Dawn of Immortality: Dusk of Identity?

Auteur(s): Daphne Broeks | Categorie: Podium

[Dit artikel is gepubliceerd in Splijtstof 45-2]

While the Elixir of Life does indeed extend life, it must be drunk regularly, for all eternity, if the drinker is to maintain his immortality. Therefore, Voldemort would be entirely dependent on the Elixir, and if it ran out, or was contaminated, or if the Stone was stolen, he would die just like any other man. Voldemort likes to operate alone, remember. I believe that he would have found the thought of being dependent, even on the Elixir, intolerable. Of course he was prepared to drink it if it would take him out of the horrible part-life to which he was condemned after attacking you, but only to regain a body. Thereafter, I am convinced, he intended to continue to rely on his Horcruxes: he would need nothing more, if only he could regain a human form. He was already immortal, you see … or as close to immortal as any man can be.’

– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, chapter 23 ‘Horcruxes’

 

Were I to concern myself with the Wizarding World, I might investigate whether the immortality derived from drinking the Elixir of Life affects a person’s identity differently than the kind that comes from storing one’s soul in Horcruxes. In the real world, however, immortality remains little more than a dream that has mesmerized our collective imagination since time immemorial, whilst identity has been deftly evading our conceptual grasp. Shortly, however, we might be facing the dawning prospect of being able to enhance ourselves to the point that we might well be called immortals.

Unfortunately, no matter how talented we might one day become at avoiding death, we cannot dance forever. As long as we – or parts of us – still exist within the physical realm, we will remain bound to its laws. Nothing lasts forever, not even the universe. As such, immortality will be interpreted as ‘indefinite life extension’ within the scope of this paper. The most important assumption will be that human enhancement technologies will indeed realize this kind of immortality within the foreseeable future.

On the whole, human enhancement technologies do not seek to immortalize the human race. Fields as varied as robotics and genetics have been given this umbrella term by a philosophical conviction called ‘transhumanism’. In the Transhumanist Reader, More defines transhumanism as: “a class of philosophies that seeks the continued evolution of human life beyond its current human form as a result of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.”[1]According to transhumanism, the transformation from human to posthuman is a desirable one. This could entail a cognitive ascension to genius-like potential, a refinement of our emotional palette, or a physical upgrade leaving us impervious to sickness, aging and death. Each of these topics lends itself to philosophical critique, and volumes have been published highlighting the moral and social consequences of the proposed transformations.

However, I am not alone in believing that we ought to address one vital question first: will this enhanced being still be me?[2],[3] Rather than envisioning some immortal society, therefore, the main question of this paper will be whether one’s personal identity is likely to persist after becoming immortal.

In order to properly answer this question, a definition of the concept of ‘personal identity’ is necessary. In this respect I will join Schneider in dividing the personal identity debate in philosophy into four positions, the names of which I have paraphrased as (1) the soul-self; (2) the no-self; (3) the matter-self; and (4) the pattern-self. The first part of this paper will offer an introduction to these four positions and their definitions of personal identity. Only then can we hope to answer, for each position separately, whether a human being who becomes immortal will retain his or her personal identity.

However, there is another division that ought to be made. For within the current body of human enhancement research, I discern three possible avenues to immortality: biological, robotic and virtual. More importantly, each of these routes appears to pose its own problems for theories of personal identity. Based on relevant publications, I will attempt to describe the kind of posthuman we might become, in order to analyse whether ‘we’ will still be there after the transformation.

If done correctly, my analysis will result in a neat grid; four rows of personal identity positions, three columns of immortality types. Twelve squares with either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to answer to the question of whether personal identity will persist throughout immortality. Scientifically, my modest framework will offer a concise summary of a voluminous body of literature. When convincing proof is discovered for one of the theories of personal identity, one need only swipe their finger across the page to discover what this means for one of humanity’s dearest ambitions.

One might wonder why I want to answer a similar question to the one that has already been tackled by Schneider and Hugues. I do this because I perceive a weakness in the way they answer it. Both of these authors focus on personal identity in isolation. However, when asking the question whether or not I can survive immortality, we are actually asking whether or not my personal identity will persist over time. Each of the four theories on personal identity have their own explanation on how they believe that the self persists over time, which so far seems to have been overlooked.

I would also like to draw attention to the social relevance of this question. For as easily as we might find volunteers for immortality at present, as difficult will it become once they fear that their identity might be at stake. After all, paying for immortality with your identity seems just as bad a deal as paying for a pair of beautiful new gloves with the loss of the sensitivity in your hands. Considering that programs such as the 2045 initiative wish to achieve immortality within the coming decades[4], the question asked in this paper seems doubly important.

 

The Identity Quartet

When asking whether or not someone’s identity will survive immortality, we are actually wondering how and under what conditions personal identity persists over time. To introduce this subject, I shall use Olson’s excellent exposition of it in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy to serve as my main source of reference.[5]

Persistent Souls and Absent Selves

The first and most obscure melody comes from the view that someone’s personal identity resides in their soul. This is glossed over, not only by Schneider and Hugues, but also by Olson. Yet I believe we can be both short and clear on the nature of the soul-self.

Firstly, the definition: someone’s identity is their soul, or non-physical mind, which survives the death of the body.[6] Next, the important question: what if that body never dies? Immediately it becomes clear that there are two possibilities for the persistence of the soul-self: either the soul sticks around for as long as we live, or it does not. To elucidate this last possibility, I would like to point out that it is not inconceivable, especially from a religious point of view, that once the fated expiration date of a human life has passed, the soul will simply pack up and leave, even if the remaining body is still in perfect shape.

According to the soul-self, I am that past or future being that has the same soul as me; a soul that was somehow placed into or around my human body at conception or birth, and which will only depart either when my body dies, or when it was fated to die. Fortunately, at least for our main question, all we need is this definition of the persistence of the soul-self. For if my identity is my soul-self, then I am already immortal, and will at worst leave behind a soulless posthuman husk at one point in the future. Following this line of thought, we can already mentally fill out one entire row of our grid, because my personal identity will always persist if it is equal to my soul. This, incidentally, explains a great part of religion’s appeal.

The playful sigh of a wind chime heralds a newcomer to the stage. For not all religions treat personal identity like this. Buddhism, most notably, regards the self as something completely different. “The Buddha accepted many conventional usages of the word ‘self’ (also ‘atta’), as in ‘yourself’ and ‘myself’. These he saw as simply convenient ways of referring to a particular collection of mental and physical states. But within such a conventional, empirical self, he taught that no permanent, substantial, independent, metaphysical self could be found.”[7] In philosophy, we encounter similar ‘no-self views’: in Hume, for instance, there are bundles of impressions but no underlying self, or in Nietzsche, who considered the ‘I’ to be a grammatical fiction. Neuroscience gently shoves scientific understanding of the self into this direction as well, by offering us a model on how the brain creates an ongoing, fragile narrative of the self. A lesion here, a neurodegenerative disease there, and the self is left forever changed.

Highly interesting in this respect is Parfit, an Oxford philosopher who says that the self only exists insofar as an entity such as England exists.[8] England may have a physical past and a growing collection of ethnic groups and governmental institutions. However, any attempt to definitely state that England began existing at a specific point in time and constitutes a specific set of individuals and organisations would only ever result in a random fiction. In the same way, stating that my personal identity began at a certain time and is constituted by a specific set of traits would be equally arbitrary and fictitious.

According to both Hugues and Parfit, there is a moral upshot to this theory, a moral code involving the wellbeing of all future persons. Simply put: I should do what is best for everyone, because in a few years I might be anyone. From here, it is not difficult to imagine that immortality might still seem like the best course of action for someone who doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as a self, because he judges it to be in the best interest of all future persons, and therefore also in his own.

We can, however, already see that no matter which kind of immortality we are considering, the answer to whether the no-self will persist throughout it will always be the same. According to the no-self view, the very question itself is nonsensical, and its answer therefore is ‘not applicable’. Demanding that the no-self point of view give an answer to my main question, would be like asking an atheist whether God likes dumplings. He cannot give an answer either way without abandoning his position, and ought therefore to be allowed to remain silent. I wish to grant the no-self view that same courtesy.

In conclusion we have seen that the soul-self will always persist, and that the no-self view doesn’t believe that something like the persistence of personal identity exists. Without having even the slightest idea of what the different kinds of immortality entail, we can therefore still fill out the first half of our grid:

 

Will my personal identity persist throughout ► according to ▼? Biological Immortality Robotic Immortality Virtual Immortality
The soul-self view Yes Yes Yes
The no-self view N/A N/A N/A

 

The Fact of the Matter and the Plagued Pattern

As two voices of our quartet fall silent, the remaining two prepare for their symphonic duel, bursting with philosophical fortissimos. No quarter is given in this battle between logic and intuition, where the weaknesses of the one are also always the strengths of the other.

First, the matter-self, which takes an animalistic point of view regarding personal identity, the persistence of which is explained by brute-physicalism. I am that past or future being that has my body, or that is the same biological organism as I am. The matter-self is therefore compatible with our views on who is who in real life. However, whereas the matter-self avoids all of the logical objections raised against the pattern-self, its greatest flaw lies in the fact that it is counterintuitive: it implies that if my brain were to be transplanted, I would persist in the brainless body. For according to animalism, a brain is neither a body nor a biological organism, and therefore does not meet the brute-physical persistence conditions.

If, on the other hand, you wish to believe that you would go along with your brain if it were to be transplanted, then you subscribe to the point of view which most people prefer[9], that of the pattern-self. According to this so-called ‘patternism’,  I am that past or future being with whom I am psychologically continuous. This means that as long as my pattern — my psychological make-up — is retained, my personal identity will persist even throughout such drastic changes as brain-transplants and mind-uploading. Immediately a cacophony of objections bursts forth from the other end, which I will distil into the three main logical shortcomings of the pattern-self.

Firstly, there is the ‘too-many-thinkers’-problem. If I am a pattern that exists based on psychological continuity, then I will go along with my brain when it is transplanted, and can therefore not be an organism at all. But if I am not an organism, and human beings do still seem like an excellent example of thinking beings, I run into a problem. For if my body can think, then there are two intelligent beings writing this sentence right now. These two beings are indistinguishable, so I can never know which one of the two I am: the non-organism with psychological persistence conditions or the organism with brute-physical ones.

The ‘too-many-thinkers’-problem can only be avoided by stating that we are thinking organisms, and in this way admitting that our personal identity is a matter-self. However, there is one way out for patternism: to say that there are no thinking organisms; that organisms do not have mental properties.

Weakened already, the pattern-self is plagued by logic yet again. For secondly, we encounter the fission, or separation, problem, which goes as follows. Imagine that it is possible to transplant each of my hemispheres into a different, empty head. Now recall that I am any past or future being who is psychologically continuous with me. According to this definition, both of the recipients of my hemispheres, let’s call them Fred and George, are psychologically continuous with me. We need not even pretend that the information contained in my hemispheres is identical, for we need only the definition of psychological continuity to tell us that my personal identity will persist in both of them. But this cannot be. I am one, so I cannot be both Fred and George. Just imagine Fred being dead when George is not. I cannot be both alive and dead at the same time without being a logical contradiction.

Two solutions can be offered against this fission problem. The first states that Fred and George always already existed, and were finally split during this daring surgery. They are like two roads, which coincide for a little while, and then finally fork. Whether you accept this solution depends on whether or not you are willing to accept that people, and all things for that matter, are made up out of time-slices.[10]

The second solution is more important, because in order to save the pattern-self, its persistence in psychological continuity has to be abandoned. Or at least, it has to be acknowledged that psychological continuity is not sufficient in itself. I am that past or future being with whom I am psychologically continuous, only if no other being is. Accepting this modification leads to the harsh conclusion that fission is death. I can only survive as either Fred or George, but I, or my personal identity, will die if both exist.

Relieved to have still escaped somehow, the feverish pace finally quietens. But this repose is short-lived, for the third assault is heralded when the sound of a horn finally arrives, which has been echoing since Berkeley’s days. It was he, after all, who pointed out that one of the most important parts of the pattern, memory, was insufficient to constitute psychological continuity.

Consider the following example: writing this text I recall myself as a little girl learning to play the clarinet. Since I can recall her experience, she and I are psychologically continuous with one another and therefore share the same personal identity. We are one. Now imagine me as an ancient posthuman dragon lady, recalling writing this paper with some irony. Again, she can recall my current experience, so she and I are psychologically continuous with one another. We are one. Now, this is where memory shows itself to be insufficient. For what does it mean when the dragon lady can no longer recall learning to play the clarinet? Then the lady and the child do not share the same personal identity because they are not psychologically continuous with one another. Identity is supposed to be transitive: if I am the dragon lady, and I am the child, then the dragon lady has to be equal to the child.

This is one of the reasons why the memory criterion is insufficient. Even modifying it to include such things as retrocognition – the dragon lady equals the child because she recalls the writer, who once recalled the child– cannot prevent the illogical implication that since I can never remember anything during the times I was in dreamless sleep, or unconscious, I am also not psychologically with myself at these times.

The most promising response to the shortcomings of the memory criterion is therefore to abandon it altogether, and replace it with the notion of causal dependence: “We can then say that you are psychologically continuous, now, with a past or future being just if some of your current mental states relate to those he or she is in then by a chain of psychological connections.” What are psychological connections? “A being is psychologically connected, at some future time, with you as you are now just if she is in the psychological states she is in then in large part because of the psychological states you are in now.”[11]

Although Olson does not list any more objections to this new and improved definition of the persistence of the pattern-self, I will. Imagine a posthuman being, let’s call her Dream-Daphne, living in 3000 AD. For she and I to be psychologically continuous with one another, my mental states must make a “chain of psychological connections” with hers. From being grumpy about back pain to enhancing my physique, from fearing death to becoming immortal, from forgetting an appointment to installing a new mass storage device in my right earlobe. The chain is not difficult to imagine.

What is difficult, however, is reconciling the causal psychological persistence of personal identity with the view of identity as a pattern. Recall that the pattern was someone’s psychological make-up, which entails everything from their desires to their memories, from their tendencies to their beliefs, and so on and so forth. The original and Dream-Daphne may share a desire to enhance, but is this enough to constitute identity? Is it enough, when Dream-Daphne can remember much more than the real one ever could, and has, with the convenience of technology, rid herself of her nasty habits? And what if, after many a cognitive enhancement, Dream-Daphne has seen the foolishness of believing in such things as souls? Could I, looking at Dream-Daphne’s pattern, say that it has retained enough of the original Daphne’s pattern to declare they are the same? How much of the pattern can we lose, before we have to drop patternism itself?

Indeed, it occurs to me now that this new definition of the persistence of the pattern-self is eerily similar to both Parfit’s ‘correlations between mental states’ and Hume’s ‘bundles of impressions’. The causal propagation of mental states through time is the propagation of the sense of personal identity to the no-self point of view as well as to patternism. The only distinguishing characteristic patternism is left with after including causality, is that contrary to the no-self point of view, it does still assume the existence of some real, underlying self: the pattern, which must be mostly retained. In short: causality without a pattern is the psychological continuity of the no-self, not the pattern-self.

Has the fourth melody, having fought so fiercely, doomed itself by attempting to save itself? It finally joins the other three in silence, having proclaimed that organisms cannot think and fission is death, having called upon causality as a last hope and thereby shattered its own pattern. Personally, I feel that all these objections are forceful enough to reveal that patternism is, at the very least, inadequate as a theory of personal identity.

Most transhumanists, however, put much stock in patternism, which has been defended by such giants such as Kurzweil and More. They seemingly do this, because patternism alone allows them to say that it is possible to transplant brains and upload minds with retention of personal identity. Whether or not this holds true, shall be revealed in the next part.

 

The Immortal Trident

Biological Immortality

The difference between mythological immortal beings and biologically immortal beings is that while the latter will not die of old age, they might still succumb to accidents, infections or mutations.[12] Whether the key to immortality is handed to us by bio-gerontology, nanomedicine, or genetic engineering, the result shall be the same: a biological body that does not age, but which might still be flattened under a rock, destroyed by a voracious virus or fall victim to cancerous mutations. Or, as was mentioned in the introduction, perish simultaneously with the universe. Now we know what biological immortality is, we can ask whether personal identity will persist throughout it.

Where the matter-self is concerned, the answer seems rather straightforward. As long as I remain the biological organism that I am, my brute physical persistence conditions have been met, and my matter-self will therefore continue to persist. There are those who would like to reduce brute-physicalism to non-gradualist materialism, stating that changing as much as a single molecule ought to count as a loss of personal identity, but this would be a miss-portrayal. I repeat therefore that all the immortalising changes do not matter for the matter-self, which will continue to persist as long as the organism, which it is, does too.

What about the pattern-self? Is my psychological make-up retained when I become a biologically immortal being? To me it seems that it cannot be retained, which I will explain in two steps. First recall my statement that by limiting psychological continuity to causality, patternism becomes little more than a no-self point of view. It therefore has to assume the existence of some real, underlying self: the pattern, which must be mostly[13] retained. Secondly, recall Dream-Daphne, whom we will now make biologically immortal. The only difference between me and her is that she lives in 3000 AD, and I in 2016, and she doesn’t age, where I do.

Memory, therefore, is where the pattern parts at first, for not only will she have new memories, she will have probably forgotten a great deal of the ones that monopolize my pattern now. What about the other parts of the pattern; desires, tendencies, beliefs? Will all three not be altered by the very experience of immortality, of having stopped aging, of having centuries to complete one stage in life? The short time we have plagues, I believe, the patterns of all mortals. Knowing you have to complete your education, then work and settle down, eventually retire, and finally die, seems to be the thread that runs through almost every pattern. When we pull out this thread, all tendencies, beliefs and desires based upon it will follow suit. Leaving us with very little common ground between a current mortal pattern and a future immortal one.

Robotic Immortality

Robotic immortality is achieved through the gradual replacement of organic parts of a human being with robotic parts. Early last year, three men succeeded in controlling their bionic hands with their minds,[14] and a paralyzed woman flew an airplane in a simulator, again, only with her mind[15]. Before you ask – no, humans did not develop telekinesis, they developed BCI’s instead. BCI stands for Brain Computer Interface, and it is exactly this technology, combined with robotic engineering, that may allow future humans to transplant their brains into a sturdy robotic body, and control it.

Note, however, that immortality is only achieved once life can be extended indefinitely, which will eventually require that all organic material, including that of the brain, be replaced by a more durable alternative. This is called ‘substrate independence’. Besides this, robotic immortality will continue to suffer from the same weaknesses as biological immortality, because a robotic body may still be accidentally destroyed or infected with a computer virus, and will certainly still perish at the end of time.

Does brute physicalism allow the matter-self to persist in a robotic body? We already encountered the answer to this in our discussion of the matter-self. It was counterintuitive exactly because it predicted that you would stay behind as the brainless organism in this situation, and not go along with your transplanted brain. Your personal identity would cease to exist long before the last traces of organic material are scooped out of your robotic skull and replaced with microchips. The answer, therefore, is simple: the matter-self will not persist throughout robotic immortality.

Does the pattern-self fare better? In order to be safe from the ‘too-many-thinkers’-problem we must first be certain that no thinking organisms exist. Furthermore, there cannot be any back-up servers to which our pattern is uploaded. This would be a modern version of fission, where I would be psychologically continuous with both Robot 1 (Fred) and Server 1 (George), and therefore die.

However, even if all these requirements are met, does the pattern-self not encounter the same problem as it did with biological immortality? Again, recall that if we want the pattern-self to be something more than the no-self, we have to retain most of the underlying psychological make-up. It seems to me, however, that robotic immortality will pull out the thread of life-stages just as easily as biological immortality did. Furthermore, what will I desire when my body is no longer organic? What happens to my pattern when Dream-Daphne never again yearns for delicious food, sweaty exercise, or a refreshing shower? Or, worse yet, what happens to the pattern when these desires are retained, but can never be truly satisfied again? Won’t the entire pattern, which was based upon a mortal animal, go insane? A no-self might go with the flow, might take being a robot in its stride. But a pattern would certainly unravel, as, I hope, even gradualists would agree.

Virtual Immortality

Digital immortality refers to the fact that more and more people, who are dead in real life, live on online in their social media profiles. Virtual immortality, however, is something quite different. It is one of the forms that mind-uploading, a hypothetical procedure, might take. To give an example of how this is being envisioned, I selected the following quote:

I am persuaded that the ultimate realization of the dream of achieving an indefinite lifespan, with vastly enhanced cognitive abilities, lies in leaving biology behind and moving to a new, post-biological, cybernetic phase of our evolution. Mind uploading, the transfer of a human mind, memories, personality and “self” (whatever “self” is) to new high-performance substrates is the ultimate technology for immortality. Therefore I have always been interested in mind uploading and I consider it as the “Holy Grail” of transhumanism: let our minds break free of our biological brains and bodies, and we will be free to roam the universe and grow beyond limits as “software angels”.[16]

There are two parts of this quote that are of special significance to our current query. For one: “whatever “self” is” are words that, in my opinion, serve as an excellent example of the disregard many transhumanists show towards the concept of personal identity. I would certainly like to become a “software angel”, but not if my “self” gets lost somewhere along the way. Secondly, expressions such as ‘post-biological’ and ‘leaving biology behind’ make it clear that the author does not believe that the matter-self might be the right point of view. Indeed, the matter-self is to be sacrificed so the pattern-self can be uploaded onto something like the artificial brain inside a robotic immortal human.

Only in the case of virtual immortality, the mind does not witness the world through robotic optics, but experiences a virtual reality through virtual senses instead. If this becomes possible, then the pattern-self would have no trouble persisting, as long as the virtual avatar resembles the original human form, and the virtual reality resembles the reality experienced as a mortal. Anything else will unravel the pattern for a third time. However, if the virtual world has to resemble our current circumstances, how can we ever know for certain that we have not all been uploaded already? For all we know, we designed a virtual reality in which it seems like we are mortal, in order to ensure that our personal identities persisted. There is no way to be certain anymore, except to decide that the pattern is not the seat of identity, and that designing a magical virtual reality in which everyone goes to Hogwarts will therefore not harm its persistence.

A Dozen Answers

In this work we have investigated all that identity is imagined to be, and all that immortality might become. We have explained religion’s appeal by discovering that the soul-self will always persist because it is already immortal. We have seen that the absence of a personal identity does not have to mean that we should forego enhancing, or forego being good, for that matter. We have discovered that the matter-self can only persist as long as the individual is still an organism. But perhaps most importantly, we have predicted that the pattern-self will be unravelled by immortality, and considered that patternism might be a poor excuse for a theory of personal identity to boot.

I promised a neat grid of yes’s and no’s. Early on, however, we discovered that from the no-self point of view, the main question itself is nonsensical. It seemed only fair, therefore, to allow the no-self to fall silent and refrain from answering. Where the other three theories are concerned, I do believe I succeeded. With the one exception that I was forced to add a single note to a single answer. Here is the result:

 

Will my personal identity persist throughout ► according to ▼? Biological Immortality Robotic Immortality Virtual Immortality
The soul-self view Yes Yes Yes
The no-self view N/A N/A N/A
The matter-self view Yes No No
The pattern-self view No No Yes*

* But only if the virtual reality resembles our mortal one.

The note, however, is of phenomenal importance. It heralds the return of Descartes’ malin génie, and adds oil to the flames of the more contemporary ‘brain-in-a-vat’-debate. Because, as said before, if the virtual world has to resemble our current, mortal condition, then we can never know whether or not we are living in a virtual simulation already. This, however, is the price we have to pay for the persistence of the pattern, or perhaps for patternism itself.

Certainly, one of the biggest discoveries throughout this paper has been how incredibly difficult it is to defend patternism. I cannot deny that it feels intuitive to think of myself as a collection of mental traits. I am Daphne because I believe certain things, desire others, and have certain tendencies. As soon as we take either the passage of time or reality into account, however, the pattern quickly unravels. The failure of the memory criterion was the first sign that not all parts of a pattern can and are being retained throughout time. People forget, they grow to like different things, they actually say they feel like someone new once in a while. In fact, it appears to be rather common for reality to come along, take a pattern sturdier than any tapestry, and prove it to be as malleable as Parfit’s England. If a loved one’s death can irrevocably alter a pattern, why should it be surprising that their, and your own, immortality will do so as well? Has patternism not been incredibly naïve when it expected it would not?

There is always the gradualist defence, however. I may forget I played the clarinet, I may abandon all my desires, beliefs and tendencies, and I would still be myself. How? A gradualist would answer that I have still retained enough of my underlying psychological make-up, which to me seems highly implausible. A patternist would add that causal dependence ensures the psychological continuity of my personal identity throughout these changes. However, I hope to have shown that a pattern-self whose entire persistence hinges, not on retaining parts of the pattern, but on nothing more than causality, is actually a poorly disguised no-self.

If I do have a pattern now, then most, if not all of it, has been determined by societal norms and the current human condition. If Dream-Daphne has a pattern in 3000 AD, then most, if not all of it, will be determined by the societal norms of that time and the post-human condition. Still, she and I may feel like we are the same, because we feel like we are psychologically continuous with one another through that useful, but ultimately illusory, narrative fiction of a self. This to me seems the most likely alternative, but let us not forget that it might still be the shared soul that gives us persistence through time, or, in the case of biological immortality, us still being the same thinking organism we were born as.

I believe the time has come for me to fall silent, and let the quartet take up their instruments once more. The soul-self ought to finally reveal how it is connected to the human form, and under which circumstances it might disappear. The no-self ought to predict how radical enhancement will alter the narrative fiction, and under which circumstances consciousness can be sustained. The matter-self, meanwhile, can rest comfortably in its organic seat, knowing it has declared exactly what it is, and what it is not. Finally, the pattern-self, which must either convince me that my arguments are faulty, or acknowledge that it cannot account for the persistence of personal identity throughout immortality.

As a final conclusion, I shall therefore say nothing more, and leave you with Dream-Daphne instead. For we might now conceive that one day, a mostly robotic and inconceivably ancient human being will have become bored with her eternal youth. Having existed as both a tangible and virtual being, having dreaded nothing but the irreversibility of entropy, she gazes up at an unfamiliar heaven and sighs. The sound hisses like tediousness through the quiet night, without melody, formless.

Out of nowhere her ageless features flare to life with anticipation, and she laughs with the excitement of a wind chime on a stormy day. Her nearly eternal mind has recalled something she once read in a book, back when she was just a young mortal. Then, she did not understand what Albus Dumbledore meant. But it feels like now, now she finally does.

 “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

 

 

 

[1] Max More, “Part I: Roots and Core Themes,“ in The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, ed. Max More and Natascha Vita-More (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), Adobe Digitals Editions version, 18.

[2] Susan Schneider, “Future Minds: Transhumanism, Cognitive Enhancement and the Nature of Persons” Advance online publication retrieved from http://repository.upenn .edu/neuroethics_pubs/37 (2009): 1.

[3] James Hugues, “Transhumanism and Personal Identity,” in The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, ed. Max More and Natascha Vita-More (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), Adobe Digitals Editions version, 334.

[4] David Segal, “This Man Is Not a Cyborg. Yet.,” New York Times (June, 2013), accessed January 2016.

[5] Eric Olson, “Personal identity”, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward Zalta, Fall 2015.

[6] Schneider, “Future Minds,” 5.

[7] Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 51.

[8] Hugues, “Transhumanism and Personal Identity”, 334.

[9] Shaun Nichols and Michael Bruno, “Intuitions about personal identity: an empirical study,” Philosophical Psychology 23 (2010): 307, accessed January 2016, doi:10.1080/09515089.2010.490939

[10] Since I will not delve deeper into this four-dimensional viewpoint, I will refer to Mark Heller’s The Ontology of Physical Objects: Four-Dimensional Hunks of Matter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) for further reading.

[11] Olson, “Psychological-Continuity Views,” paragraph 7.

[12] Michael Rose, “Immortalist Fictions and Strategies,” in The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, ed. Max More and Natascha Vita-More (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), Adobe Digitals Editions version, 292.

[13] I say ‘mostly’ to appease the gradualists, who can defend any identity theory by stating that you may lose some parts, but not all. Until they offer a list of necessary and superfluous characteristics, however, I can only hope to show that immortality changes a pattern far more drastically than the usual journey through life does.

[14] Justine Alford, “Three men receive bionic hands controlled with their minds,” IFL Science (February 2015), accessed January 2016.

[15] Abby Philip, “A paralyzed woman flew an F-35 fighter yet in a simulator – using only her mind,” Washington Post (March 2015), accessed January 2016.

[16] Giulio Prisco, “Transcendent Engineering”, in The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, ed. Max More and Natascha Vita-More (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), Adobe Digitals Editions version, 342.

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