Abstract Details

Despite of Space: Digital Immortality and the Cartesian Body  Stephen Burwood (Philosophy, University of Hull, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire United Kingdom)   P1

A central feature of trans-humanist and post-humanist narratives is that post-singularity we will be able to free ourselves from the restrictions of bodily existence as a biological organism. This may take many forms but perhaps one of the most radical is the suggestion that we can exist as purely digital beings. Whole brain emulation presents us with the prospect of mind uploading our consciousness, replacing our biological embodiment with an in silico incarnation and offering a digital life of unbounded possibilities. Thus, as well as freeing us from aging and the inevitability of attendant incapacities leading to biological death, by providing our conscious mind with a more robust and long-lived silicon substrate, we are also liberated from the constraints of our biological embodiment on sensory experience and motility. This appears to have the potential of fulfilling the promise of a post-biological afterlife offered by a pyscho-physical dualist eschatology; but within a robustly materialist metaphysical framework. In positing a so-called substrate-independent mind, uploading conscious minds explicitly assumes the multiple-realizability of mindedness in structures with different physical compositions and a broadly functionalist philosophy of mind. This is, for example, the metaphysics implicit in patternism or pattern-identity; the idea that mindedness of an intelligent system is conceived as a set of patterns in that system. Despite its promise of unrestrained freedom, the experiences our digital selves have of any new, virtual world are mostly assumed to be surprisingly conservative: that is, the sensory manifold presents itself to the digital subject in very much the same way our world appears to us in our organic embodied form. What this assumes is the complete absence of any connection between the structural organisation and meaning of the sensory manifold and the nature of the subject's embodiment. This is a manifestation of of a widespread assumption that what we experience is simply a given - a ready-made reality that is a product simply of how things are arranged in the world - but is this a safe assumption? The other side of the same coin is another assumption; that the human body is simply the Cartesian body: the body that positions us in our world, acts as a causal conduit of sense for the perceiving subject qua interiority, and is the instrument through which the subject acts - but that is all. This body is extraneous to the core self and what constitutes the essence of the human person and is considered merely as, "the original prothesis we all learn to manipulate" (Hayles 1999). Thus, a dualism of sort often persists, even if this is within a materialist metaphysical framework: a dualism of person and body, which is sometimes explicitly acknowledged (Moravec 1988). In this paper, I challenge both assumptions and, in doing so, throw into question the easy assumption that a transferred consciousness, continuing in a purely digital existence, even if that were possible, would have experiences like ours, or perhaps that it would have a world at all.