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Re: Principles of Identity in Web Architecture

From: Patrick J. Hayes <phayes@ihmc.org>
Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2021 15:44:46 +0000
To: Larry Masinter <LMM@acm.org>
CC: Melvin Carvalho <melvincarvalho@gmail.com>, Philip Sheldrake <philip@eulerpartners.com>, TAG List <www-tag@w3.org>
Message-ID: <E1F08EF0-B9E7-42B6-A15E-DD0161BA7B4B@ihmc.org>

On Jun 13, 2021, at 10:43 PM, Larry Masinter <LMM@acm.org<mailto:LMM@acm.org>> wrote:

You mock the idea of multiple "identities" as "pieces on some super-Monopoly game"

The analogy with Monopoly was Sheldrake's, not mine.

BUT the problem is the "game" here includes the global economy. And it is also very political. Personas, avatars, sock puppets, corporations, spammers, may be "fake" or "role-playing" or "reality tv "identities"


, but not being able to name them

…but who said you cannot name them? Just don't make the mistake of saying they are all different people.

really gets in the way of reasoning about Internet crime, these days. Identity theft was just a first step. What would you name the thing that an identifier identifies, besides "an identity"?

I would use terminology suited to the case. If it is a sock puppet, call it a sock puppet. But calling everything an "identity" (and even worse, using this in Sheldrake's sense) denies the reality of fraudulent transactions before discussion can even get started. Look at your own words: you talk of identity /theft/. What can this mean, other than using an identifier wrongly? But if every identifier does indeed identify an "identity" on every occassion of use, then the fraudulent uses of my name are just as referentially correct as the valid uses: they just identify a different "identity". And if Sheldrake and his colleagues are right, then there is little to distinguish the difference between valid and stolen identities and the difference between my "identity" as an artist and mine as a retired researcher. They are all just ''identities", with no actual person to be found who (even if in a /merely/ legal sense) stands behind two "identities" in one case but most surely not in the other.

All I am saying is, people are people, not avatars of themselves. Different avatars of one person are not different people. Maybe we all have avatars and use them in social ways, maybe this is a basic part of human nature (I think some sociologists make far too much of this, in fact, but let us not quibble), but they are not separate persons. And if we lose sight of this central notion of personhood, then all discussions of personal identity will become hopelessly confused. Sheldrake hints darkly, but without argument, that to do this is to risk not only being intellectually narrow but even, perhaps inadvertantly, immoral. To which I repeat: BS.



Mathematically, you can talk about the equivalence relation forming equivalence classes, but that sense of identity is yet another kettle of fish. (so to speak).

Agreed. This is not a mathematical topic.

On Sun, Jun 13, 2021 at 6:47 PM Patrick J. Hayes <phayes@ihmc.org<mailto:phayes@ihmc.org>> wrote:

On Jun 6, 2021, at 8:50 AM, Melvin Carvalho <melvincarvalho@gmail.com<mailto:melvincarvalho@gmail.com>> wrote:

On Sun, 6 Jun 2021 at 14:02, Philip Sheldrake <philip@eulerpartners.com<mailto:philip@eulerpartners.com>> wrote:

It is reassuring to see you distinguish “identity” and identifiers in the context of humans, but your email here indicates to me that you still consider Alice to have just the one identity. This aligns of course with the comparatively recent (centuries) bureaucratisation of identity, aka legal identity, and the imperative for Sybil resistance in democratic, taxation, and wealth distribution contexts, but I have yet to find another discipline beyond law and information technology conceiving identity as either singular or enduring. Quite the opposite.

You raise a good point.  Alice can have many identities.  …

Ahem. Allow me to call BS at this point. Alice does not have many identities. LIke everyone else who has ever drawn breath, and indeed like every endurant object, Alice has one identity. She has it, uniquely and irrevocably, from the moment she was born, to the end of her life. She is one person.

I understand what Philip is saying here, but he wildly overstates his point. In his minority opinion chapter for the SSI book he starts by talking about players in Monopoly being represented by the board pieces, then in a few sentences segued all the way to:  " Intuitively following some self-reflection, we all know that we have different identities, call them personae if you like, or avatars, that we adopt in different contexts.", then after reminding us that "All the worlds a stage." he goes on to "I referred to this earlier in the context of ‘being’ different across different social media in different contexts, and constantly revising those identities based on the corresponding contextual relationships and interactions. Consider your professional avatar, your parental avatar, your spousal avatar, your student avatar, etc. Overlapping and interacting in some respects no doubt, but always evolving and always contextual." And he sums up: "Your ‘you’ in the performance review meeting at work differs to your ‘you’ on your wedding day. Your avatars at age 35 will differ from those age 25, or indeed from those age 34. Or 34½. Or yesterday. Psychologists and sociologists understand all this well."

Psychologists and sociologists here, of course, as contrasted with unimaginative computer nerds. But also as opposed to clear-thinking philosophers.

Philip in his email response is careful to use scare quotes, speaking of "identities" rather than identities. He also refers to personae and avatars. Fine, no doubt we all can have many of these things that sociologists study, and they are of course contextual and perhaps (though I would dispute with him on this) highly transient and flexible. But these things, whatever they are, are not identities. They are not what is talked about when people use owl:sameAs, or what we mean when we say that a supreme court judge, a cancer patient, a tennis player and a worshipper in the Episcopal Church are all the SAME person. These "identities", pieces on some super-Monopoly game, avatars of ourselves in social games, are not distinct human entities. If the cancer patient dies, so do the SCOTUS justice and the tennis player. If the tennis player is tried for fraud or theft, so is the SCOTUS judge. Identity means /being the same thing/, or in this more limited sense /being the same person/, and sameness of personhood is something far more fundamental, and in the end far simpler, than these social avatars/projections/roles that Philip is talking about. It means simply being the same person. In a legal sense to be sure but also in a biological, personal-identity, continuity of memory, continuity of physical identity sense. And, I claim, in an ordinary everyday common sense. Alice is Alice, all one of her. She is herself, and nobody else.

Pat Hayes

https://LarryMasinter.net<https://larrymasinter.net/>  https://interlisp.org<https://interlisp.org/>

Received on Monday, 14 June 2021 15:45:24 UTC

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