This is fascinating. Robin Hanson, in conversation with Bryan Caplan:
Robin didn’t care about biological survival. He didn’t need his brain implanted in a cloned body. He just wanted his neurons preserved well enough to “upload himself” into a computer.
To my mind, it was ridiculously easy to prove that “uploading yourself” isn’t life extension. “An upload is merely a simulation. It wouldn’t be you,” I remarked. “It would if the simulation were accurate enough,” he told me.
Suppose that via some kind of Star Trek replication or some combination of cloning, highly advanced brain scanning, and neuron-etching nanotech, scientists create a precise physical duplicate of you. Just as your duplicate is waking up—so let’s be clear, there are now two extremely similar but clearly distinct loci of conscious experience in the room—you’re told (ever so sorry) that as an unfortunate side-effect of the process, your original body (you’re assured you are the original) is about to die. Should you be alarmed, or should you consider your copy’s survival, in effect, a means by which you survive?
1. I’ve been wanting to post this, from Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical letter Spe Salvi forever, and I finally found an excuse! I, about as lapsed of a Catholic as you’ll find, associate more with this than Hanson’s desires:
To continue living for ever — endlessly — appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable…
In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for. This unknown “thing” is the true “hope”…
To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality — this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists.
(From Reading The Maps, a fascinating discussion of Continental anti-Enlightenment Theory’s influence on Cardinal Ratzinger.)
2) The discussion here is strongest, especially in Julian’s example, across space. I die in this room but my clone wakes up in another room. But we need to extend this in order to consider the replication across time. I go to sleep now, and wake up in the year 3009. Am I the same person shortly thereafter?
Imagine someone in the year 1009. Now certainly he’ll be a different person in the year 1010 – new experiences, new situations. But instead of aging that year, he falls into a pit and comes out in the year 2009 in the United States. All the stuff that was notable about him in that context will change. His speech, perhaps brutish in his own time period, could seem eloquent now. His skill, pride and reputation he takes in being a master weaver will have long been replaced by machines. The way he organizes his thoughts about the world and nature will be completely anachronistic.
Even in the metaphysics-free space that has been cleared here, it’s easy to imagine this person being a radically different person in 2010, as opposed to if he had stayed and ended up in 1010, as a result of adjusting to our current world of goods and ideas. Is that person still the same person? The inputs and outputs to his brain won’t match up in the functions they carried out before in their social context. Large amounts of his “black box” to his identity will be useless, and will have to be junked or reconfigured. Now our pliability is part of what makes us human (but how ‘of this moment’ is that something to value?), and we change naturally over the course of our lives and the places and situations we inhabit. But does placing someone somewhere alien to him make him alien to himself?
I assume cryogenics people will want to assimilate well into whatever time period they wake up. (Or do they want to live on some sort of island set in 2009?) Since we are talking about black boxes, let’s speak of my favorite black box, the television set. I know how how to plug it into the wall and watch it, but I have no clue to what is going on in between those two steps. If I took my television to 1009, and presumably 3009, it wouldn’t work right – there’s nothing to plug it into. Does our brain, and thus “ourselves”, have the same issue across enough time?
3. Like man himself, Uploaded Computer Man will have an evolution. And we currently have the technology to start. Let’s say, heavens forbid, I learn I only have a day left to live. I create a Second Life character that looks like me, an avatar in the online site where people can go and do stuff, and let’s also say that I am a skilled enough programmer to create a script that makes the avatar do stuff I would want it to do. I don’t know Second Life at all, but imagine World of Warcraft, where it’s possible my paladin could have a macro that would have it wander around fighting dragons and zombies. Let’s also assume I have enough money put aside to hire a credible firm to replace my computer every few years, tweak the script, run electricity, check network connectivity, etc.
At my funeral, this computer, running the Mike Konczal macro script, is brought out, and there’s my Second Life character, driving around in a virtual car and going to the virtual beach and saying random things to other people based on what the script has picked out. Does this count as living forever? Is this the fish that goes on the beach of computerized living forever?