Let’s talk about immortality. The concept of eternal life has been present in our fiction since the ancient times but in most cases it was the domain of supernatural being such as gods, faeries, spirits, vampires and etc. In most cases it is either an inborn trait, or a result of a magical blessing or a curse.
But immortality is not only the domain of fantasy. Science fiction has also developed different models of immortality. One of these models immortality via mind transfer. I think the best example of this technique is depicted in Cory Doctorow’s Down and out in the Magic Kingdom novel. In his fictional Bishun Society, people prolong their lives indefinitely by making electronic backup of their consciousness. In an event of death, the person is simply restored from backup in a cloned body. Similar technique is used by the biological Cylons in Scifi Chanell’s Battlestar Galactica series.
Let’s assume that this type of consciousness backup would be possible. You can back yourself up, and restore with no problems or complications. Once restored you are the same person, with the same stupid quirks, and pet peeves. The process is perfect and flawless.
Now imagine that you get into an accident, and you break your back. The doctors say that there is zero chances of repairing this damage. You will be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of your life… Unless of course, you choose to restore yourself from backup. The procedure is really simple.
First you do a backup. Once you are done, you get a lethal injection and your body dies. Minutes later you are restored in a clone with a clean bill of health. Question is – would you do it?
Me – I would probably choose the wheelchair. Why? Well, the whole concept of immortality via mind transfer sounds great on paper but there is one snag. For a lack of better name I call it Consciousness Interruption.
Let me put it this way – restoring from backup is nothing like falling asleep and waking up in a new body. It’s far from it. When the doctors kill your body, you die. That’s it – it’s game over for you. Sure, your clone will have the same memories, the same personality and be you in every possible way. But you – the old you will be dead. There is no link between you and your new copy – you are two completely separate entities. There is just no way you could die and then wake up.
So is this immortality? I would say yes and no. As far as your friends, family and the rest of the universe is concerned – you are immortal. You die, you get restored and you continue to exist unchanged. But from a very subjective point of view – the continuity of your consciousness is extinguished at the point of death. You cease to exist, and someone else with the same memories takes your place.
At least this seems to be true for Cory Doctorow’s model. Do Cylons suffer from this consciousness interruption? I would say yes. Feel free to dispute me on this. I would love to hear your theories on how their system avoids the interruption issues. Sure, their resurrection works slightly different – Cylons seem to remember their own deaths. They don’t really back up, but transfer their consciousness to the Resurrection Ship the moment they die. But as far as I’m concerned it is the same damn thing. The exact same rules apply – one mind dies, the other one is restored. End result: consciousness interrupted.
I leave you with this: Immortality via mind transfer is not true immortality. At least not in the way we sought it since the beginning of time. It is really just a rouse – a social lie, and a form of ultimate escapism. Restoring from backup doesn’t really do anything for the person who is restored – that person just dies. The real benefit of the restoration process is for this person’s loved ones. If you can restore someone after they die, you no longer need to mourn their death, or deal with their loss. It is really a feel good – happy pill for the masses. Nothing else.
Disagree? I would love to hear a counter argument!
[tags]immortality, mind transfer, consciousness interruption, cylons, bsg, cory doctorow, down and out, bishun[/tags]