Re: Aha! experiences

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Fri, 16 Oct 1998 00:28:58 -0500

Scott Badger wrote:
> But then again, every time I think of uploading, I think about the way it
> feels to jog down a path at sunset with a cool breeze blowing across
> my skin....and a host of other bodily pleasures.

A lot of people say that. I have stopped being surprised. I suppose that most people still retain their emotional attachment to the world, even some people who think of themselves as radical Extropians. I know that I did, long past the point where I thought I had left it all behind... and now it's time for my Aha! experience.

I remember very vividly where I was when the chain of thought occurred to me. (I was in the bathroom, actually, so I won't describe it any further than that...) I was wondering what would happen subsequent to the Singularity if post-Singularity ethics were such that people were given a free choice. Influenced by _Blood Music_, I wondered whether we would suddenly appear on (a simulation of) a starry plain, with some enigmatic posthuman blend of those who had already chosen asking The Question. It then occurred to me that most people would prefer to live out their lives unaware that anything had changed - certainly it would be cruel to make the naysayers live out the rest of their lives in what they knew was just a simulation of a vanished, pointless, unreal Earth.

So maybe They would keep me around until I decided that I wanted to be uploaded - and to preserve the illusion, They would arrange for the question to arise naturally, perhaps as the result of reading Vernor Vinge (or of reading a message on a mailing list)...

But hadn't I already decided? No, I realized, I hadn't. I had made the decision in the abstract, but not in the particular of "Are you ready to leave this world here and now?" I felt, at that moment, a sudden attachment to the world, everything I loved about it - even the particular design of the bathroom tiles, the sense of sight, the sense of touch. All my senses suddenly seemed more vivid, and I felt how much my physical existence mattered to me. And, honestly and truly believing that there was a nonzero chance that this decision would result in my being disembodied and rapidly upgraded, I let go of this world and made my choice.

Stop for a moment. Think about it. Are you really ready to go? Here and now? Perhaps, while you were asleep last night, the final breakthrough occurred in the Cyc lab, or at Zyvex. Maybe you're being asked to decide for real. Are you ready?


Well, I'm still here (or a simulation of me is making sure that nobody notices
any sudden absences).  I have made my choice.  I do not regret it.  I really
and truly am ready to be uploaded and upgraded, to plunge into the unknown. 
Am I afraid?  Yes, but I still made my choice, believing it was real.  So I
don't want to hear any more about the pleasures of physicality.  Some of us
have severed that emotional commitment.  Because I knew then, and decided,
that I was even willing to lose my personality and my identity as an
individual - if that was what was required - I am not bound even to that.

Later (like a few months), I had a dream.  In this dream, They arrived, and
offered to make us transhumans, translate us into patterns that existed in the
interior of the Sun.  But then I got suspicious, because nobody They uploaded
was reporting back.  So I investigated, and it turned out that the process of
uploading caused horrible agony due to the lack of a spatial referent.  (No
reason, just pure dream-nonsense.)  This caused the uploaded folks to forget
their identities for a period of time.

After this, my attitude was:  "OK.  Problem solved."  I told everyone else,
and held out my hand to Them, across their portal.  I remember being
frightened.  I didn't know that it was all a dream.  But I made my decision to
take my licks and come back to myself eventually.  With no body.

Sadly, it wasn't my turn, and They selected someone else to go first - which
is a real pity, because then the dream ended.  I suppose you could argue this
indicates an unresolved subconscious fear.  I wouldn't really argue.  I don't
control my subconscious.

But in the dream, I made my decision.  The decisions you make in your dream
indicate who you really are, after logic and reason have been stripped away. 
It indicates the extent to which you have shaped your emotions.  And in that
dream, I made the same choice I made in waking reality.  I made it, and
experienced the stress that shows it was a true decision, not a dream-random decision.

If I suddenly found myself Elsewhere and was asked if I was ready to be
uploaded, I could answer "Yes" without hesitation.  I wouldn't need to savor
physical existence one last time.  I have already done so.  So to answer the
eternal question - yes.  I will give it up.  All of it.  Willingly. 
Emotionally, as well as rationally.  My choice is made.
--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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