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Full Version: The Coin Flip: A Different Perspective
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I know that this forum is basically dead, but what the heck. This will not be a thought experiment where you wake up in a dark room and must determine whether you're the original or a copy. It's something entirely different.

I've always thought that the playerbase is massively unfair to Simon. Yes, he can be dense, but I believe that most people in his situation - "flat neurograph" or not - would react the same way that he does at the end of the game. I also believe that people who deny this are suffering from a failure of empathy, and are not accurately predicting how they would behave if they were actually in his predicament. Sort of a Dunning-Kruger effect.

Imagine you're playing a SOMA mod. You sit your character in a chair, waiting to be scanned. Ask yourself: am I, the player, going to experience the rest of the game from my current perspective, or from the perspective of a copy? Is the mod about to give me the "scan at Omicron" treatment, or is it about to give me the "scan at Phi" treatment?

Without prior knowledge of the mod, you can't be sure of the modder's intention. In fact, the modder may have programmed an actual coin flip: at the moment of the scan, a pseudorandom number generator decides which character you control.

Let's return to Simon in the chair at Phi.

So far, the game has put you (the player) through two scans. Both times, it switched your perspective to the copy's. Based on this pattern, the game will switch your perspective again: immediately after the scan, you will control Simon on the ARK. (Some players have said that this would be a better ending, and that returning to Phi after the credits would have a greater emotional impact.) Expecting a perspective flip is only reasonable; after all, it happened both of the previous times.

This is exactly how Simon feels. At this point in the game, his experience perfectly matches the player's: he remembers being scanned in Toronto, waking up at Upsilon, being scanned at Omicron, and descending to the abyss. It's only here, at the very end, that the game breaks its own rules. Instead of switching perspective, it shows you what the original Simon sees. It cheats you out of seeing the ARK (until the post-credits scene). And just as you feel cheated, so does Simon.
The issue of the coin flip has certainly surprised me as being one of the most controversial topics of discussion regarding SOMA's numerous thought experiments. I believe that this is because, in general, people are one of two minds regarding the coin flip.

On the one side, you have people claiming the coin flip is not real. After all, the process that produced the extraneous Simons was technological in nature, and thus follows a strict set of logical rules. When Simon sits in the chair, his brain is scanned in a static operation, and the resulting scan is nothing more than inert data. At the moment after the scan is complete, there is still only the one Simon, and since the scan was neither transferring nor destructive, the only logical conclusion is that not only is the Simon in the chair the original Simon, but he can only ever be the original Simon. And with that being established, it follows that any Simon that is subsequently created from the scan data can only ever be a copy. Because of this, there is not even the slightest element of chance involved in the copy process. Therefore, the concept of the coin flip as Catherine describes it does not exist.

On the other side, you have people that the coin flip does exist, albeit in a different way. The previous description of the process comes from the perspective of the observer, but things change if you consider the perspective of the participant (i.e. Simon himself). Our own perception of a continuous existence comes from our memories of our immediate past; we are never truly living in the present. To Simon, this means that both the original and the copy would experience the moments leading up to the scan the same but the moments after very differently. To the "original", the scan would complete and he would simply still be in the chair, as expected. To the "copy", the scan would complete and he would suddenly and instantaneously find himself in a completely different place, a transition that he might not even fully recognize until enough time passes for him to digest it. In this circumstance, each Simon would experience what amounts to a lottery, that they either won or lost depending on whether the Simon in question wanted to be the original or the copy afterward.

Now comes the part where I must give my own opinion. While there is some philosophical merit to consider the implications of the latter argument, I must confess that I am in the former camp. At the end of the day, saying there is a coin flip implies that there is a chance that the Simon going into the scan has an equal chance of becoming either the Simon still in the chair or the Simon that was transferred to another body. This is simply untrue - the original will only ever be the original solely because there is nothing involved in the scan process that would result in anything else. 

The metaphorical coin flip that the Simons experience following the scan is a real sensation, but it is erroneous to actually call it a literal coin flip. The only reason that people do is that of the thought that Simon would invariably come to, that, using the example at Phi, he "won" in the case of the copy on the ARK or that he "lost" in the case of the original that got stranded on Earth. This thought, and the emotions that come with it, are the result of the illusion of continuity. The copy thinks he won the coin toss because he was transferred from Phi onto the ARK, but that is only because of the memories which were carried over along with the rest of his brain scan. In reality, that Simon did not exist in the instant prior to his activation, so the transfer which he experienced was nothing but a convenient falsehood.

Continuity is a really fickle thing to argue for or against in philosophical discussions. The point is always brought up that one can never truly prove that they didn't just spontaneously pop into existence five minutes ago, as any evidence can be refuted as being a product of the memories that were implanted into our minds at the moment of creation. The closest thing we have to proof, then, is that we can use logic to example the circumstance of our existence, and conclude that, since there is no evidence that we didn't exist prior to five minutes ago either, it is safe to assume that we did. However, this is not the case for the copies of Simon. Examining the circumstances surrounding the scan and copy processes, it is not only feasible to assume that he really did pop into existence with a collection of memories, for that it is most definitely what happened. As such, Simon-2, 3, and 4 are some of the only humans alive (in a matter of speaking) to which the concepts of Last Tuesdayism are far more than just a mere thought experiment - it is a core principle that defines their entire existence.

TL;DR The literal coin flip doesn't exist, and though the figurative coin flip might exist in a way, calling it a "coin flip" is misleading and should probably be called something else to reduce confusion and arguments over semantics.

Also yes, this forum is quite dead. Tongue
We agree on the true nature of the coin flip: it's an illusion. (I also think that the "reliving memories" theory makes no sense. You clearly play as four separate characters throughout the game.) Nevertheless, it's an illusion that would be very difficult to overcome if you were actually in Simon's shoes. Players are mistaken when they call Simon's climactic tantrum "stupid" and "unrealistic".

At least the SOMA subreddit is alive and well!
I certainly agree that it's wrong to call Simon's reaction unrealistic. However, I'd still consider it to be "stupid" - it's a completely understandable reaction and there's a pretty decent chance that I might make the same decision, but that doesn't make it an intelligent idea.

Beyond that, though, I'm not sure that Simon's reaction is purely because he interpreted getting left at Phi as having "lost the coin toss". Thinking about it, Simon had been repressing his reactions to a lot of revelations throughout the game. The revelation that he's in the future, that he's been sucked into an underwater hellscape, that the Earth is basically dead from a comet impact, that he's an AI, that many of the few things still alive at Pathos-II are actively trying to kill him, that his body is comprised of a combination of a corpse and futuristic technology, that nearly all the robots in his same situation have literally lost their minds, that he's basically committed suicide by proxy by either killing his "former self" or leaving it to die... the list really goes on and on. There might even have been a part of him that already understood what had happened at Omicron, and how the same thing had happened to him back in Toronto, but his mind was so close to falling over the edge, that he instead subconsciously embraced ignorance. Focusing on the ARK, and the salvation it promised, was the only thing that mattered, so everything else was shoved aside as nothing more than an inconvenient thought.

When it gets to the point at Phi that the ARK has launched with him left behind, suddenly the one thing that's been keeping him focused and driven is gone, and the floodgates had opened. Everything that he had convinced himself was temporary was now permanent, and the full realization of his situation was just starting to hit him. The shelter that was his ignorance had been stripped away, and all that he was left with was despair and rage. In that state, it's absolutely natural, human even, to find someone or something to blame, and Catherine was a convenient target - after all, it was she who filled him with false hope, who gave him a purpose only to have it ripped away just as victory was all but assured. Surely it was all her fault that he was in this situation since it definitely wasn't Simon's. He is just a man torn out of his own time, after all, who was thrust into a reality he didn't belong in. He did nothing to deserve this hell, and to be stuck in it forever, to be robbed of all hope, a fate worse than death -

And then just as suddenly, Catherine is gone as well, and to make it even worse, it's Simon's own fault. If it wasn't enough for Simon to have his circumstances be made painfully clear to him, he now has to face them alone. He had one friend in the entire world, and he all but killed her himself...

An underwhelming and stupid ending?

IMO the coin flip scenario only exists for the copy, and he always wins.

If you seat yourself in a chair ready to be scanned, you will always continue on as the original. (since the copy hasn't yet been made, there's no way you can be the copy or become him)

The copy perceive as being transported to a new body, but only the instance he is created, everything before that is just memories.

The way it's portrayed in SOMA IMO isn't really possible, except if the game (at least up until the ending of Omicron) is played as a flashback of Powersuit Simon's memories, (or in the case of the post-credit scenes, the whole game is played as a flashback of Ark Simon's memories).
And I say flashback because it wouldn't be possible to control your memories, you would just "have" them.

As for Simon being dense. I like to think he was in denial and needed a cope for his desperation. Or his copy wasn't entirely perfect and he was at least a little bit delusional. After all Catherine does say your neurograph is more "flat" than some of the other ones, an Simon gives a sarcastic "Thanks" as if she insulted his intelligence.
I don't buy the popular "reliving memories" theory, for several reasons:

1. It's not necessary. Powersuit Simon doesn't need to relive his memories; he just needs to have them. When his brain state is duplicated, the memories simply come along for the ride.

2. When is the reliving supposed to take place? In the instant after the scan? That's very little time to relive all the events of the game, let alone all the events of Simon's life.

3. How could Simon's memory be so complete and photorealistic? How could he remember the PACE lab (for example) with perfect clarity? Memories aren't like that - they're not movies that can be replayed. Some information is unavoidably lost.

4. Most importantly, you (the player) aren't a passive observer before Omicron. You have the freedom to make game-changing decisions. In fact, you can actually die before you reach Omicron.

The game switches perspectives as a narrative trick, so that you share Powersuit Simon's confusion. You actually play as four different Simons throughout the game.
(09-22-2018, 12:23 PM)cantremember Wrote: [ -> ]The way it's portrayed in SOMA IMO isn't really possible, except if the game (at least up until the ending of Omicron) is played as a flashback of Powersuit Simon's memories, (or in the case of the post-credit scenes, the whole game is played as a flashback of Ark Simon's memories).
And I say flashback because it wouldn't be possible to control your memories, you would just "have" them.

The problem is that, if the events before a copy were just flashbacks of memories, then the player could make Simon do stuff that would be completely out of his character, or things that would result in Simon never being copied at all. It would also not explain how the ending of the game transitions into the epilogue. Sometimes, the way that events of a player-controlled game play out is merely a narrative tool, that there isn't any actual continuity attributed to the exact way a story plays out. It's like how, in a book, the perspective of the story can change from one character to another in the next chapter in order to give the reader a bigger understanding of the world - it's not trying to imply that the consciousness of the narrator is actually flitting from one person to another.

When I originally proposed the idea of the game being the perspective of Simon-3 and everything before the copy at Omicron being a flashback his memories, it was to demonstrate how the copies perceived the illusion of continuity. The perceived timeline of each successive copy is unbroken - it's not just their memories, but their very perception of being. So they believe that their existence is continuous, even though it's not. Simon-3 is a great example of this, since he "experienced" the transfer from Toronto to Pathos-II, and then from Imogen Reed's body into Raleigh Herber's body. When he got to Phi, he then experienced what the original Simon's did, the lack of a transfer and continuing to be the same Simon as he was before.

This comparison was meant to demonstrate how the coin flip doesn't exist, even metaphorically. Each copied Simon believes themselves to have won the coin flip because they perceived a continuous transfer from the old Simon to the new Simon. The point, however, is that even that continuity isn't real. Their entire basis for believing that they existed prior to the scan is their own brain's coping mechanism for handling something that humans have never had to deal with. The concept of the coin flip is their way of explaining the result of a process that they thought was basically glorified magic.
Even though I'm firmly in the "Simon's continuity is an illusion" camp, I have trouble seeing where the cell replacement argument breaks down.

Did you know that the human body consists of up to 75 trillion individual cells? They typically don't stay with us till we die. Some live a few days, while others live a few years. We're not affected by their short lifespans, as they're replaced by new cells which help sustain our bodies. I don't think anyone would argue that we ever lose our persona due to this process, yet we are clearly in a constant state of transformation. Then how do we remain the same? A continuous flow of thought and perception keeps an unbroken chain of continuity that we know as our "self". Our conscious mind is not the pattern of our brain, but a continuous, emergent entity based on that pattern.

What makes today-me the same as yesterday-me, or ten-years-ago-me? Just like the multiple Simons, the multiple GhylTarvokes have similar brain states, but different compositions. If Simon's continuity is an illusion, why isn't mine?
There are a couple of ways that the Ship of Perseus analogy breaks down in comparison to the Simon copy process.

First is that our existence is continuous. Our cells are constantly dying and getting replaced, but not all at once. I can say that I'm the same "me" as I was 5, 10, or 20 years ago because every time a cell in my body gets replaced, that cell is now incorporated into all the other cells that are "me". As a result, I am constantly redefining who I am in the same way that someone who gets a tattoo incorporates that tattoo into their definition of themselves.

The nature of the Ship of Theseus question becomes completely different when you incorporate the concept of continuity rather than thinking of the before and after times as being completely distinct moments. Think of it like the difference in the probability problems "What's the chance of flipping a coin ten times and getting heads each time?" and "If you've flipped a coin nine times and it landed heads each time, what's the chance of the tenth coin flip also landing heads?" Both questions involve a coin being flipped ten times, but they have completely different answers based on the scope that the question is framed around (~0.098% and 50%, respectively).

The Simon copies, on the other hand, do not have a continuous existence. They were created instantaneously into entirely new bodies. No piece of their physical forms was a part of their previous selves. The only things they have linking themselves with their previous iterations are their memories and their perceptions of continuity, both of which are illusions created by the propagation of abstract information.

Second, and perhaps the more poignant point, is that the idea that we are an "entirely new person" every seven to ten years is a myth. Yes, the vast majority of our cells have finite lifespans ranging from a number of years to just a handful of days, but there are a couple exceptions. Bone cells have a lifespan of nearly three decades, and more relevant to the discussion, brain cells are typically with us until the day we die. So while much of your physical body becomes entirely replaced between your teenage years and your midlife crisis, the cells that make up "you" hardly change at all throughout your entire life.

Furthermore, when brain cells do die, they don't get replaced. This is why mental disorders are so much more prevalent in older people, and why brain damage often leads to permanent changes in someone's personality or mental faculties. (This point could actually prompt a discussion of whether Simon's bleed really did make him a different person.)

Although to address your last question separately, it can easily be argued in a vast number of ways that our own continuities are illusions (Last Tuesdayism is a popular one, or the one where our existences are just a finite series of discrete moments strung together to feel continuous like the frames of a video). The difference between our situation and Simon's is that, while we can logically and philosophically argue that our continuities might be an illusion, Simon's continuity is most definitely and objectively an illusion with irrefutable proof to say so.
The continuety point is very valid, and a bit freaky to think about. He can't relive memories of his original, he only starts to exists once the copy is made, yet the way the game plays out is the continuity that Powersuit Simon would experience, moving around controlling stuff and then waking up elsewhere.

I hadn't considered it that way yet, and I think i prefer to think of it that way than the game-is-a-flashback theory.