Re: Uploading

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Tue, 09 Sep 1997 16:02:45 -0500

A little note singing in a sea of silliness:

Let's say that tomorrow, scientific evidence is discovered for an immortal
soul that survives our death. If that immortal soul preserved our memories
but not our stream of consciousness, we would say our memories are
"ourselves". If that immortal soul preserved our consciousness but not our
memories, we would call that consciousness "ourselves".

For all the big fights over who we really are, most people want to live and
will wind up making decisions on that basis. In the situation above, it's
entirely possible that your stream of consciousness is yourself, even though
your immortal soul preserves memories alone.

Is there an objective answer, dependent neither on our will to live nor on
arbitrary postulates? As far as I can see, the only real question, as regards
uploading, cryonics or similar endeavors, is what type of interruption
constitutes an objective evil, a negatively valued goal in ur-ethical terms.
Until someone comes up with an objective Meaning of Life, we really have no
*idea* what "death" is and whether it's a bad thing.

In the case of cryonics, you freeze yourself because there are very few
scenarios in which this is *worse* than not being frozen. In the case of
uploading, a few suicide volunteers go in first and figure out What's What for
the rest of us. Either way, who you "really" are can't be settled by these
philosophical discussions. The most you can do is torpedo specific
objections, or demonstrate that uploading is OK given certain probable
assumptions. It doesn't matter, because you don't need to immediately upload
the human race, just a few volunteers.

No matter how tangled the philosophy, the question is not "Is it death?" but
"Is it possible?" Considering the 6,000 people that die every hour, why
shouldn't a few volunteers run the risk of getting fatally caught in an
elaborate philosophical conundrum, learning a few subjective millennia later
that they died in their old bodies? As fates go, this is considerably better
- from a personal and ethical perspective - than getting hit by a truck.

The only thing that seems certain is that our personal imperative to survive,
and whatever ethical imperatives govern conscious continuity, will be derived
from utterly and completely different sources. If that which is intuitively
abhorrent to us turns out to actually be wrong, it will be by purest coincidence.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.