Do we die every time we go to sleep?

Follow-up to: On Mind Uploading and Personal Identity

On my last post I explained why I think going through a destructive procedure to upload your brain into a machine is akin to suicide. Yes, one entity equivalent to you will be born but you will die, so from a egoistic perspective you should not go through the procedure. Then it started to dawn on me a rather disturbing ideia: do we go through an analogous procedure every time we go to sleep? Let’s compare both cases.

1. Mind Uploading

What I’m trying to figure out is if A is the same as C after A’s brain is scanned, destroyed and A’s mind uploaded to a machine. Here’s what’s happening in this case:

  1. A is conscious;
  2. A gets unconscious while going through the scan procedure (B);
  3. C appears on the other side, thinking that she is A;
  4. C is not A;

In other words, A dies and C gets born thinking she is A.

2. Sleep

What happens when we go to sleep?

  1. A is conscious;
  2. A gets unconscious while going through the sleep procedure (B);
  3. C appears on the other side, thinking that she is A;
  4. C is not A ?;

In other words, when A’s goes to sleep she dies and C gets born in the morning thinking she’s A. I feel a little weird writing this publicly, but I’ll bite that bullet.

To make the ideia more intuitive imagine that after you (A) went to sleep last night someone killed (B?) you (without waking you up) and swapped you with another person (C) equivalent to you: same body, same memories, etc. When this person (C) wakes up in the morning she will have no ideia what happened and will think she is you (A)! In fact, this could happening every night and we would never know. And I think something analogous really happens every night.

Summing up, I think that every day we are a new conscious entity that will die when going to sleep and that the entity that wakes up the next day will be under the illusion the she’s been living for a long time.

(I don’t think dreams are problematic to the argument, they could be interpreted as another A → B → C sequence: we (A) go to sleep, get unconscious (B), and wake up in the dream (C))


On Mind Uploading and Personal Identity

(Assuming that computational theory of the mind is true.)

The idea of transferring my mind to a computer, and living there in a simulation, always stroke me as an interesting ideia. This would let me live much more time than I would expect otherwise. And I like life, so this is a good thing.

But then someday it popped in my mind: it’s the conscience living the computer really “me”? To explore this ideia let’s introduce Alice. She wants to have her brain scanned and transferred to a computer. Imagine that it’s possible to scan human brains in a non-invasive way. So, we scan Alice’s brain and copy all this software to a computer and run it. Now there is Original-Alice and Computer-Alice. Is Computer-Alice the same entity as Original-Alice? Well they have the same source, the Alice in the moment of the scan, but they are now difference entities. You can have conversations with both, and although they will be really similar entities, the conversations will be different because the entities diverged as the result of exposure to different environments. They will look like different entities.

Now let’s look at a different but similar scenario. Instead of scanning Alice’s brain and copying it to a computer, let’s imagine that the scanning is an invasive technique which involves destroying Alice’s brain. We scan Alice’s brain, destroying it in the process and transfer the software obtained to a machine. Now, same question, is Computer-Alice the same entity as the now non-existent Original-Alice? For an external observer it will look like they are. Computer-Alice behaves the same way and has the same memories as Original-Alice. But from Original-Alice’s perspective they will not be. It’s my position that Original-Alice is dead. All the brain processes that maintained Original-Alice as a continuing entity were gone in the moment we destroyed her brain.

Computer-Alice is an equivalent but not the same entity. But she will feels as if she is. Computer-Alice remembers lying down on the doctor’s table before the scan. She remembers starting to lose conscience after the administration of anesthesia. And she also remembers waking up in a virtual world. If you tell Computer-Alice that she never lived all those memories she has, she will think you’re being silly. It happened in a different body, yes, but of course she has lived those memories.

Now, imagine that you have the option to go through this same procedure. Let’s say that you’re in an age in which your brain is in the best state to be scanned. Assume that if you wait more time you risk getting affected by diseases like Alzheimer or Parkinson, which make the scan less feasible. From a egoistic point of view, should you go through the procedure? It’s my position that from my point of view, going through the procedure it’s suicidal. Yes, some entity equivalent to me would be created in a computer, but it wouldn’t be me, so why should I care? Rather having some more good years in the real world than dying.

This realization makes me kinda sad. Before, I was hopeful that maybe one day during my lifetime I could be transferred to a machine and live a way longer life. I don’t believe this anymore.

Portuguese Local Elections – Ballot Order Effects

I’ve read somewhere that, in elections, the position of a candidate in the ballot affects how much votes are cast for her. Does this happens in the Portuguese Local Elections for câmara municipal? Let’s take a look.

Unfortunately, I can only find computer-readable data on ballot order for the 2013 elections. There is a PDF with this information for 2005, but my efforts to automatically extract data from the document were in vain (I tried some Python PDF extraction tools). I’ve sent an e-mail to the relevant government entity asking for the missing data, but I only expect an answer 20 years from now. As we only got so much to live, I’m going forward with the analysis only with the 2013 data.

The data and code I’m using is available here and here.

I’m basically following the analysis done in this paper, section 5. I analyse the data using the same model as the author of the paper:

Screenshot from 2017-04-20 18-37-49

VitELECT is the observed percentage of votes cast for candidate party i in election t and Vit is the true preference of voters in case they are uninfluenced by ballot position. If the voters are indeed uninfluenced, then VitELECT = Vit. POSit corresponds to the candidate ballot position (1 if the candidate appears first in the ballot, 2 if it appears in second place, etc.) and LENGTHit is the number of candidates in the ballot. eit is the error term (which I don’t understand well) and α, β and γ are parameters to estimate. If voters are influenced by ballot position, then β will be significantly different from 0 – if negative, it means candidates down the ballot will tend to receive less votes.

Vit is an unobserved variable since we can’t read people’s minds before the elections. However, from what I understood from the paper, we can omit this variable from the model if we know it is not related to β, the parameter we are studying. Since the ballot order in Portugal is random, this is the case.

Let’s assume for the moment what was most intuitive from me in the beginning and just check the correlation between the position of a candidate in the ballot and the percentage of votes. This corresponds to assuming that γ is 0.


coef std err t P>|t| [0.025 0.975]
β (ballot position) -1.1492 0.367 -3.129 0.002 -1.870 -0.429

These are the results of a regression analysis using the ordinary least squares method. It seems there is a negative correlation between position in the ballot and percentage of votes received. And indeed, looking at the statistics for the β coefficient we can see that with 95% confidence the value of this coefficient is between -0.429 and -1.870. If we take this results at face value, this means that each position further down the ballot translates, with 95% confidence, to less 0.429% to 1.870% of votes received by the candidate.

But there’s a catch. Even if voters are unaffected by ballot position, it is still expected to see less percentage of votes for candidates further down the ballot. We can better see this through an example. Consider positions #1 and #5. Position #1 always happens, regardless of the ballot length. So it appears in cases in which the ballot only has two positions, a case in which the votes are not much diluted between the candidates. And it also happens in longer ballots, in which the votes are more diluted between the candidates. On the other hand, the position #5 appears just in cases of ballot length equal or greater than 5, cases in which the votes are already significantly diluted between the candidates.

To test this theory I’ve simulated a number of elections, 300 for each ballot length between 2 and 9. In this simulation the votes are random. As you can see from the plot bellow, even though the votes are random, there’s still a relation between position in ballot and percentage of votes.


So, we should incorporate the ballot length into our model and not assume that γ is 0. Here are the results of the regression analysis when we use the complete model:

coef std err t P>|t| [0.025 0.975]
β (ballot position) 0.7178 0.394 1.824 0.068 -0.054 1.490
γ (ballot length) -4.7020 0.442 -10.644 0.000 -5.569 -3.835

Highlighting what we just saw, the γ coefficient is significantly negative. On the other hand, the effect of β disappears when we consider the ballot length, which means that Portuguese voters are not affected by the order of candidates in the ballot.

I guess this is good news. 🙂

Matsusaka, J.G. Public Choice (2016) 167: 257. doi:10.1007/s11127-016-0340-9

Portuguese Local Elections – Municipalities with more enrolled voters have a higher percentage of abstention

Currently I’m getting into Data Science and as way to practice I’m exploring data on previous Portuguese Local Elections.

One interesting thing that I found is that municipalities with a higher number of voters enrolled also have a higher percentage of people not voting. There seems to be some kind of inverse exponential relationship. Each data point is a municipality.

Pearson Correlation Coefficient: 0.453047145972
p-value: 5.4002095121e-17

This is more clear if I use the the natural logarithm of the number of voters:

Pearson Correlation Coefficient: 0.69994788675
p-value: 1.20211071448e-46

The results are similar when using data from the 2009 and 2005 elections.

Pearson Correlation Coefficient: 0.579329081296
p-value: 5.27916030293e-29

Pearson Correlation Coefficient: 0.579329081296
p-value: 5.27916030293e-29

Funny. Maybe in smaller places people feel their votes make a bigger difference? Does the relationship holds in other elections beyond local elections?

Correlation Coefficient: 0.209724326747
p-value: 0.000209736784349

Correlation Coefficient: 0.113888507278
p-value: 0.0458131679479

Well, the correlation is weaker and less significant but it still exists. Did anyone noticed this before? Or I’m making something wrong?

You can find data and code here.