Killed By Bad Philosophy

This essay was written a few years back by the founder of the Brain Preservation Prize, but apparently not published until more recently. I had not read it, so will assume that is probably also true for many of the readers here.

Whatever your position on cryonics and mind uploading, many of the points made in the piece generalize well to the current situation for rejuvenation research: so much potential, but so little support from the public. If we die due to aging, it will be because we collectively chose not to make a serious effort to build rejuvenation treatments, not because we were incapable of achieving that goal:

[Our grandchildren] will say that we died not because of heart disease, cancer, or stroke, but instead that we died pathetically out of ignorance and superstition. They will say we were killed by our "bad philosophy". In one hundred years they will ask in disbelief, "Our grandparents had the technology to preserve the precise neural circuitry of their brains for longā€term storage. The best science of our grandparent's era stated unequivocally that this unique patterning of neural circuitry was the seat of the self; in it was written all memories, skills, and personality. Our grandparents seemed to grasp the quickening pace of technology, and understood that full brain scanning and simulation was around the corner. Why then did grandpa and the rest of his generation reject brain preservation and mind uploading as a means of overcoming death?" And, after considering the evidence, our grandchildren will come to the sad conclusion that we were killed by our "bad philosophy" - no matter how clear the science was, we simply could not really accept the fact that we were physical machines.

By the year 2110 such mind uploading will probably be as common place as laser eye surgery is today. No one will be seriously bothered by the philosophical questions that mind uploading provokes today. No one will ask "Sure it will have my memories, it will act like me, and it will even think it is me, but will it really be me?" Once the procedure has been performed a few times this question will be as silly as us asking today if a person having undergone a PHCA procedure is still the same person, or for that matter if a person who receives a heart transplant is really the same person.

It is notoriously difficult to get people to clearly articulate the reasoning behind their rejection of mind uploading - it is often stated as simply an intuition that it will not work. However, it is important to clearly articulate the reasoning behind this intuition so that it can be evaluated in light of the available scientific facts. After all, the history of science and technology is filled with overturned intuitions. To this end, I will attempt to clearly articulate the main philosophical intuition people express for rejecting mind uploading, and then show why this intuition is wrong.



One thing about mind uploading (well, at least 1!) that either gives me pause or makes me laugh, is the fact that the quality of computing hardware is changing rapidly, and by the time we can do this, only more rapidly, that the 'software' of your, your Person, will reside on what 'substrate' for really how long? Makes me quite nervous, in some ways, this exponential growth of certain things...feels very much like a shifting foundation.

Posted by: Eugene at March 7th, 2014 3:57 PM
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