Re: Consciousness and its vehicles (was RE: Our friend Sasha [was RE: success of cryonics arrangements])

From: Dan Fabulich (
Date: Fri May 12 2000 - 12:12:38 MDT

Michael LaTorra explained:

> The Buddhist (and Hindu) belief is that incarnation as a human being
> is the result of progressive karmic improvement from previous births
> as lesser animals. Regression back to an animal state after having
> incarnated as a human being is extremely rare. More common is
> reincarnation as a human being at a lower social level (hence, the
> Hindu concept of castes).

> It is important to understand, however, that what is incarnating
> from life to life is NOT a unitary, monadic, indivisible entity. The
> Buddhist dogma is called "anatta" which translates as "no soul."
> Rather, as the Buddhists have it, there is an energy that moves from
> one bodily lifetime to another in a manner not unlike the physics of
> one billiard ball impacting another with the first ball transferring
> its momentum to the second ball. The first ball stops "dead" and the
> second moves on.

> Furthermore, this transfer is not limited to a single "target" ball.
> Buddhists believe that the energy of a particularly advanced
> individual can reincarnate as several simultaneous subsequent
> individuals, each of whom embodies a part of the power (energy) of
> the incarnational predecessor. So, for example, Jamgon Kongtrul, a
> Tibetan Lama who lived earlier in the 20th century, was believed to
> have entered into 5 concurrent subsequent reincarnations.

> By Buddhist logic, then, human consciousness could depart one bodily
> vehicle and migrate to another suitable vehicle (or vehicles) human
> or otherwise. Therefore, as the Dalai Lama said (see my first
> posting) someone who worked closely with computers might be able to
> reincarnate into one that was sufficiently complex to host his or
> her consciousness.

> Questions: How tightly coupled would the components of a computing
> system need to be in order to host a human consciousness? Could a
> distributed system do it? Could the Internet do it? If so, at what
> frequency would thoughts occur in such a host system? If a human
> consciousness had migrated to the Net, how would we know?

Tightness of coupling doesn't matter if you happen to think that
consciousness is information/computation. Many functionalists have
argued that the entire economy, along with a variety of other
sufficiently complicated social structures, are already independently
conscious. The net would just be yet another item on the list.

This is the only context in which it might matter whether or not the
entity is "complex" enough to host consciousness... other definitions
of consciousness, generally, don't require complexity (that is, a
variety of interconnected parts) in order to get the job done,
explaining why, for example, your "soul" could, at least in principle,
find its way into an insect, while it's quite clear that the contents
of your brain could not.

Talking about the frequency of thoughts suggests that one can identify
and isolate particular thoughts independent from other thoughts, and
count them at a certain rate. I don't think the brain is like this;
this is sort of the wrong question to ask. Before you can ask "how
fast," you have to decide what you want to call "fast." (Problem
solving capability?)

Finally, the epistemological question is especially troublesome. How
would we know if you had reincarnated one-to-one into a baby?
Psychoanalytic uncovery of past lives isn't exactly an empirical
science these days. Anyway, if the net IS conscious, it seems clear
to me that we'll never get it on the couch. However, there is a great
deal of evidence that the net is here to stay for a long, long time,
with subnets, etc forming every day. So, assuming reincarnation works
at all, you could always take a wait and see policy: if you find
yourself occupying the Internet not long after death, well, it must be
possible after all.


      -unless you love someone-
    -nothing else makes any sense-
           e.e. cummings

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