. It is a cosmology which places the I, our experience of self, as the linking stem that unites each individual with the whole, connecting consciousness and matter," and suggests that it is human interpretation (a necessarily contextualized process) that provides us with a sense of identity, not anything inherent within the ever-changing cosmos.