What we are is perspective, and little more (and you know that can’t be bad, yeah, yeah, yeah…)
We are allotted a certain amount of time. There is a popular modern myth that about 200 years ago a man aged 40 was old. This is entirely untrue. The average age up until about 150 years ago was 40 years. This does not mean that 40 years of age was old, but that an awful lot of children died, pulling the average age downward.
My grandparents had 14 children, they lost their first 2, leaving the infant and child mortality for their children at 14% from 1925 to 1950, the years over which my grandmother had children. When those two girls whom my father, the 7th born child never even knew, died the national infant mortality rate was about 15%. Now, go back 100 years before that and consider that 4 in 10 children (40%) died before they reached their 10th birthday. Imagine 1 in seven children dying before their 10th birthday by 1937, or 4 in 10 before 1860.
Throughout history, if you were lucky enough to reach your 20th birthday, your chances of reaching your 80th were damned good–over 60%. According to the oft inaccurate; but frequently quoted bible, the time allotted man (and woman although she is often ignored in the narrative except as a doormat) was 4 score (80) years. That number has hardly changed at all in the history of our marginally noble species. It’s not much more than 80 years now, there are just a hell of a lot more of us reaching it.
We live in a brief bubble of time in which we enact our petty desires and perceive the results in the limited scope of the time given us– those 80 years. We are pretty much incapable of imagining time spans much larger than that.
The Universe (“God”, if you will) is a narcissist. Our lives, our pitiful and paltry 80 years, are an attempt of the universe to grok itself. The universe needs and desires a mirror by which it can understand and perceive itself– there is an intelligence at work here; but we can little understand it except for its reasonably intelligent desire to understand itself, which all intelligent beings possess.
That self-examining entity the universe uses the only vehicle available to it: other intelligences (us) and our selfishness, our desires, our occasional charity, our loves and hates, passions and slovenly indulgences to see itself. We are the mirror.
“The Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition“, a treatise on life extension, is among the worst books ever written (along with that pile of absolute shit “Atlas Shrugged” and its abridged version “The Fountainhead” by Ayn(us) Rand). In it, the author describes the scientific process of transferring our thoughts to a machine, so that we can live forever. Its premise is that we can live far beyond our 80 years– even forever if we so choose, by transferring our memories and wishes to other hardware than our meat bodies.
The premise of its dim-witted author is that if we can be a machine intelligence, we can “back ourselves up” and if the machine our intelligence “runs” on goes bonk, we can restore our last backup on a new machine and rumble boldly on.
But let’s look at that a moment. Why would I consider such a notion idiotic? Well, the thing that makes up “You” or “Me” is more than just our collected memories and experiences– a program for playback. We are the machine, too. We are part and parcel with the hardware.
So, let’s consider a more popular representation of what makes up You or Me. Think about the TV series “Star Trek”. Maybe you don’t like the series, it may not be your thing, but you’ve probably heard of it and are likely familiar with some of the devices used in the show– the phaser, automatically opening doors, warp engines, and of course, the transporter.
The transporter is something that takes a person who stands in it, breaks them down into an energy pattern that represents them as information, transmits the energy pattern to a target destination and then reassembles their body in that distant location.
Consider the premise that when a person’ (person-prime) is “broken down” for transport, they die– it is part of the disassembly process. That “incarnation” or bundle of perceptions that was person’ before transporting is killed as part of the dis-assembly process (you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette).
After transport when the energy signature taken from person’ is reassembled, the entity that occupies the resulting physical body is not really the same, it is a replicant– call them person” (person double-prime). That reassembled person” has all the memories of person’, will behave in an identical manner, will believe (because of their memories) that they are person’, but person’ is dead.
Furthermore, there is no way that person” can ever be proven to not be person’. If the transporter is ever invented, and this situation is acceptable to you, be my guest, jump right in. You go first. “You” will be killed and someone who looks and acts like you, has the same wishes and desires as you– the whole shebang. That replicant will take your place and do what you wanted, but it won’t be YOU. They’ll fuck your wife or husband, love your kids, go about their business, but they are the start of a new vector.
That’s my theory.
Who knows? At the quantum level, it may actually be You who are brought back, but there is no way to know if what is You survived transportation. It can neither be proved nor disproved that you body is occupied by you or a newly-spawned entity that for all practical purposes to the outside world appears to be you. You might have died or you might not have. Like I said, you first, buddy.
And now I will use a spooky word because I have no other word that fits: Soul. You are your memories and abilities, all the “state” that represents your learning, desires, all of that. But there is something else– the animus that moves you: your will, your “soul”, that spark of energy that moves your meat puppet through each day.
So back to the Mambo Chicken. The supposition here is much simpler than the transporter. A doctor will slowly probe your brain, gathering your thoughts, your memories, your desires and how you feel and “encode” this information as data. This copy will be saved to be “booted up” on a more reliable piece of hardware than the human body.
In the Mambo Chicken book, the process is destructive, in that your brain will necessarily be destroyed to gather the data (remember: broken eggs => omelettes). It may not be necessary to destroy the brain to get the data, but there are complications (some of them legal) if you are not discontinued in the meat existence. One of the difficulties is that you would periodically have to go back and be brain probed.
Maybe all this could be done with some sort of brain scan device, but regardless, this copy of your brains state is a snapshot– if you go on living, you’ll gather more information that will have to be backed up sometime before you physically die.
Sooner or later, you croak. Or if you made the big leap and are already running on “the new non-meat hardware” and it (as all devices do) goes belly up, your last recorded backup state can be dumped onto a new machine and started up. But it’s not really you. Each new “boot” from a backup is a new incarnation; but it’s not like waking up in the morning– it’s still the same you that went to sleep last night when you wake up.
Each crash is another death, each boot on new hardware a new birth (albeit starting from a state other than from-scratch as a baby does). It is a new animus at work, a new soul, if you will (or won’t), but it ain’t YOU.
If a backup of a person’s state is not really that person, it’s not really extending your life when it’s booted up on another device. After all, how could a backup of your intellect be you? It could be booted up on two separate devices, after all, that each claim to be the person who was backed up and that the other is an impostor.
“Two men say they’re Jesus. One of them must be wrong.”
So, would you be happy with that condition? Your memories and desires go on, but YOU don’t. If you are satisfied with this outcome, you’re going to like the future– or not because either way YOU won’t be around to enjoy it.