Immortality by downloading your mind

Immortal Yellow Shadow(s)

With technology capable of exponential progress, the transhumanist dream of saving our minds from extinction is taking shape. Digital media have reached the density of information needed to copy that contained in the brain. All the more so as they can be compressed. There’s no need to record the brain’s entire spatial make-up down to the last molecule. Most information is anatomically and physiologically redundant. The specificity of a brain, and therefore of the generated mind, lies in its connectome, i.e. the immense graph formed by neural connections. So, is downloading no longer an SF author’s fantasy? Can we become Yellow Shadow(s)1The Yellow Shadow is the big villain faced by Bob Morane in an endless series of adventures created by Henri Vernes in 1953. A difficult villain to eradicate: each time he died, his spirit was immediately downloaded into a clone, awakened in one of its multiple secret bases.?

Before tackling the technological question, let’s note that transhumanists dodge psychological and philosophical questions: What is a “self”? Why does it want to save itself? How much freedom and power can these uploaded personalities have in real life? Etc. The transhumanist approach is that of an ego that doesn’t want to disappear, without knowing precisely what it is and not caring about the consequences. We could say that it’s a phenomenon, an impression of existence, that doesn’t want to disappear.

A duplicate is not an extension of an original experience

But the question of what a “self” is, is crucial. Constitutively, it’s a network of information; phenomenologically, it’s this network installed on its support —in this case, for a human being, his original biological body. An information download will simulate the functioning of the mind, but will not produce the same mental experience. The ego will not experience itself in the same way as the original ego; it will simply think in the same way.

Of course, as the new “I” will be unable to know any difference between its experience and that of the old “I”, the inconvenience may seem minor to a transhumanist. But he doesn’t really realize that it’s the phenomenon within him that refuses to disappear, and not the information configuration to which he assimilates. He doesn’t experience himself as a sum of information integrated into a program, but as a fusion. It is an experience of being Me. He believes that digital storage will preserve the same experience. Wrong. Only a biological clone could. Not just anyone can be a Yellow Shadow.

A mistake about the meaning of creation

The transhumanist dream is based on a false image of the human being, truncated by technology. Because technology simulates, it does not recreate. The act of creation is not the expression of an elaborate will, but the spontaneous self-organization of soulless mechanisms. A transhumanist sees himself too much as a result and not enough as a process. It’s the process he’s trying to reproduce by downloading, but he doesn’t understand that the downloaded process is a model, and therefore directed, whereas his own process is self-created, unsupervised. A download won’t have the free will of the original mind.

And at the same time, it will have too much. Alienation lurks. An ego does not exist independently of its material and social environment. Think of the tragedy of “locked-in minds”, minds locked in the brain after sensory communication has broken down. Cut off from their usual relationships and placed in radical solitude, these minds rapidly wither away. If yours is to be downloaded, it’s best to save the social environment you really value, as well as random external stimuli, to prevent your disk-image from becoming an old fuddy-duddy stuck in its ways.

A mummy lacks dynamics

Because the mind is dynamic. How old does the transhumanist want to preserve his ego? For a less approximate safeguard, plan for at least one every year. Is it the dynamics themselves that you want to preserve? But then remember that the mind is a process inserted within a larger one. We need to drastically extend the safeguard.

Do these remarks remain theoretical, or are we really at the dawn of a possible download? Transhumanist philosopher Kenneth Hayworth has given his version of the procedure, in 4 key stages:
1) Momification: preserving the entire brain at the individual’s death by injecting chemicals.
2) Mapping: cutting thin slices of the brain and recording detailed images of brain structures.
3) Implementation of the data in a computer already equipped with a simulation model of brain behavior (objective of the Human Brain Project, more or less still underway).
4) Downloading the customized model into an artificial body.

A conscious duplicate, yes, but not for tomorrow

There’s no shortage of criticisms to be made about this technological part of the project. Some are vague and unjustified, such as the doubt about the consciousness of the simulated person, because we don’t know what consciousness is. It’s certainly not explained (except to those who read this blog), but we do know that it emerges from brain function. If this is faithfully reproduced, we can expect with a high degree of certainty the emergence of a consciousness, not identical to the biological phenomenon because of the difference in the medium, but a consciousness as sophisticated as our own.

The procedure’s main technological hurdle lies in step (3). The realization of a sufficiently precise model of the functional brain, taking into account all its levels of complexity, from humoral to neural graphs, is a challenge that is not about to be solved. When someone thinks they’ve solved it, who’s going to take the plunge? Who’s going to risk sending their mind into the prison of a model? There will certainly be some, because transhumanists confuse survival with duplication. In the first case, it’s a genuine survival instinct that’s at work; in the second, it’s ego worship…


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