That’s My Soul Up There

Charlie Stross today has penned a thoughtful piece on why you shouldn’t be waiting up for The Singularity. It’s fun and interesting stuff, but I have a small quibble with his thoughts on the theological implications of uploading one’s brain into the network. Here’s what Charlie has to say on it:

Uploading … is not obviously impossible unless you are a crude mind/body dualist. However, if it becomes plausible in the near future we can expect extensive theological arguments over it. If you thought the abortion debate was heated, wait until you have people trying to become immortal via the wire. Uploading implicitly refutes the doctrine of the existence of an immortal soul, and therefore presents a raw rebuttal to those religious doctrines that believe in a life after death. People who believe in an afterlife will go to the mattresses to maintain a belief system that tells them their dead loved ones are in heaven rather than rotting in the ground.

I think Charlie’s correct that there will be theological arguments about it; I don’t think he’s necessarily correct that trying to upload one’s brain into the cloud implicitly refutes the soul any more than any other non-organic life-extending therapy, like getting an artificial heart or blood dialysis. In the case of a brain upload (or more accurately, I suppose, mind upload) what would be extended is not the physical body but some aspect of the consciousness, but it’s an open question of whether this represents a difference of degree or of kind. I think a theologian worth his or her salt could very easily make the argument that if the soul is not threatened by an artificial heart, neither is it threatened by the consciousness having its lifespan artificially extended via the cloud (or the net, or the wire, insert your favorite computing metaphor here).

Also, here’s the thing: someone may attempt to become immortal via a mind upload, but death is no less guaranteed there than it is in the physical world. It may just take longer. Or it may not, since if anyone thinks a post-singularity mind-uploaded world is going to be a happy friendly utopia of love is to be asked how long their computer will remain unmolested if they turn off all the prophylactic measures they use to keep the bad guys out of them. That sort of thing is going to get worse, not better, in a post-singularity world. So death will remain — possibly delayed, but always eventually certain, since even in the best case scenario (if you want to think of it like that, which is debatable) the entire universe will wipe itself via proton decay trillions upon trillions of years from now. No one’s getting out of here alive. So in that respect, those who yearn for true immortality, the ultimate refutation of entropy, there will always be a need for an afterlife, and a way to get there, i.e., one’s soul.

So, no, I don’t think uploading implicitly refutes the soul. It just means that if the soul does truly exist, it will have to live with you longer.

96 Comments on “That’s My Soul Up There”

  1. I guess there’s the question of ‘if we upload your mind onto a brain emulator in a computer, then copy it to send it to Mars (or Alpha Centauri), what happens to your soul if you have two minds that are out of contact with one another?’ Maybe all of the copies are covered by a single soul, which raises the question of ‘if one mind sins and the other never finds out, or one finds Jesus and the other remains an atheist, what happens when they shuffle off the mortal coil?’ Or maybe you copy souls when you copy minds…

  2. Viruses that alter your mind to want to send all your money scammers. Now that will be awesome.

  3. I didn’t read Charles’ entire piece, but it seems to me, at least in the area of theological arguments about the topic, that he’s putting the cart somewhat before the horse. Arguing over whether or not the idea of uploading one’s brain to a computer affrims or denies the existence of God is kinda like arguing whether or not a Dilithium matrix will successsfully fuel the anti-matter reactor in your warp drive. Seeing as none of those three things actually exist, or ar likely to exist in any conceivable future. And while science fiction writers might think uploading one’s consciousness to a computer is potentially feasible, actual scientists are as close to successfully doing so as they are to building an anti-matter reactor based warp drive.

  4. The mind and the soul are not one in the same. Now, there may be religious types that would be opposed to this, just like some are opposed to blood transfusions. But opposition is much different than an entire faith crumbling due to a technological and medical innovation. There has been much more damaging ‘evidence’ or questions over the years to challenge the thought of an afterlife or a higher being who wants to be worshiped, yet the majority of people in this world are still at some level religious or believe in a god. I don’t see this causing any major conundrum. Though I sure do see many being completely opposed to it and thinking this is another example of science trying to play god. Maybe the extra nutty will blame an earthquake or a volcano or a traffic jam or clowns on the fact such a thing was allowed to be invented.

  5. Iain Banks’ novel Surface Detail dealt movingly and interestingly with the implications of upload after death. There will be some maximalists on both sides, I imagine, but I think it is hard to imagine that moving a consciousness to a digital (or post-digital with quantum computing) state wouldn’t involve some real change in personality and/or identity. The arguments will be over whether those changes are understood to break continuity with the old, flesh-bound identity, or not. Different faiths will come down on different sides of it, some denominations will avoid taking a stand for decades or centuries, and it will be a significant legal issue for a long time if we ever get there. Legally, I’m sure it will be a whole new can of worms, as many authors have already written about.

  6. You know, raising the mind/body question suggests an interesting quandry: if we say that the body has an influence on the mind (and considering that exercise is an effective source of endorphins and adrenaline, this isn’t an unreasonable premise) then an uploaded personally is probably going to be different, possibly significantly different, to the original. So we could have immortal AIs that mimic people, but the real question is whether or not they’re going to turn out to be supervillains.

    I say yes. It’s more interesting that way.

  7. My soul is in Russell’s teapot so I am not too worried about my brain getting uploaded into a Mac Book.

  8. Correct me if I’m wrong, bud doesn’t uploading a consciousness imply duplicating a consciousness? If that’s the case, then the idea of the soul as something eternal and unique is, indeed blown out of the water. Without free will, the soul is inert, and without free will, consciousness is likewise inert. I reject the idea that if there’s a “soul” it’s free of influence form consciousness

    If, as #5 suggests, the mind and the soul are not the same thing, then we’d have soulless people moving to-and-fro if they got uploaded. Does (do) god (gods) stop caring about them? Are they free from morality?

    After all, if you’re nothing but a very smart hammer, you can get away with anything from a moral perspective, because you have no afterlife, no hell, or no eventual promise of heaven if you rub the right metaphorical blue mud in your face, recite the special words and really really mean it. Or eat a cracker and drink some grape juice. Or whatever.

    You’re free to do whatever you want with no reward/punishment system, and should be mighty pissed at those who try and tell you to do so, but then turn around and tell you you’re not as real or as complete as they are.

  9. Your consciousness is more than just your memories, for sure, but memories are a big part of it. Now, modern neuro science teaches that any given memory is changed each time it is retrieved. Essentially, every recall involves making a new copy of the memory; and these new copies are inevitably imperfect. But if millions of years of evolution have failed to perfect a memory recall mechanism – and presumably, evolution has little to gain from using instead a faulty one – then is it reasonable to think that we might someday be able to make a perfect copy of a consciousness, memories and all, into some other medium?

  10. Josh Jasper:

    “Correct me if I’m wrong, bud doesn’t uploading a consciousness imply duplicating a consciousness?”

    Why? One could argue that consciousness isn’t necessarily program-like; it may be an epiphenomenon. In which case uploading the consciousness would not necessarily be like uploading a program.

    NB: I address this particular issue to some extent in OMW, during the consciousness transfer of John Perry from his old body to his new one. He experiences being in his old brain, then in both simultaneously, and then only in his new one — which is to say from his perspective the consciousness was poured out of one physical container into another, rather than being overtly duplicated.

  11. I think most would not consider the uploaded self as you. Just a copy and when the original dies, your dead. So from a religious standpoint I don’t really think it will cause them any sleepless nights pondering God’s existence. If the procedure killed the original then you would definitely get some backlash, as many would see it as murder and would not accept the uploaded you as you. Have to see some real changes in our society for this to ever be allowed, regardless of the technical obstacles. Hell you can’t even put you money online to gamble let alone your whole conciseness.

  12. To Paul – it may not be feasible to create such things now, but I think it’s always important to explore the possibilities and be ready for anything that might happen, especially when technology is advancing as quickly as it has been the last hundred years. Even if it never happens, we’re still forming new ideas and advancing as a society in other ways. And in this case, I don’t think it’s putting the cart before the horse – we need ideas and laws in place before this kind of technology exists.

  13. I seem to recall not too long ago we were concerned about how AI and robots would coexist within our society. Even way further back people had concerns about everyone having their own flying car and the implications around that.
    My point being, while this is all very fanciful to discuss from a fictional point of view it really is nothing more than mental masturbation when trying to discuss it seriously.
    Certainly things like this and robots, etc can and hopefully will happen. But in anyone who reads this blogs lifetime I seriously doubt.

  14. You know, this has bugged me ever since Star Trek explained how they beamed someone over. I think that if you take all the molecules of someone apart and put them back together in a different place, you leave something behind. The soul is not made of molecules. And in the the same way, I don’t think a person can be uploaded into a computer, no matter how advanced. The soul can’t be converted into binary.

    That being said, I don’t know where the distinction between the mind and the soul lies. A person’s personality can change under the influence of brain damage or psychoactive drugs, suggesting a direct connection between the brain and the mind. But I don’t know what the definition of the soul is. I just believe everyone has one.

  15. Much like destructive teleportation, destructive upload is at best a copy of my mind which thinks it is me. I’m all about extension (augmented memory, Stross’s Accelerando-esque search and task daemons, etc.) but complete upload is basically death. The way around is extension then contraction, a process of somehow training the brain to literally think and then center outside the box/body, where the body and brain become the outside, before contraction/severing of the old center.

    Either way there is no theological problem. Done wrong (destructive upload of a copy) the old person and their “soul” (which I don’t believe exists but that’s beside the point) is dead / moves on / whatever. Done right (gradual mind migration, if this is indeed possible) then the mind/soul lives on.

    Where it gets squirrelly is with copies and or backups. As there are still debates on whether human clones would have souls (why not, exactly? other than the whole “there’s no such thing as a soul” thing…) that’s where theological gymnastics would come in.

    Of course this topic always makes me go in circles: is the “me” that wakes up after a dream filled night the same continuous “me”, or did my consciousness end and today’s “me” just have the memories and illusions of being me, while I’m actually dead? Or, forget sleep, how about just moment to moment?

  16. I thought Hamilton’s characters went over all the relevant stuff—mostly in his Commonwealth Universe books, but also a bit in Night’s Dawn. ;)

    No? Oh, well.

  17. This conversation is way over my head. I’ll just offer the notion that maybe the Singularity -is- the afterlife, for certain values of afterlife. Maybe it’s Hell, or the outer darkness referred to in Matthew; the final abode of those who’ve rejected God.

    By the way, thanks for the title, John. I need to dig that album out and listen to it again. It’s been too long.

  18. One of the things I find fascinating about the whole topic is that what we think of as mind – consciousness, personality, all that – isn’t really just about our brains. Our bodies are very heavily involved in moods, at the very least, and I think they’re very important parts of what makes us ourselves, hormone imbalances, pheromones, physical drives, and all. Even such a small change as never feeling hungry again would turn me into a very different person! So in order to have a faithful digital copy of what I might consider my essential self, the copy would need to digitize not just my brain with all its networks and patterns but also my body with all its complex interconnected systems. And we are so, so far from being able to do that.

    And that’s setting aside the question of social interaction. One order of thought in sociology holds that the self is created continuously through social interaction; that who we are is a mixture of everyone we’ve been and who we are presenting ourselves as now. People can and do change; social environment matters a lot. So we’ll need to have a virtual environment that will allow for social interactions…

    I like thinking about all this. It just seems to me that leaving out most of those things is a good way to have a Worst Case Scenario What-If Story. Like Merus said at #7…

  19. I never thought about proton decay getting Bella and Edward from Twilight in the end. Jeez, there’s all kinds of things that could get them; nuclear explosions, an asteroid blowing up the planet, the sun going supernova and now PROTON DECAY. I guess they can’t be together forever after all.

  20. Proton decay is highly speculative at this point. Simple application of the second law of thermodynamics is much more solid.

  21. I think that the mind/body and the soul are different entities. One is “real”, one is “magical”. Duplicate the first, or move it elsewhere/elsewhen by some physical process, and the soul will magically duplicate itself or move to accompany its mind/body. Now the problem only occurs if you want to merge the two again.

  22. Josh Jasper:
    “After all, if you’re nothing but a very smart hammer, you can get away with anything from a moral perspective, because you have no afterlife, no hell, or no eventual promise of heaven if you rub the right metaphorical blue mud in your face, recite the special words and really really mean it.”
    From an atheist’s point of view, we *are* very smart hammers – or very advanced animals, and nothing more. The moral quandary that you describe is a boogeyman used by the people who don’t understand how one can lead a moral life without religion. There are hundreds of millions of atheists around the world, we don’t believe in heaven or afterlife, but that doesn’t mean we’re amoral or potentially dangerous. Religion – or the so-called “soul” (a flying immortal invisible spirit that lives inside your body and can travel to other dimensions after you die?) – is not a prerequisite for morality.

  23. IMHO – body/mind/soul are different things but they influence eachother (I visualize consciousness and the interface/sum/combination of mind and soul where ‘mind’ is a organic/physical manifestation and ‘soul’ is eternal/spirtual/supernatural – therefore if we transfer a mind to a computer either conciousness is virtual or new

    so from a metaphyical POV (again my opinion) when the transfer is done – soul goes up to heaven and either that new consciousness is soulless or it gets a new/different soul based on the old pattern (and somewhere in eternity they get together and compare notes/merge?) and yes, I realize the implication of my proposistion is that a soul is mindless/unconcious from the POV of how we mortals understand/percieve “mind” and “consciousness”

    in my mind, the character John Perry has a diferent soul before he becomes a soldier and after (his ‘before’ soul is up in heaven with his original wife – his ‘after’ soul is extant & joined to his current physical form – I haven’t worked out in my mind yet if Perry has a different soul for military vs civilian bodies. (leaning towards ‘no’ as it’s transfer from artificial to artificial bodies)

  24. I see HTOM has a similar view to mine (I didn’t see his post while composing mine) I guess great minds think alike?

  25. The kind of folks who would most fervently fight this sort of thing are for the most part manifestly uninterested in what any “theologian worth his or her salt” would have to say about it. With AFAICT rare exceptions, they believe what they believe and their knowledge and understanding of whatever scripture they claim the backing of is mostly limited to that which supports their worldview.

    (Been there. “They” used to be “we”, many years ago. Plus, some of their shallowly scriptural-based attacks are directed at people like me.)

  26. Sam M-B @ #17:

    Much like destructive teleportation, destructive upload is at best a copy of my mind which thinks it is me.

    And it may be right, too. Given that we currently have neither teleportation nor upload — destructive or otherwise — and given that our understanding of mind is limited, this is an inherently speculative statement.

    No knock on you, so’s the entire conversation. Just sayin’.

  27. In a movie titled “Creation of the Humanoids,” a scientist develops a “thalamic transplant” procedure which permits installing a human mind and memories within a robot body. The human has to be recently dead for the procedure to work, which got neatly around the “duplication” arguments, and the following exchange occurs in the movie:

    “Then you can transplant the soul.”

    “No. Only the memory that contains the faith that there IS a soul.”

    And uploading the data and processes instantiated in ten-to-the-bunchteenth neurons,
    or proving (or dis-) the existence of the soul are, to put it delicately “non-trivial problems.”

    And thank you, John. Yes, I DO wonder just what does my soul think of me, since we’re stuck with each other.

  28. Assuming that those who believe the soul is anchored in the body will want to die a “natural” death without uploading their consciousnesses into the cloud, it seems to me that the theological arguments would be moot after a generation.

  29. If anyone’s interested, I think I can predict the actual Christian response to this.(The Catholic one at least)

    In Catholic theology, the mind, body, and soul are indivisible. They are not separate entities sharing a ride through space and time. And anything considered degrading to human dignity – mind, body, or soul – will be considered immoral.
    This will have many implications, if the future looks anything like modern science fiction. The intricacies of church position will strike many people as silly.

    For example, church teaching on The Pill (loosely: using hormones to suppress healthy body function is a sin, because God gave you that body and you’re abusing it by turning off healthy parts of it. If those same hormones are used to treat a disease, and infertility is a side effect, that is unfortunate but not immoral. Intention is paramount) can be extrapolated to tell us that the church will welcome bionic eyes for those who have lost their sight, but will consider it a sin if you destroy your healthy eyes intentionally for an upgrade.

    So, any uploaded consciousness will only be considered a copy – an AI modeled on the original person, not a continuation of that person. The person dies when the body dies.

    A bigger question is how church doctrine will handle a true AI, if such a thing is in fact possible.
    Aliens and uploading are no challenge at all to Catholic theology. Cyborgs and AI souls are where things will get dicey.

  30. Sam at #17 said pretty much what I was going to – “uploading” creates a new entity that thinks it is you (assuming it is in fact conscious – a big assumption). If the upload process is destructive, the “real you” won’t be around any more to argue the point.

    I’ve always thought the same thing about teleportation – nice copy, but not necessarily “you”.

  31. You’re living in the post-singularity now. You’re all zero’s and one’s until you prove differently. Except John, I met him at Penguicon.

  32. Setting aside the theological issues, I think that “I” am a combination of both hardware (physical body/brain) and software (the programming encoded in the brain, crudely speaking). If you reload the software onto a different platform, that’s not “me” (although it might be convinced it is and might even argue the point). That’s why I have less of a problem with Lovecraft’s Whisperer in Darkness than with Vance’s Chateau d’If.

    C.J. Cherryh also looked at something like this in Voyager in Night, although in that case there were multiple copies of individuals running around.

  33. Isn’t an upload, destructive or non-destructive inert, and doesn’t the question really grow from its eventual expression? I can’t help but think of digital music or images. The ones and zeroes are binary primordial soup until they are expressed by a mp3-player or a printer, and we are a long way from being able to express the original experience with absolute fidelity.

  34. Nathreee @15:

    China Mieville addresses this in Kraken. A mage who is a huge Treker figures out how to beam himself places but discovers to his horror that every time he beams, he’s basically committing suicide. He ends up being haunted by thousands of ghosts of himself.

  35. And as always, thanks for linking to this, John. Discussions of the singularity figure into my novel-in-progress, so this will help keep me abreast of the lingo and current arguments for and against.

  36. If there is a soul–and personally I believe there is–it’s software, not hardware.

    I’ve particularly enjoyed the way Neal Asher grapples with this issue, in a universe where a sentient mind can start as human in an organic brain or start as AI in a piece of crystal. In the course of a lifetime, that mind can run on crystal, meat, or some combination of the two; so what exactly makes one human (or by the same token, AI)? Not even the Asher’s characters know the answer to that one.

  37. Sold my soul to the devil. The contract specifically limits digital duplication to the singularity. DRM is everywhere.

  38. I think I’m repeating something someone already said (and John replied to) but it strikes me that if you’re uploading your mind into a computer, you’re actually just making a duplication.

    As far as the soul goes, the thing in the computer is not “me,” it’s just a photocopy – a brain twin, which will then go on to live its own “life.”

    Now, you could create the twin, and then stop my body from working (killing me, I guess) but then you’ve still just made a copy, and destroyed the original. And since the body is dead, one would assume the soul would pass on to whatever comes next.

    In some sense, this lets you have it both ways. The science people get to say that the brain can live on forever, and the religious people get to say that the soul moves on.

    I’m surprised no one has linked to the Asimov story: The Last Question

    It was the first thing I thought of.

    My Zombie Novel: Mercy

  39. @Surfwax NICE! : ) Wil Wheaton would approve of your post. Or so I would assume. I haven’t actually asked him because he’s both busy and famous.

  40. Cyranetta @ #38:

    Perhaps the expression of a duplicated mind doesn’t need “absolute fidelity” any more than playing recorded music does. Actually, perhaps a better analogy would be that a particular performance of a piece of music isn’t necessarily better or worse than the original performance. (This is arguably particularly true of certain types of music, like blues or jazz.)

    Was a Miles Davis performance of “Time After Time” a less authentic expression than Cyndi Lauper’s first performance of it? Different instrument, different arrangement, different artist, different setting … is it a different piece of music, or not?

    I haven’t heard any live version of the song yet, and two of the three recorded versions I own are by people who are now dead. But all three versions still speak to me.

    Side note: As interesting as I still find discussions like this, decades after college BS sessions, I think what’s most interesting is the assumptions that people bring to them.

  41. Joshua @ #43: I think I’m repeating something someone already said (and John replied to) but it strikes me that if you’re uploading your mind into a computer, you’re actually just making a duplication.
    On what grounds do you assume “just”?

    It doesn’t make sense to me to assume limitations to a procedure that doesn’t exist yet (and may not even be possible).

  42. Artificial intelligence and concsiousness uploads are lenses through which authors try to take the current notion of the human condition and stretch it and see where the stress points are and where it breaks. it is a writers tool.

    the whole modus operandi of Science Fiction is to create a world that is sufficiently different from our own so that writers can criticize that world without directly i.sulting the paying readers.

    there is a subcategory of this that Dresden Codak captured in a web comic very well about caveman science fiction. namely the ‘me go too far’ sf trope. one shows a caveman with fire in his hand. someone else says you shojldnt play with fire. player is overconfident. last frame the whole world is on fire and caveman is shouting me go too far.

    The Three Laws of AI was an interesting backdrop against which one could write all sorts of stories that demonstratr just how insufficient it would be to try to reduce the restrictions of sentient beings to three simple laws and expect it to be fail safe.

    stories of consciousness uploads and the singularity are just ways for authors to either criticize current narrow views of consciousness or get the reader to think ‘what if’ in an entertaining way.

    Its Frankensteins monster in a new suit.

  43. Jason #28 — somewhat alike. I don’t see the soul taking a trip to heaven (or hell); it just branches, forks, divides, whatever (there was one, now there are two souls, one for each being (dividing a soul into two parts gives you two identical souls, which are then independent (one could convert to Islam, the other to Eastern Orthodox, for example.)))

  44. How much of the interest in uploading the mind is just SF’s ongoing case of body horror? A lot of readers (and writers following the market) of the genre seem to have a hard time with being made out of meat; our curiously unsensual prose, the absence of descriptions, the idea of an immortality in which you just think, the recurring figures who are superior because they don’t have emotions … like the space program, did the desire come first and the direction of technical explanation/development follow?

    Much of modern memory study shows that memories aren’t stored so much as re-created; if a human being is a collection of memories, then the human being is a process of endless self-rewrite, rather than a storable artifact. Does Elvis live forever because there are recordings of him and Elvis impersonators? How about Henry Irving, whose voice (recorded very scantily late in life, but passed from impressionist to impressionist) probably led to Dudley Doo-RIght?

  45. Another wise analysis, Mr. Scalzi – considering how different our cosmology is, it’s amazing how often we agree.

    That being said …

    Is anyone else reminded of “Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future,” and all those folks who got captured by the Bio-dreads and digitized? They were “living in the machine,” albeit against their will, and one always wondered if they’d ever be able to stage a mass virtual-jail-break.

  46. So the point is to stress the readers view of what consciousness IS and to find where it breaks.

    for example my view of any sort of ‘consciousness upload’ is that it would be a copy of the meat space version of the person, not that persons consciousness *itself*.


    because I personally dont have a problem with the idea that my consciousness is nothing more than a subjective experiential phenomenon created by underlying chemical, electrical, and mechanical processes. my consciousness EMERGES FROM the physical atoms of my body. you may someday be able to objectify all those mechanical aspects and create a copy of my consciousness, but I am my body.

    the folks who generally think that their consciousness coukd be magically removed from its physical manifestation of their body and installed in something else basically view the body as some sort of magical container and the magic is consciousness which is somehow NOT emervent fro. the body itself.

    so if you think consciousness is magic, then you can imagine it could be transferred to another person or a compter or some magic vessel and it is somehow magically still *you*.

    if yoh are like me and see consciousneess as strictly an emervent phenomenon of the physical body and brain, then any ‘uploading’ is nothing more than a simulation of who I am, not me. the uploaded version of me might go through some Max Headroom adjusting trying to grok that it iznt me even though it might have all the experiences of me up to the upload point of time. but it isnt me.

    I would still be walking around in my meat body experiencing the world through meat eyes aand pondering in my meat brain.

    I would still have to face meat death and I wil never have the experience of immortality. my simulation might get to enjoy a few hundred years, but I would have no experience of that.

    what I find fascinating about consciousness upload stories is how many of them embrace the ‘consciousness is a magical phenomenon that is *contained* by the body rather than a phenomenon that *emerges* from the body. and how many readers embrace that idea as well.

    they may very well come up with a the technology to measure all the aspect of my brain and create a full fledged simulation of that and create a consciousnesz that is emergent from that simulation. but I will still be stuck in the meat world in this meat body, talking to an AI that has my memories and thinks like I do. but it wont be me.

    consciousness upload is really nothing more than another attempt by mankind to escape our own mortality. older versions used the idea of the soul. this uses the idea of consciousness itself. but both require that the part that lives forever is somehow seperable from the body. and for that to be true would require some form of magic.

    if our consciousness is nonmagical then it is a phenomenon that we experience as a result ofour physical bodies. meat that thinks. but that means if you remove the meat or if the meat dies then the consciousness goes with it. it cannot be ‘transferred’ unless you say it is not actually connected to the meat.

    as a SF trope it can create some fun stories. but anyone taking this seriously is really inventing a nondiety based religion that grants them immortality. it is exactly rapture for nerds.

  47. I think some folks might be entertained by the movie ‘The Prestige’.
    If for no other reason than to see David Bowie play an awesome (thogh brief) appearance as Nikola Tesla. There may be concepts in this thread that also pertain to the movie as well. but probably shoukd watch it if your the least bit curious.

    saw it a while ago. my memory said it was good. though my memory isnt exactly binary data on a raid drive with ecc bits turned on…

  48. Ah the Singularity . Yet another religion that thinks it isn’t.

    Even if there were some way to copy memories and convert them to some digital form, it doesn’t save you from death and dying, any more than leaving a diary behind makes you immortal. You still die, alone, just like all of humanity has that has gone before us.

    But psuedo scientific belief systems like the Singularity show why religion is so pervasive. Even atheists want to think they can live forever, so the construct a belief system using technobabble rather than heaven and hell that will allow them to achieve immortality..

    We are so human!

  49. Looked at in a bit of reverse, you get something like Roger Zelazny’s “Lord of Light” novel:They downloaded him from the Cloud.

    Fun read, anyway.

  50. My question, which has never been answered, is why is “self-awareness” necessary to being an intelligent animal? And by that I mean “I am”.

    I don’t believe it should be required. And if not required what is it and why?

    As others have pointed out, there are other information processing centers in the human body besides the brain and I am not convinced this field effect could be uploaded in it’s entirety. Whatever was uploaded could not possibly operate in the same way the way I see it. The fallacy lies in believing in a mind/body dualism.

    And then there is “I am”. Can “I am” BE in a machine? That ultimately is the spiritual issue.

    To me, the singularity exists at the very point where “I am” meets “right now”. And that is the essence of spirituality too.

  51. Lil mike @ #54:

    You remind me of some militant atheists, devoutly rejecting faith.

  52. I’m pretty sure that Stross has misused the idea of mind/body dualism, though he lost me somewhat in the technohippiebabble, so maybe I’m mistaken. Mind/body dualism is the belief that the soul exists/can exist separately from the body. In religion, it is often extended to a conflict–aka, things of the flesh are bad for the soul. Traditional Christianity and Judaism are NOT dualistic in that it is believed that body and soul are one thing and that each cannot exist without the other. That is why the Catholic church forbade cremations for a very long time–it supports a dualistic belief in body/mind as separate, which gives support to innumerable heresies that the church has been trying to discourage for many centuries. Cremation is now allowed by the Catholic church, but cremains may not be scattered. They must be interred in one place for the convenience of the creator. (Not that the Creator can’t resurrect you if your ashes are scattered over Mt. Fuji. It’s just, like, rude to put him through all of that trouble.) Interestingly, popular Christianity as practiced in America, and especially in popular culture with all the angel wings and ghost stuff, does have a dualistic flavor, but all of that stuff untraditional and frankly unbiblical.

    For that reason, I believe that actually being a mind/body dualist is necessary to believe in a possibility of uploading one’s consciousness. If you believe that the mind can only exist within a body, then uploading is impossible. Personally, I do tend to believe it, not only as a person of faith, but also as a biochemist. We understand very little of human consciousness, but one thing is pretty damn clear. It’s not digital. There ain’t no upload, folks. Sorry!

  53. Here’s the thing about teleportation: Quantum-mechanically, all fundamental particles of a certain type are identical–really identical, in the sense that there is no difference in the state of the universe if you exchange them (up to a possible minus sign in the wave function, but you can even get rid of that by swapping two). This has actual physical consequences, for instance, in statistical thermodynamics.

    So if you were to make an exact-down-to-the-quantum-state copy of your body somewhere else, with every atom in an unaltered state, there would be no difference in principle from the effect of simply hauling yourself over there. So, physically, if that’s not really you then arguably you are not really you in the first place. (And, indeed, some philosophies claim that the unbroken continuity of the self is an illusion.)

    But quantum mechanics also says that copying a quantum state to that degree is necessarily destructive! So if it really has to be that good a copy, you don’t end up with two of you walking around. But maybe it doesn’t have to be quite that good a copy.

    Of course, none of this applies to mind-uploading, which would be nothing like atom-by-atom teleportation.

    I think I agree with the people who say that an uploaded human mind not provided with close simulated analogues of a meat body, and a physical world to be in, and some means of social interaction would rapidly diverge from the functioning of a human mind as we know it. It’s all a pretty tall order, though not impossible in principle. And, as Charlie said, it’s a lot of required baggage.

  54. One thing that clouds our thinking on this is the assumption that any “upload” would be a onetime event. I think it’s far more likely that brain “accessories” will come gradually. Memory problems? Move those grade school memeries over to a chip. Later you can add in the extra math processing power unit. A stroke might leave you with an artificial brain stem. Eventually you might pass the point where you are at least 51% artificial add-on an 49% meat. Did you ever stop being “you?” will you stop being you if you move to 60% or 70%. Would you even notice when you no longer have any original parts. It’s kind of like the story of the man who claimed to have George Washington’s axe. the handle had been replaced five times and the head three but it was still George Washington’s axe.

  55. Lil Mike@54: Even atheists want to think they can live forever

    Bearpaw@57: militant atheists, devoutly rejecting faith.

    He didn’t say anything about faith. Fear of death and the things we do to disassociate our current state from our inevitable death is an observation of human behavior unrelated to faith.

    wanting to live forever and therefore attaching to some wish fullfillment fantasy is not faith, it’s wish fullfillment. Unfortunately, many people seem to be driven to their religion out of a wish fullfillment desire to avoid death (and be “right” and be one of the “chosen people”) than as any matter of faith.

    Personally, I don’t think anyone has any “faith” until they have found peace. And people clinging to some false belief of immortality by attaching themselves to some notion like the Singularity aren’t acting out of a peaceful acceptance of life and death and all that is in between, but rather out of a rejection of what’s so and a wish that it were something else.

    The point being that Wishing and Faith are two completely unrelated things.

  56. For that reason, I believe that actually being a mind/body dualist is necessary to believe in a possibility of uploading one’s consciousness. If you believe that the mind can only exist within a body, then uploading is impossible. Personally, I do tend to believe it, not only as a person of faith, but also as a biochemist. We understand very little of human consciousness, but one thing is pretty damn clear. It’s not digital. There ain’t no upload, folks. Sorry!

    Your argument is a lot like John Searle’s, that it’s the strong-AI advocates who are dualists, and there’s just something about meat that makes it amenable to consciousness in a way that other substances aren’t.

    The question is really what kind of physical body is required. The strong-AI argument is that if the mind is some aspect of a physical system, in principle you could create a digital system that would emulate the behavior of a human nervous system arbitrarily well; build an accurate functional simulation of a neuron, say, and build your human-emulator out of those.

    The question then becomes whether that system would have qualia, whether it would really experience anything. If not, then we have a very strange situation: you could in principle build a “philosophical zombie” that would act just like a person, tell you that it’s conscious and recount its subjective experiences and feelings just like a person, but which would actually not be having any experiences.

    That’s logically possible but, at least, highly disturbing; for one thing, it immediately raises the question of whether all the people who currently exist are having real experiences. If behaving like you have real experiences is no prerequisite, how would you know?

    Now, there are various possible objections to this. One is that there’s some ineluctibly quantum or other physical aspect to a real body that no digital simulation can replicate, so that you’ll never even in principle be able to make such a system that even behaves like a person. Personally, as someone who’s studied a lot of quantum physics, I have my doubts about this; there’s no fundamental obstacle to classical simulation of quantum systems, and, besides, while some people (Stapp, Penrose) have argued that weird quantum properties of neurons are essential to consciousness, their arguments are far from universally accepted and, personally, not very convincing to me.

    Another, maybe more promising objection is that there are practical limits: the method of simulating a mind with some algorithm running on a general-purpose computer, like strong-AI advocates imagine, might just never have the performance necessary to get any thinking done in a reasonable amount of time, so the best you’ll be able to do to get a being someone could actually interact with is something more physically analog–maybe not literal meat but something that physically acts a lot like meat. That strikes me as much more potentially likely.

  57. Matt McIrvin #62 You have a lot of good observations, there, but you’re answering a set of lesser questions: 1) can you create an artificial intelligence that works like a human mind 2) is consciousness quantum? Stross is addressing the issue of direct consciousness upload, presumably as an alternative to physical death. In that case, you’re not trying to create a simulation of a generic human consciousness, and you’re not even trying to create a copy of a human consciousness. You’re actually trying to transfer that actual consciousness into a computer where it can run like software. It’s pretty hard to argue that even having accomplished a perfect simulation of the embodied consciousness, that you have somehow MOVED that individual consciousness out of the body, rather than making a copy and destroying the original. I don’t see that being remotely feasable based on science as we know it, although it’s a fun science fiction concept to play with.

  58. Personally, I kind of think that all that ever happens to our consciousness normally is that we keep making imperfect copies and destroying the original. I’m definitely not the same person I was ten or twenty years ago.

    (And this is my personal way, however imperfect, of dealing with the inevitability of my own death. Suppose I were to wake up one day in a different body with different personality-tendencies and no memory of my past experiences (and no occult paranormal way of recovering them). That’s not quite as hard to wrap my mind around as nonexistence, but how is it different from the case where I die and somebody else then gets born? Not in any operational or subjective way. I suppose that’s sort of like the austere philosophical-Buddhist take on reincarnation, though I’m not a Buddhist.)

    But I think I agree with John that being able to simulate a mind in a computer wouldn’t have much effect on religious perspectives on the issue, except for people who weren’t thinking very hard about it in the first place (e.g. the types who used to wonder if people conceived via IVF would have souls).

  59. There are two distinct issues of consciousness and experience that seem to keep getting conflated. The first is simply whether a machine could experience consciousness. the second is whether you could transfer you consciousness from your body to such a machine.

    to the first question, meat is one form of machine. and in that meat machine arises the experience of consciousness. all of us meat machines walking around right now, we all experience consciousness. we *want*, we *think*, we *create*. so I see no reason why at some point in the future a machine made of something besides meat could not have that same experience. how soon that happens is a matter of debate. but we prove by our existence that machines, mechanistic processes of electrical, chemical, laws can give rise to experience as consciousness. it is proven by example.

    whether we ever actually understand iit well enough to create a machine that experiences is also a seperate discussion. but machines can experience. there is nothing magical about meat that excludes it from physical laws.

    we know machines can experience. so we know that something like the singularity (machines that think and adapt themselves far fastr than us and leave humans in the dust) is possible.

    it is the second question that is relevant to whether this singularity, this creation of non meat thinking machines to which we can TRANSFRLER our meat based consciousness into and thus achieve nerd rapture, is actually a completely separate issue from whether meat and machines can think.

    what people seem to be missing is that the question of transfer is one of EXPERIENCE. if you copy my consciousness and put it in a machine then you have created a new consciousness that has my memories but is in some computer. meanwhile the meat machine that also has consciousness still remains and still experiences.

    you can COPY the underlying mechanical process and thereby COPY the consciousness that emerges from that physicality. but you cannot MOVE the consciousness without MOVING whatever MACHINE from which that consciousness emerges.

    if at any time during thee nerd rapture upload process there are two versions of the same consciousness then you arent achiving immortality for you experience, you have achieved immortality for a COPY of your experience. your still riding around in meat.

    now it might be that some wanting nerd rapture dont care that they will be unable to escape meat death and that they would be happy if some copy of them gets immortality. but really thats little different than being mortally injured on a car accident and as you lay there dying you find out you have a twin sibling you never knew about and you thinm at least THEY can carry on after you die.

    This isnt that absurd of logic. there are folks who soothe the pains of their own mortality by having children to carry on their ‘legacy’. its not them, but it is some ‘flavor’ of them. so I would not be shocked to find folks who dont care that the upload process is really a copy and they are left in a mortal meat machine. they may find the idea of an immortal COPY is better than nothing at all.

    all of which comes back to what I think is really the issue here: people need to make peace with their mortality. a lot of craziness in the world stems from people wanting to avoid having to accept that someday theyre going to die.

  60. “all of which comes back to what I think is really the issue here: people need to make peace with their mortality. a lot of craziness in the world stems from people wanting to avoid having to accept that someday theyre going to die.”

    Amen to that, my friend.

    From my point of view, a lot of the interest in the nerd rapture comes from computer enthusiasts who base their philosophical paradigm on an analogy between living beings and computers, assuming that consciousness or mind is like software and that the physical body is like hardware, and therefore we can manipulate mind and consciousness much like we manipulate software and other digital objects.

    The problem is that biology doesn’t work that way. The function of a biological machine, including the human brain, is inseparable from its mechanisms. There is no “software.” The idea of “uploading” one’s consciousness makes about as much sense to me as “uploading” my 2003 Chevy Suburban. Can I upload my vehicle into a computer and have it function and be identical to my car in every way? It’s hard to even think how that would work. How do I get the 4WD transfer case into the computer? Will it require virtual gasoline to “run?” Will it function in virtual space or physical space? That problem, on a vastly larger scale, is the problem of uploading consciousness. The body is, scientifically, biologically, not a vessel into which the consciousness is poured. It is a huge clockwork mechanism that, because of its complexity, irreversibly stops functioning when certain vital organs are deprived of oxygen.

    This isn’t the only example I’ve seen where computer nerds want to project their idea of how software/hardware works onto the natural world. There is another equally misguided movement to attempt to “hack” DNA and create new organisms, cure disease, whatever. Again, as is the case with consciousness uploading, the would-be hackers assume that DNA is like computer code that you can write and manipulate independently of the biological machine in which it resides. Again, they are wrong, and hence do not actually accomplish very much, because they disdain the actual study of molecular biology, which would teach them the the principles of actual molecular cloning (which are not even remotely like programming a computer–this from someone who has done both).

    Anyway, enough of that. Like I said, it’s a fun science fiction concept. Nothing more. I find the transhumanist movement misguided and a little sad. Like Greg says above, people need to make peace with their mortality. Even if you believe in no kind of after life or soul, there’s a lot that life has to offer in the limited time we have on earth.

  61. And there are the associated ideas that you could somehow blank out a preexisting brain and write someone else’s mind into it like wiping and overwriting a hard disk (like in Larry Niven’s “A World Out Of Time” or some body-switching fantasies), etc. The brain isn’t built for that like a computer is.

  62. I don’t think the hardware/software analogy is entirely without merit — software, human or otherwise, doesn’t function unless it’s installed on compatible hardware. But it’s also my experience that the same software will never perform exactly the same when you change the hardware, either — if I replace my motherboard/CPU, I’m going to be reinstalling Windows. And I’m guessing that “copying” and “uploading” a human personality, even to another biological vessel, would be much harder than trying to use BootCamp on an Apple.

  63. There’s an “easy” way to get around all these arguments about copying/moving a consciousness or a soul: Just do it slowly like the body regenerates neurons and other cells. If one neuron at a time replaced with an electrochemical machine is sufficient to destroy/split/copy a soul or consciousness then the soul or consciousness was really a fragile thing to begin with and should have had a lot more trouble with messy biology than we have experienced. How could a baby possibly grow a new brain and its associated consciousness unless it was possible to systematically change the fabric of the brain a little bit at a time? People can survive traumatic brain injuries with varying degrees of impairment and memory loss, so clearly uploading would not be without risk if something went wrong. It should also be clear that gradual uploading would work if done right. It might take many slow iterations to migrate from a purely human body to a bunch of bits in a computer without a loss of conscious continuity, but it certainly seems possible.

  64. as someone who has designed ASICs, worked extensively with processors, designed all sorts of hardware logic cores, written massive amounts of software, spent years working with FPGAs, and even done some pennance designin a 16 layer printed circuit board with literally hundreds of ICs on it, I would say the notion that consciousness is software that runs on the brains hardware is about as wrong as you can get.

    not being a neuroscientist myself, I am basing this on my geeky readings of brain functioning articles, and a neuroscientist can correct me if I am wrong here, … but…

    as far as I can tell the brain is likely more anagolous to an analogue computer than a digital cpu running software. an analogue computer is HARDWIRED to perform some algorithm. an example might be an analogue computer that could calculate artillery trajectories. inputs, outputs, and internal signals were in the formm of analogue voltage levels. calculations were made by hardwiring components that did the math you needed done. take two voltages and add them or divide them or multiply them.

    one could design am analogue computer to control the flight surfaces of a rocket such that the rocket would travel in a meaningful trajectory. i.e. the rocket would seem to move in such a way as to appear to have some intelligence about it. that intelligence was.hardwired into it by human designers.

    what little I understand of the brain is that it is a massively complex hardwired analogue computer. various parts are hardwired to make different calculations (like the rocket guidance computer), and those together such that consciousness emerges from it.

    analogue computers might be assembled using opamps which can be hardwired to perform.different mathematical functions like add subtract multiply divide. everything I have read about how neurons work is that they’re cells which essentially perform a simple math function like add or subtract or ‘threshold’ or whatever and then you take a bunch of them and wire them together to get the emergent behavior of consciousnes.

    it does seem that the wiring isnt quite as ‘hard’ as say copper traces on fiberglass. but that doesnt make it software. I designed a controller board for a spacecraft that was 74xx series chips and transistors and diodes and yet the board was self repairing in its own way. it had multiple power planes and multiple paths for control signals and if one section broke, it could route around the damage. it did this without a processor or software. it was purely the emergent behavior of a lot of simple logic hardwired together in a partucular pattern.

    now, it IS true that processors and software can SIMULATE hardwired systems. its how designers figure out if their designs wil work without having to wait a month or two for a board be built and parts soldered to it and hooked into whatever system it is a part of.

    but we know how to run the simulation because we know exactly how the individual compnents work and we know exactly how they are wired up. processors running software will probably be able to simulate a human mind some day, but right now the problem is we dont completely understand hiw the low level blocks work (neurons) and we have no schematic to show how they are hardwired together and we have no map that lists all the neurons internal states.

    so, I dont think it woukd be accurate to say the brain is like a processor and consciousness is like software. the brain is more like a hardwired analogue computer.

    I think what confuses people is that the emergent phenomenon, the ghost in the machine, the conscious experience of being alive, isnt found in any individual component, it isnt found in any particular wired connection between individual neurons. and to people interpret that emergent behavior as something nonphysical and therefore imagine its something nonphysical operating in the physical (software running on hardware).

    except the semi intelligent behavior one can observe in a rocket hardwired with an analogue guidance computer doesnt exist in any software anywhere on that rocket.

    it is an emergent phenomenon only. its like how the completely mechanical and chemical process of evolution might cause some to imagine there is some sort of intelligence (some software) operating behind the purely mechanical process. there isnt. there is no intelligence behind it. but a non intelligent, non sentient, process managed to produce intelligent human beings.

    so to tie this all back to nerd rapture, the notion of software running on the brain hardware is sort of like the same notion that some inteligent consciousness must be behind the mechanical process that is evolution.

  65. I think what confuses people is that the emergent phenomenon, the ghost in the machine, the conscious experience of being alive, isnt found in any individual component, it isnt found in any particular wired connection between individual neurons. and to people interpret that emergent behavior as something nonphysical and therefore imagine its something nonphysical operating in the physical (software running on hardware).

    Yeah I’ve heard this “emergent behavior” theory before but it sound like handwaving to me. What proof is there that “self-consciousness” is emergent? How does emergent behavior actually emerge? Do we have a model for emergent behavior? What types of systems exhibit it and what types of phenomena result from it?

    The deep questions are vexing, to be sure. The cartoon of an angel and a devil sitting on one’s should trying to influence the person is descriptive of interior conversations we have with ourselves. But what are these competing daemons and who is the decider? And who is it that is observing those three? Which of these are emergent and if the answer is all of them what does that mean? And if only the decider is emergent or only the observer, what is everything else?

    This emergent behavior explanation to me is a lazy heuristic that doesn’t explain anything.

    It’s just a way of sweeping certain difficult-to-rationalize phenomena under the rug by pretending we understand it.

  66. Ben, if you take your brain and replace one neuron with a hardware silicon version of that neuron then allow it to integrate and then repeat until every neuron has been ‘upgraded’, that might avoid the two-consciousnesses problem.

    You would then be consciousness emergent from silicon instead of wetware. It doesnt turn you into software that can be moved around over the net.

    if we are consciousness emergent from hardware, then we are tied to that hardware. and any conversion that takes the tied-to-hardware and disconnects it from the hardware to which it was tied is on some level a copy. at which point the consciousness emergent from silicon version of you is still around and has to face its mortality. its finiteness.

    Frank, calling me lazy after asking multiple questions that could be answered by googling “emergent” and reading wikipedia does not lend credence to your assertions.

    emergence means a bunch of simple systems produce a complex system. the navigation system on that rocket might be a gyroscope and a bunch of analogue math blocks. but together they make the rocket behave as if it were intelligent. it flies to its destination.

    consciousness is emergent from all the chemical, electrical, and mechanical processes going on in the body. it doesnt mean we understand it enough to replicate it. but it does mean we understand it enough that we realize the.ghost in the machine is, in fact IN the machine. not in some soul. or some other handwavy entity.

    a purely mechanical, chemical, electrical process like evolution is emergent in that, by itself those simple processes produced the human race. it doesnt mean we understand every branch in the evolutionay tree to get to humans, but it does mean that we realize that those simple processes produced humanity.

    emergent processes are usually most often dismissed by people who think that God is required to explain the results of some system. that consciousness is part of a soul. that evolution needed the hand of god to direct it.

    most people dont dismiss explanations of something being emergent except when that explanation displaces their religious explanation of the process.

  67. Part of the problem is that there is beginning to be a lot of evidence that neurons only do part of “thinking”. There are other structures in the brain that seem to do “wide area” connecting, the descriptions look to me like an MD attempting to describe what I think of as “hardware associative memory”.

  68. Greg, I did not call you lazy. I criticized the “emergent behavior” theory for self-awareness as a lazy heuristic that dies nothing to explain the phenomena. There is a difference.

    From my pov, my post still stands. I do not need schooling in the emergent behavior theory, I just don’t buy it. A guidance and targeting system that appears intelligent is not the same as the the phenomena I outlined.

    I do agree that humans could be a complex system that acts with intelligence without self-consciousness.

    So why aren’t we?

  69. How do you know we’re not? People in discussions like this sometimes bat around solipsism, the notion that I’m the only person with real awareness and everyone else is a zombie. Sometimes, though, I think that maybe I’m not actually conscious; I think I’m having experiences, but for all I know, other people might be having much more experiency experiences than I am. Maybe the reason some people have such strong intuitions that they have nonphysical souls is that they’re the only ones who do.

  70. Matt, I’ve considered that and have not ruled out the possibility that not everyone is self-aware. I mean really, how could I rule it out?

    However, there are other theories that fit the facts and I can’t rule them out either.

    One thing I do know; there is only one “I Am”….

  71. Frank: I do not need schooling in the emergent behavior theory, I just don’t buy it. A guidance and targeting system that appears intelligent is not the same as the the phenomena I outlined.

    You don’t actually outline any phenomena that I read. What you did was ask a whole bunch of questions which do in fact suggest that you need schooling in emergent behavior theory. Lets look at those questions, eh?

    What proof is there that “self-consciousness” is emergent?

    because if consciousness is not emergent, it is magical. Either that or there is a special part of the brain that is magically conscious, rather than being neurological pathways operating on standard electrical, chemical, and mechanical processes.

    Your question is on par with “what proof is there that evolution is emergent?” Because if it isn’t emergent, the only alternative is “intelligent design”. At which point I have to ask if you’re an ID’er.

    “How does emergent behavior actually emerge?”

    the term is an adjective, emergent behavior. It isn’t a verb. At least not in the physical sense. What you did here is a logical fallacy called reification. You’re looking for some sort of physical manifestation of the “emerging” and it doesn’t work that way. You’ve got a bunch of simple systems all doing their thing, and those systems happen to be working together. And together, the system as a whole is way more complex than the sum of the individual parts. Another term that sort of poitns in this same direction is “synergy”, but that’s gotten abused so much by MBA’s who dont know their systems from a hole in the ground, that I hate just typing that word out.

    “Do we have a model for emergent behavior?”

    I’m not even sure what this means. Do we have a model for evolution? Yes. Is it complete and total? No, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. And it doesn’t make something totally voodoo like “ID” suddenly more valid.

    What types of systems exhibit it and what types of phenomena result from it?

    This sort of question really is answered on the wikipedia page and from a quick google search. This one in particular makes me think that you really do need schooling in the concept of emergent behavior. Either that, or you are asking such questions so as to attempt to insert doubt that science is still “in doubt” about whether evolution is real or whether its soemthing more like ID that’s true, and that maybe we should teach the controversy or something.

    Casting doubt on the view you disagree with, without presenting your own point of view for fair review, is totally SOP (standard operating procedure) of folks who want to shoot down evolution but don’t want to admit that they’re young earth creationists because they know their view won’t last a second of public scrutiny. So, I have to say, you’re raising a lot of red flags over here as to your motivations, Frank.

    The deep questions are vexing, to be sure. The cartoon of an angel and a devil sitting on one’s should trying to influence the person is descriptive of interior conversations we have with ourselves. But what are these competing daemons and who is the decider? And who is it that is observing those three?

    Well, that’s part of your problem right there. There is no devil and there is no angel. Those are narratives you made up to explain consciousness. It’s actually many, many, many smaller systems, none of which are actually conscious, working together, to create the experience of consciousness.

    Which of these are emergent and if the answer is all of them what does that mean? And if only the decider is emergent or only the observer, what is everything else?

    Again, the decider, the observer, the angel, and the demon, none of them exist. They are like talking about “rain gods” to explain the emergent behavior that is meteorology. lots of small, simple systems, working simultaneously, adn in the same space, create soemthing as weird, crazy, and sophisticated as lightning. For thousands of years, lightning was explained as the work of the gods, or god himself, and similar stories. But meteorology shows it to be emergent behavior for a whold bunch of simple systems working in teh same space, affecting one another, and the sum total of their interactions is lightning bolts.

    Asking me if the god that produces the lightning is emergent or not… well, that sort of misses the whole point. That’s not a misunderstanding of what emergent means, thats a larger problem that would need addressing.

    I do agree that humans could be a complex system that acts with intelligence without self-consciousness. So why aren’t we?

    That right there? You completely lost me with that. humans are intelligent conscious beings.That intelliigence and consciousness is an emergent expereince from a whole bunch (100 billion neurons alone) of simple systems in the brain acting together to create the experience that is consciousness. I’m not sure what you’re asking here. At all.

  72. At the risk of being OT, I wondered this while watching the movie Source Code, which apparently sidestepped a lot of these questions to explore the relatively less exciting (to me) problem of how divided attention, focus, and inattention can lead to identical results: the belief that everything you see is everything there is, until someone else tells you differently. That made the abstract notion of “point-of-view” almost a character itself, but it also suggested that memory, not genetics, defined who we are. “Soul” in that context appeared to be the values of a person packaged independently of the memories that defined the person and how they lived those values.

    It also seemed that every time there was a download, the character died…again. The body was disposable, but not in the fashion of OMW. I found that especially horrible.

    If memory is a subset of mind, then I can’t see how uploading a soul is any different from uploading a set of “business rules.” In that sense, I can see a Christian response being just fine with the definition of upload; if we’re going home to Jesus, then the souls that were truly part of him have gone back to the source.

    Or so this version of me says at this time in this universe.

  73. Greg

    if consciousness is not emergent, it is magical.

    This is not true. There are a number of theories that have a basis in science that can explain self-consciousness without it being either emergent or magical.

    The physicist Brian Greene (working with string theory) has suggested that humans may be multi-dimensional beings and that consciousness may be a property of one of these dimensions. This could also explain an “after-life” in the sense that the death of our bodies in this dimension may not cease our existence entirely.

    Another possibility is suggested by you

    You’ve got a bunch of simple systems all doing their thing, and those systems happen to be working together. And together, the system as a whole is way more complex than the sum of the individual parts.

    By this theory, the universe itself could be self-conscious, no? After all the Universe is sufficiently complex by your definition. So is the planet for that matter. In fact even individual eco-systems would qualify which could explain the belief systems of Wiccans among others.

    Besides this there are the Many Minds Interpretation of Quantum Theory. It’s meant to address the problem of subjective observation within Quantum theory, which as you know is problematic. And though Many-Minds is itself problematic it just shows how serious is the problem regarding how it is that we are not all collapsing the wave of the experiential universe differently? Why is it we all experience the same “reality” given that the universe is indeterminate as a whole? Of course one way to address this is that there is only one observer collapsing the wave. A universal wavefunction.

    And by the way, collapsing the wave of an indeterminate universe requires an observer. Would a non-conscious measuring device suffice? What would it be like?

    No I do not believe in the supernatural or ID. But the emergent properties of evolution are qualitatively different from consciousness. And it certainly is not clear what evolutionary benefit consciousness bestows.

    The fact of the matter is that explaining consciousness as emergent behavior is just one theory out of many. In my mind, it is deficient based on my experience. I rely on experiential methods to navigate a car in such a way as to not crash into a tree. I rely on science to investigate the world around me and I can validate many of its findings experientially. Why, then, would I ignore my experience with consciousness and decide that it is a chimera?

  74. Frank, you lost me the moment you said string theory. xkcd #171 pretty much sums up my feelings about string theory. string theory does not produce any testable or fallsifiable results. if the singularity is the rapture for computer geeks, string theory is the religion of choice for physics geeks.

    humans may be multidimensional beings and consciousness may be a property of one of those dimensions?

    unbelivable. unfalsifiable. unprovable. untestable.

    what you have there is the result of what happens when someone who is really good with a hammer try to understand something that isnt a nail. I dont know what it is about western civilization but it has a penchant for.trying to explain the subjective and the spiritual in purely physical terms. its like when people got hung up on determi.isistic properties of newtonian physics, and the big question to western physicists was, ‘doesnt a deterministic universe mean we have no free choice?’ and of course western physicists kind of shrugged and said ‘probably’. and the quantum physics came along and westerners breathed a sigh of relief because the unpredictable randomness of quantum mechanics gave them a place to hide free will and protect it from their deterministic physics.

    for some reason, that wasnt good enough. probably because quantum physics didnt give westerners a place to hide their afterlife. so when string theory came along and suggested we are multidimensional beings but we can only se three of those dimensions, all the folks who needed a scientific justification for believing in an afterlife jumped on string theory as providing a place to hide their afterlife and still feel scientific.

    “death of our bodies in this dimension may not cease our existence entirely”

    exactly. string theory is justification for atheists and agnostics to believe in an afterlife.

    rapture for a different kind of nerd.

    like I said, people need to make peace with their mortality. because people who do NOT end up being motivated to find a way to cheat death and then they end up believing in stuff like the singularity or string theory, not because they make any scientific sense, but because they WANT it to be true.

  75. Greg,

    string theory does not produce any testable or fallsifiable results.

    You are absolutely correct in this. But I will also remind you that when first proposed by Einstein, Relativity was not testable and therefore not falsifiable, either.

    But you fail to consider that your explanation of consciousness as an emergent property of complex systems is not testable either.

    And it is difficult to escape the conclusion that if humans are conscious under your theory the universe should be as well.

    It is an observable fact that I am self-aware. And the inescapable fact is at the moment we can not account for what that is. Produce a self-aware system in a computer and it will go a long way towards validating your preferred explanation.

    You are wedded to a single theory and treat it as as if it is a proven law of the universe. It is not.

    I prefer to keep my mind open and will continue to explore the experience.

  76. All kidding aside, I don’t have a dog in this race… however, if we’ve thoroughly established that an uploaded copy of me – er, me – has no soul, than I shan’t lose any sleep when a hypothetical said copy slips into the night and does all the hideous things that I daren’t do. Because to cheer it on would be so very WRONG. (Not to mention that once someone mentions how allowing such a thing could affect my karma the entire “uploaded” argument will again be on.)

    And now I must ask to be excused; it’s time for me to corrupt^Wsynergise^Wbecome one with the (cheap, endlessly-reproduced, knock-off) Señor Coffee out in the kitchen. Rumor has it that he’s going to be uplifted next week…

    – CJ “Will brew coffee with soul for mindstate storage” H / esper

  77. Frank, saying that the emergent explanation of consciousness is scientifically no different than your string theory explanation is like saying evolution and intelligent design are both unproven therefore both are equally valid.

    I get the feeling that the issue isnt a need for schooling in emergrnt theory, but in the scientific method itself.

    you can see emergent theory of consciousness get support when you start looking at what happens to people who have brain damage to some very specific location of their brain. what often happens is that one very specific behavior changes and all others remain the same. that is evidence that lends itself to the emergent theory of consciousness.

    the string theory has as much objective evidence to back it up as the idea that we are ghosts trapped in physical bodies. ie none.

    And it is difficult to escape the conclusion that if humans are conscious under your theory the universe should be as well.

    um… What??? emergent theory doesnt say that anything containing consciousness must also be conscious. that would mean my car is conscious any time I am sitting in it. which brings us back to the more and more clear issue that you dont understand emergent theory.

    simple prosesses on earth created conscious organisms. that doesnt mean the earth or the universe are conscious. it means that simple processes working without consciousness created.evolution which created conscious organisms.

    thats a textbook example of emegent systems. having to correct you about this after you telling me you dont need schooling on emergent systems leaves me wondering how to even proceed with you.

    You are wedded to a single theory and treat it as as if it is a proven law of the universe. It is not.

    holy cow. I have heard that argument hundreds of times before. immediately after they tell me this, they then conclude with ‘thats why we need to teach the controversy’. and you know what? the response I give the ID people works just as well for you.

    the only thing I am attached to is occams razor, objective evidence, and repeatability. that means no magical 11 dimensions in which to hide some explanation if we cant measure or repeat anything about those dimensions. it also means I am unwilling to embrace some magical tale of multidimensions just because it might give me hope of an afterlife.

    The only thing I am wedded to is whatever explanation passes occams razor

  78. hm. at some point, where exactly this is or what causes it I havent figured out yet, my phone just decides to totally muck up my post. that last line above shouldnt be there. Phone actually wouldnt scroll down, so it was like that line wasnt there.

  79. There should be some catchy intro here, but it is late and I just wanted to contribute a bit. I read a fascinating theory of matter which suggested that cesium atoms shouldn’t bind the way they do in conventional physics and space-time. The theory posited that there was an out-of-phase or otherwise undetectible binding agent which we simply cannot perceive yet and that seemed to solve the issue. This perception problem is not unique to physics. In biology, there is a range of spectrum which human eyes cannot see because we lack a fourth set of cones in our eyes which would let us see it. In a less directly connected, but still relevant tangent, perhaps we cannot regrow nerves very well because we aren’t detecting all of the components of properly functioning nerves. The point is, it seems very, very likely that there are binding agents or elements in the human body which aren’t even remotely understood at present because we wholly lack the means to detect them. This means the possibility of a “transfer” of consciousness is highly unlikely anytime soon. Creating a software emulation may be possible, but it will not and cannot be the real thing. Our efforts are better spent on repairing and replacing the meat that carries about our sentience for now.

    This has been a favorite theme of mine for a while and I got into a great argument a while back about physical immortality. The young lady I was arguing with seemed faintly scandalized and suggested that it was not God’s will. I said that the Bible began with God giving man dominion over the Earth and all things on it which includes ourselves, so there is nothing inherently wrong with it. She said she was looking forward to getting to heaven. I suggested that if the kingdom of heaven is eternal, then nobody will really miss me if my arrival is delayed for a few millennia. That didn’t go over too well. I had the distinct impression that she felt I was headed for someplace warmer with more pitchforks.

    Assuming that I will not be struck dead for transgressions of an unspecified code, I submit that The Singularity will be physical immortality, not Cloud-based immortality. We’re already growing food in vats, so we’re not going to starve. We understand how to limit population growth, so we’re not going to be stacked on top of each other like sardines. We can and will solve other problems as they come up. The technology is possible and it will happen sooner rather than later.

    Once our best and brightest get to work on theories and deep thoughts for a few centuries, we may solve a lot of other issues, but for now, consciousness transfer is going to require far more work than simply maintaining our bodies.

  80. I think that uploading is at the very least a good thought experiment for theologians and philosophers to work on providing (and describing) more robustly their definition of what they mean by “soul”. If it can be copied, is it a soul? Who’s to say it isn’t?

  81. I’ve always had a serious problem with plots like this. I find this sort of book very difficult to enjoy, unless the dilemma is stated outright (as in Simmons’ “Ilium”). I’m not sure if this makes me a crude mind/body duelist, but unless there is some way to get around the fact that the the original person is still basically living and sensing and functioning with the original brain, the copy is a copy. If you die at twenty and your identical twin dies at eighty five, you are still not immortal. If you die at twenty and the computerized copy of your twenty year old brain goes on for a couple more millennia, it’s still not you, you’re not experiencing things, sensing thing, changing due to the stimuli that *it* experiences. It is a new entity.

    In fact, it seems to me that for this to work you WOULD need to be a “crude mind/body duelist” and also need to believe that it’s possible to migrate the mind (fat, neurons, synapses, cells?), or some esoteric “soul,” to the new “container” (whether the container be new flesh or more cyber-cloud-ish).

    This is the only problem I had with the awesome Dennis Danvers.

  82. Identity is hard to explain without implicitly taking to a form of dualism, one way or the other. Either the self is somehow magically part of the body and thus would be lost if you copy it, or the self is something about the body that can be copied and thereby transferred, having an independent existence from the body. You can argue that either of those is dualism, but that misses the point — materially speaking there is no “self” to refer to. There are the atoms and there are the patterns of information and functionality in the atoms — that’s it. The moment you start referring to a “self” you’re outside the realm of scientific descriptions of the material world and more in the realm of psychology.

  83. there is objective and subjective, brain and mind, but they are orthogonal to whether you are a dualist or not. you are a dualist if you thinkyour mind can be removed from your brain. if youthink your subjective experience we call consciousness is hidden in your soul and your soul can leave your body then you are a dualist. if you think your consciousness is *inherent* to your body, that mind emerges from body, then you are a nondualist.

    simply making the distinction between brain and mind doesnt make you a dualist. its how you believe the two relate two one another.

  84. Greg, the notion of a mind as an entity that either can or can’t be removed from the brain could be disputed as incoherent to begin with. An analogy to a computer program could be made… You can’t actually have a computer program without a hard disk (or something) to encode it on, so a computer program is always physical in a sense — but it isn’t as if there’s anything physically moving from one location to another when you copy a program from one disk to another and erase the original. It is meaningful from an intuitive sense to refer to the program as moving from one location to another, but we aren’t really referring to physical movement. We might use somewhat dualistic language to refer to programs, but that’s not the same thing as postulating some unobservable nonphysical epiphenomenon surrounding the various encodings of digital information that makes it different from ordinary matter.

  85. All right then, I’m the opposite of a dualist. I knew something wasn’t flowing right in my understanding of this.

  86. Luke, your argument is veering quite close to a concept called reification. Reification is a logical fallacy one commits when they argue that love doesn’t exist because is isn’t physical, it doesn’t weigh anything, it cannot be measured for height and width.

    talking about the physical (brain) and the subjective (mind) is making a distinction between endorphines and love. You experience mind, you don’t experience brain. You experience love, you don’t experience the individual chemical reactions and individual neural reactions of the physical world. Making the distinction between objective and subjective, between physical and experiential, doesn’t make you a dualist or nondualist. It’s distinguishing two concepts which are different.

    A dualist views the experience of mind as distinct and separate from the physical brain. The mind, they would say, is part of the soul, or hidden in some other dimensions, or soemthing like that which separates it from the physical body in some way.

    A non-dualist holds that the experience fo mind, the subjective, arises out of the objective, physical, brain.

    If someone argues that one cannot even make a distinction between objective and subjective, that it is all really physical reactions, that there is no subjective experience of mind but for some illusion cast on us like shadows in platos cave, then that is tending towards a place some call “flatland”. It is quite common for westerners to end up there, philosophically speaking. It is a disassociation from anything experiential, anything subjective. It translates the experience of the subjective and reduces it to nothing more than a physical reaction. Subjective experience fades and everything becomes mechanical. It seems to be a common outcome of some odd permutation of modern empiricism in the west.

    Flatlanders take the experience of something like love and reduce it to an illusion of the objective.THe importantance of something like love is minimized, presented as an illusion, as not real.

    That’s a different take from the emergent approach which says the experience arises from the objective.

    So, the spectrum looks something like this:

    flatlanders: Only the objective is real. THe subjective is an illusion of the objective world.

    emergent: the subjective emerges out of the objective and both are equally important, but orthoganal, dimensions of reality.

    dualist: The subjective exists in some manner independent of the objective: a soul, some other dimension outside the 3 (4) we know, etc.

  87. At the end of the day, whether or not there is an “afterlife”, nothing you do matters. You may have some basis for morality, some desire for a particular reputation, but it doesn’t matter. In the long run, the universe will grow cold and die. Or it will contract into a tiny speck and disappear. Everything you’ve done, wished for, longed for, worked for, were, weren’t doesn’t matter because it has no lasting effect.

    Only a select few of the 4 billion people on Earth today will be remembered in a hundred years and fewer still in a thousand. Forget 10,000.

    It is this very fact that people try to distract themselves from thinking too deeply about, using all manner of ways. The methods of distraction lead to all manner of misery.

    “Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Really, why not? I do not understand a logical rationale for any other philosophy given the above.

    And yet, I think there is a “purpose”. The Universe drives inevitably towards self-awareness. Consciousness, in some form is inherent. And ultimately through evolution, consciousness becomes more and more cohesive until self-awareness arises. And when that happens, the universe itself becomes self-aware. It is only through awareness that the Universe can BE.

    We know from Quantum Mechanics that the Universe is indeterminate as a whole. Collapsing the waveform requires a measuring device. In a sense, the Biblical Creation Myth is correct in that the Universe is created at the very moment the first self-aware being was able to look up at the stars and say “I Am that I Am.”

    Exploration (i.e. measurement) of the physical world and exploration of awareness is the “point” because realization of a particular universe is the crown of creation. Self-awareness is latent from the very beginning striving towards realization.

    The result of the exploration of awareness allows for (among other things) an internal understanding (intuition) of morality that is not rules-based nor reliant on an external authority. Such intuition mitigates decisions based solely on emotion or solely on the intellect.

    My view is that consciousness is a property of the universe and that self-awareness is the driving force behind evolution.

    None of this should be construed to mean that a machine can not become self-aware. But I am not convinced you can load a human personality onto a different platform and get the same individual.

  88. of course it matters. it matters to you. and it matters to me. taking the subjective wants and desires and reducing it to an illusion of the objective and physical is playing in flatlander territory.

    you WANT to live so living matters to you. you want the people you care about to be happy, so their happiness matters to you.

    what you are wrestling with, Frank, isnt whether life matters. What you are wrestling with is dealing with the notion that the universe is NOT empathic. It isnt sad when you are sad. it doesnt rain when you cry. it doesnt smite those who offend you. it doesnt give you an absolute set of morality. the universe doesnt care because its the physical, the objective.

    but saying ‘since the universe.doesnt care, nothing matters’ is a form of the reification fallacy.

    but you matter enough to yourself to get out of bed every day and do whatever you do. it mattered enough for you to post that message to everyone else here.

    your desire to have ‘consciousness’ have some physical direct manifestation is muddying the waters. you want consciousness to *exist* the way atoms exist. the whole shpeel about string theory is nothing more than a hope that consciousness is ‘real’ somewhere, even if its in some other dimension we cant see.

    we’re talking about the difference between physical and emotional, objective and subjective, brain and mind. happiness doesnt exist on some hidden dimension connected to us via string theory. happiness emerges out of the physical brain. consciousness emerges out of the meat. subjective emerges out of the objective.

    you’re to find some physical ‘flux capacitor’ which holds the magic consciousness. string theory. and so on. thats no different than saying consciousness is hidden in the ‘soul’. it isnt. mind is not a thing. brain is. mind emerges out of brain. there is no hidden dimension where happiness comes from. you experience happiness. you feel it. like you feel ecerything else, as an outcome of your brain.

    it isnt software. and it isnt hardware. and it isnt some other dimension. and it isnt a soul. the experience of being alive emerges out of the physical universe.

%d bloggers like this: