Thursday, April 4, 2013

Transporter phobia, man as pattern, and all things being subsumed into the neo-Platonic oneness

When someone gets beamed aboard the Enterprise, nobody acts like there's been a murder.

Someone has been dissected, atom-by-atom, and annihilated. I don't know what happens to the matter. Maybe the matter itself gets sent to the Enterprise, where the person is re-constructed. But I always figured that they got put back together using matter that was already on the ship, food replicator style.

But the matter doesn't matter. Nobody thinks it does. You are not your particles. The matter in your body falls off and gets replaced all the time. Pork chops turn into eyelashes. Nobody cares. What we value in a person isn't the stuff, but the signal. Man is pattern.

I think that this is obvious past arguing, but I've seen at least one philosopher take pains to embarrass himself getting it backwards (whilst being destroyed by the ever-correct-but-needing-more-fake-humility Eliezer Yudkowsky).[1]

Sidebar comment:
This one time, when I was like
thirteen, I hacked a web server
in California, where this one
dude was keeping a sort of
on-line journal, and he had this
flash fiction piece (actually a
"movie idea") where the whole
world started using transporters
but they really took away your
soul, and there was one guy left
on earth with a soul. I was all
like "dude! THIS is why I'm a
hacker." It was cool. Then I got
banned from my ISP.
Mind uploading (which we're due for this century, if brain-scanning resolution, data storage, and processing power stay on their exponential tracks) works on the same principle as the Star Trek transporter, except with emulation rather than meatspace reconstruction. A model is made of where and how all your neurons are (or atoms, or whatever; whatever resolution you think is necessary), and a computer plays physics and lets things move around and fall where they would, and the product is your digital brain thinking thoughts. (I'm going to forget to mention the implications about free will and cosmological determinism here because there are mean scary people on the internet.)

Most transhumanists are ok with destructive mind-uploading, just like most Star Trek fans are ok with eradicating the instance of the person at the transportation origin. Destructive uploading kind of bothers me, but nails on the chalkboard bother me too, because of some vestigial baboon scream panic thing. Vestigial ape logic is a good enough reason to not take a grill brush to a chalk board (sweet Jesus, I can't believe I even typed that. Yipe, help, shudder), but I wouldn't pass on immortality for it.

Oh. Em. Ef. Jee.


Assertion #1:

It doesn't matter if you destroy Commander Riker so long as you make an exact copy.

Now let's talk about something else.

Ten years ago I was a gay-condemning George Bush Republican seminarian. I'm now a polyamorous pescetarian anarchist. I've changed a lot. My pattern has changed a lot. I didn't die, and most people didn't mourn. The five-year-old you is dead, but it's ok. The process of incremental change that links the old you to the new you makes everyone identify the two people with each other. Without that process, we'd be very upset. If the five-year-old you was eradicated and we conjured a new personality at random to give to your parents, they would be pissed. But we can take you from being that five year old to being any end-person, and so long as we have the connecting transition--a process by which this one person became the other--your parents will love the randomest of persons as you. (And again, I have to fight going on a tangent. This time about the illusion of self and Eastern stuff.)


Assertion #2:

It doesn't matter if we destroy you so long as there's a process by which we transition the old you into a new you. That's not death, that's life, and change, and a cool thing.

Ok. So now let's talk about something different.

It's 2162, and humanity has been uploaded. People started out being really different from each other, but in a lot of ways we're getting more and more alike. We've changed our mind architectures, and our minds are no longer just simulated ape brains. They're silicon-based, and really really fast, and that has the effect of making one year of the earth going around the sun enough time for a ton of thinking and changing - subjective millennia.

There was one guy who spoke Latin, and everyone thought that was cool, so they all installed the Latin file. And the Sumerian. And Proto-Austronesian. One guy, back in the meatspace days, had weird intrusive thoughts about dead bodies. Something had been wrong with his brain. It sucked. It made it hard for him to sleep. So he changed it. When he uploaded, he changed his mind to get rid of that, and he also got rid of some weird sexual shame issues that his early-childhood conditioning had given him.

People are starting to be a lot alike. Everyone knows the same stuff (everything that is known) and everyone can do the same stuff (everything that can be done). It seems like this is having the effect of making everyone believe the same stuff and want the same stuff. Since memories can be shared, and after a while everyone shared everything with each other, everyone remembers the same stuff.

We're starting to wonder if we could actually be considered copies of the same person. If my mind-file was deleted, it's less than 0.01% different from everyone else's, so I wouldn't feel very much like I had died. Hell, in the meatspace days, we called losing that much of your mind-file "a good night at the bar".


Millions of years on, the human mind saturates the galaxy. All is computronium. There is one mind, one body, one universe. The universe is mind. The knower is the known. "I" is everything, and nothing.


Ok, back to now.

I don't know what's true or what's of value or what's really going to happen.


Playful Assertion:

Immortality is identification of one's own pattern with the supreme pattern. Connecting your pattern to the ultimate pattern through some gradual process, (i.e. living long enough to join the borganism) would sure make it feel a lot less like death though, since we seem to really like that connecting part.

And this all sounds like Plotinus. 

The end.

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  1. I have been fighting this philosophical battle for years. It's actually the only real fight I ever had with my ex boyfriend: he would never step into a destructive/reconstructive teleporter because he was sure it would simply murder him, I was adamant that I was not my atoms, I was my pattern. It's nice to hear someone fight on my side!

  2. If you forget for a moment about the words "transporter" and pattern, the argument seems to be that, in the grand scheme of things, individuals don't matter since they can be easily replaced. In other words, if I were to say that right now I will kill one of your loved ones and immediately replace them with an exact copy, you should be okay with that. When you strip away the sci-fi terminology and step away from your bong, philosophizing is no longer necessary.