Re: Mind/Body dualism What's the deal?

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Wed Aug 15 2001 - 12:18:33 MDT

On Wed, Aug 15, 2001 at 10:15:06AM -0700, Samantha Atkins wrote:
> Anders Sandberg wrote:
> >
> > Well, cybergnosticism - the material world is inefficient and impure, and we
> > should strive to become pure information - is unfortunately rampant among
> > transhumanists. But that doesn't mean it is a very workable philosophy, IMHO.
> This is a rather prejudiced way to express certain strains in
> transhumanism imo. I think it is too early to assume much about
> what is and is not a reasonable and workable view.

I consider a reasonable and workable view to be a view that helps further human
flourishing in the real world (be it the material realm or cyberspace).
Cybergnosticism has several serious problems:

Psychologically, it is not a positive approach to something but rather an
escape from something. Such avoidance philosophies are not very good
motivators, especially when they turn away from the messy real world as it is
today and do not look much for the road from here to the putative utopia. As
cybergnosticism is expressed among transhumanism it is almost always in the
form of speculations rather than practical proposals, not even discussions
about uploading technologies based on theoretical applied science. Instead it
tends to produce long discussions of the benefits and transcendence of an
uploaded state, which rather conveniently ignore all the practical aspects of
being uploaded. Somebody has to pay the electricity bill even when you are an

Whether we consider the material world good or bad is in the end a subjective
evaluation. But a mind that rejects the material world is likely to find that
whatever experiences awaits beyond uploading will have similarities to those of
the material world. They will hence be tainted by their hint of materiality and
the cybergnostic will seek ever larger distance between themselves and the old
reality. What should be important is the practical benefits of uploading and
similar stuff, not the assumed ethical/aesthetic primacy of one form of
experienced reality over another.

> Brain/minds
> at the current level are relatively inefficient and bound up by
> evolutionary patterns that make them rather biased, although
> "impure" is going too far. If mind can be captured and
> transferred from brain to upload "brain" in software and perhaps
> downloaded into various vehicles then there is a degree of
> support for a sort of mind/body dualism.

Sure, it would be far more like the classical dualism where souls and bodies
were like lego pieces that could be put together, separated and perhaps moved
around. Very much like "Ghost in the Shell". But in most dualism the soul is
assumed to be able to exist without a body. This is something not allowed for
by uploading - information always has to be embodied as a pattern in something.

That an uploaded existence would be practical in many ways and look like a
dualist universe (although from the inside of the virtual world it wouldn't,
since the underlying hardware would be hidden by several abstraction levels)
doesn't mean that the cybergnostic condemnation of the material becomes more

> It is too early to assume that such an emulation will be always a part of
> being an upload.

"Always" is a long time. But I prefer to refrain from speculate about magical
(cognitive) technology that can somehow unravel a mind and reform it (without
any loss of perceived identity) into an entity that does not act through
humanoid input/output channels. The brain evolved as a sensory and motor
integration system, and that underlying function is deeply etched into its

In the long run we will likely move beyond this, but I would want you to
consider how much of our anatomy is still based on our underwater origins
hundreds of millions of years after leaving the sea. Even with deliberate
redesign it is hard to get rid of basic structures. At the same time, even if
basic patterns were once used for function A they can later be used for
functions B and C - the basal ganglia were once just motor control systems, but
are now involved in planning and deduction, it seems. Tomorrow their
"descendants" might be wired to simulation engines and instead be used to
select futures directly - same basic structure, extended functions. But the
basic structure can also induce affordances and limitations that are not
possible to remove.

> > I think transhumanism needs a good perspective of embodiment to avoid
> > becoming dualist or cybergnostic. It is easy to say that one wants to change
> > one's body, but implicit in that statement is the assumption that the change
> > will not change oneself. This is not true; any change of the body is a change
> > of oneself.

> I don't see why avoidance of mere labels adds anything at all of
> value. If the mind is separable from the body you immediately
> have a form of real dualism. If we can in fact function as
> intelligent beings in a vastly expanded capacity once thus
> separated from our original bodies (uploaded) then a form of
> what is prejudicially labelled cybergnosticism in fact makes
> sense and is seemingly inevitable. Value judgements of the
> pre-upload state as being "impure" are of course not necessary
> either.

And that is really the point! I have no problems at all with thinking
of an existence as a liquid entity online, where aspects of existence
can be handled by many different substrates. But my problem starts
when people start to denigrate the material world, the embodied self
and project what is essentially a mystic vision onto the technological
future. That form of thinking seriously hurts both the credibility of
transhumanism in the public sphere and practical attempts to achieve
goals in the real world.

As for whether it is just a matter of labels if I change my body or if
I change myself, I would suggest considering the following example:
suppose you cut yourself deliberately. If you think that you cut your
body, then this act is to some extent divorced from you: the essential
you has not been affected, and the effects of the act are merely input
and conditions for you to perceive and handle. That it was deliberate
was merely like any other act of deliberate harm against your own
possessions. If you think you have cut yourself, then you also take
into account that this act has a far deeper importance for you than
cutting (say) your clothing. It is not just a change in your situation,
but also an act that has changed what it means to be yourself

I have always disliked exercising, until I realized that it was not a
struggle between me and my body, but rather that it was about what kind
of person I wanted to be. Getting more into shape means more than
improving the cardiovascular system and muscle mass, it means also
shaping your habits and self-image.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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