Here's a quote from Greg Egan's novel Diaspora in which Yatima, a
citizen who lives in a virtual-reality city ("polis") called Konishi,
has transfered his mind into an abandoned robot ("gleisner") he and his
friend discovered. He intends to do some exploring in the real world
and then go back to Konishi polis:
Yatima's clone started up in the gleisner body and spent a moment
reflecting on vis situation. The experience of "awakening" felt no
different from arriving in a new scape; there was nothing to betray
the fact that vis whole mind had just been created anew. Between
subjective instants, ve'd been cross-translated from Konishi's dialect
of Shaper, which ran on the virtual machine of a womb or an exoself,
into the gleisner version which this robot's highly un-polis-like
hardware implemented directly. In a sense, ve had no past of vis own,
just forged memories and a secondhand personality... but it still
felt as if ve'd merely jumped from savanna to jungle, one and the
same person before and after. All invariants intact.
The original Yatima had been suspended by vis exoself prior to
translation, and if everything went according to plan that frozen
snapshot would never need to be re-started. The Yatima-clone in the
gleisner would be re-cloned back into Konishi polis (and re-translated
back into Konishi Shaper) then both the Konishi original and the
gleisner-bound clone would be erased. Philosophically, it wasn't
all that different from being shifted within the polis from one
section of physical memory to another - an undetectable act which
the operating system performed on every citizen from time to time,
to reclaim fragmented memory space. And subjectively, the whole
excursion would probably be much the same as if they'd puppeted the
gleisners remotely, instead of literally inhabiting them.
This raises a couple of questions. First, what "level of reality"
is Yatima operating at, both when living in Konishi polis and when
operating in the gleisner robot? Would the answer be different if he
had stayed home and puppeted the robot?
And second, what is happening to his identity here? Is he right that
transferring his consciousness from Konishi polis to the brain of the
robot is no different than transferring it from one piece of the polis
memory to another?
If you found yourself living as a citizen of Konishi (never mind whether
you were the same person as your flesher predecessor), would you be
comfortable going along with Yatima on this excursion?
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