Monday, January 21, 2013
Monday, January 7, 2013
I just read perhaps the most significant and thought-provoking writing I've yet encountered (even more so than Marshall Brain's "The Day You Discard Your Body," which I've often called "the most important article on the internet"), Dr. Kenneth Hayworth's "Killed By Bad Philosophy," on the Brain Preservation Foundation website (why only 330 people "like" this in a world of billions who don't really want to die is the subject of his article). Alexander McLin posted the article under Dr. Randal Koene's share to carboncopies of a recent status update of mine, remarking on the extent to which vitalist thought persists. Alexander presumed I'd seen the article, but I had not. It expertly articulates, beyond my capability, the staunch materialist perspective I find both overwhelmingly empirically evidenced by all current physics and neuroscience literature, and essential to radical life extension. The article brings me to a greater understanding of why people, even vehemently irreligious scientific experts, remain so mired in vitalism. As Hayworth explains, vitalism, despite being ostensibly rejected in mainstream science, remains deeply entrenched where consciousness is concerned - even amongst the most scientifically literate, irreligious empiricists - because it is a highly useful perceptual illusion deeply-ingrained by millennia of evolution.
The inability, I've learned, of even many educated transhumanists and cryonicists (I discount many of the fanatical Kurzweilian Singularitarians, whom I believe latch onto ASIM/mind uploading largely out of a primal desire to avoid death, rather than true understanding) to accept the empirical evidence for transferability of consciousness is not a result of mere stupidity or lack of imagination, but an unwillingness or inability to overcome powerful intuitions which have been adaptive up until now, but have become maladaptive as humanity moves into uncharted territory and begins to peer behind the curtain of our own evolution.
Hayworth crucially distinguishes between the POVself (the self that we experience on a moment‐by‐moment basis) and the MEMself (our "set of declarative, procedural, and perceptual memories"), and illustrates why our POVself, while essential to conscious experience, is actually very similar to the POVselves of other humans. Our uniquity as individuals is the result of our MEMselves - or "mindfiles" composed not of genes or memes, but "bemes" (units of being) according to Dr. Martine Rothblatt of Terasem - which are very much, philosophically if not technically, like files on a traditional computer.
We do not scoff at the idea of transferring MP3 files across storage media, and do not consider a transferred MP3 to be any different from the original, despite the change in substrate (harddisk drive or solidstate drive). I've been aware of this analogy for years, but am now brought to a greater understanding of it by Hayworth's POVself/MEMself distinction; the MEMself is the MP3 (MP4, JPEG, BDAV, or whichever), and the POVself is, if I'm correct, the sound system which (showing the limits of the analogy) gives the MP3 "consciousness."
Inadvertent vitalism is implicit in much of the rejection of ASIM/mind transfer as feasible. Cryonicists may think there is something special in the molecules of the brain, but is this true? I submit that those of us who claim to reject vitalism, in keeping with the body of modern science, should deeply and fearlessly examine our own thought processes.
Hayworth identifies four "unrealistically complicated 'uploading' procedures:"
"1) Cryonics – must be the same physical molecules, 2) Gradual Transfer – awareness must be unbroken throughout the transfer procedure, 3) Almost Exact Copying – e.g. molecular resolution simulation, and even 4) Quantum Teleportation – must have the same quantum state."
I've long rejected three of the four (1, 2, & 4) as inherently unempirical and implicitly vitalistic, and have been confused by those who argue for them without qualification. Bonnie Magee may recall our lively, good-natured disagreement when we discussed uploading during one of the afterparties at Alcor-40, ha! "While I agree with you, I just *ugh!* don't know... something about it wouldn't be me, even though it would be a perfect copy." I asked her if she'd step through a teleporter, and I think she said no, sharing Peter Rothman's view that Star Trek-style teleportation equals death.
While I've been unusually flexible in my view of ASIM, I was instinctively alarmed when Randal told me, when we met at Alcor, that "we only need so much resolution, and it is possible to have too much." I found the very idea of "too much" resolution bizarre; although open to changing the physical molecules, I'd always assumed molecular *resolution* would be required. Only until I read Hayworth's article this evening did I see that I didn't base that assumption on any evidence. I simply dismissed the notion that anything but molecular resolution will do as "too weird," although I never had qualms with dismissing an alleged need for quantum resolution, and failed to investigate further, exactly what I pride myself on *not* doing almost of the time. This gives me an insight into the mental blocks of others concerning ASIM. For whichever reason(s), I find intuitive what almost everyone else finds counterintuitive. ASIM is probably the "weirdest" concept in transhumanist discourse, and, for most, is highly counterintuitive.
As science marches inexorably on, the failings of intuition continue to be exposed. Everyone now accepts heliocentrism, and people are increasingly admitting that there is no literal truth in religion. Transhumanists are supposed to be the vanguard of scientific reason, diving deeply where others won't dip their toes, but, now more than ever, I see how incredibly hard the vitalist virus is to exterminate. Indeed, we might even call it the "AIDS of memes."
Of course, to a non-transhumanist, this is all so much incomprehensible science fiction gobbledygook. I don't expect to win any of them over with this post. I do, however, urge all those committed to empiricism and immortalism to meditate deeply on this. For us, this is truly a matter of life and death. In the future, could those who choose cryopreservation over chemopreservation because they are convinced the biological molecules of the brain must be preserved unnecessarily damage - or destroy - their MEMselves? Should chemopreservation be viewed as an untested curio to seriously examine only in the far future, or should it take precedence over cryonics and possibly even SENS? Are we becoming the Catholics of Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon, refusing to "resleeve" and thus consigning ourselves to death and painfully slow physical space travel, as immortals zip through space by lightspeed needlecast?