Note: Do not confuse this article with Saving Major Tom, my review of the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice!
You better watch out
You better beware
Albert said that E equals M C squared.
— from the song Einstein a Go Go by Landscape, 1981
We each live for only one day, and that is the key to immortality.
I present here a way to bring back to life those who have died. My argument starts by identifying a misunderstanding of the link between consciousness and the physical self. I talking about physical things and their emergent properties; nothing mystical.
The mind’s you
My argument is built on the work of Daniel C. Dennett, Douglas Hofstadter, and Philip K. Dick, among others.
Imagine this futuristic scenario: Every night, just after you go to sleep, technicians (perhaps robot technicians) scan your brain and body in utmost detail, store the resulting data, and then they put you to death. (They dispose of your body in a recycler and the resulting chemical ‘soup’ is added to a carefully controlled storage area for a later use.)
That data is transmitted to a facility elsewhere, conceivably on Mars, where a sophisticated machine uses it to construct, using its local store of chemical ‘soup’, an exact replica of you. So, you wake up on Mars. (For a development that appears to be along the right lines, see 3D printing.)
Incidentally, I am retelling (necessarily paraphrased) a story from The Mind’s I (1981) composed and arranged by Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett, but I am using it here as a basis for a further idea.
The punch line in the original story (as I recall it) consists of the data being accidentally transmitted to a receiving station on the moon as well as on Mars. So you wake up on the moon and another you wakes up on Mars. From the points of view of both those individuals, there is no problem. Each waking you consists of a complete set of your memories and characteristics, physical and mental, both hereditary and acquired. Each feels that he (or she) is the real person and that the others are not quite the real you. No matter how similar to you they are, they are other people.
The illusion of a single self
However, suppose you are forewarned that the possibility of such a fault exists. Alternatively, suppose that you request that you are deliberately transmitted to both planets (and possibly many other places). From your point of view before you go to sleep (and your body is dissolved) that evening, where are you going to wake up? The logical answer – that you will wake up in those several places as independent (but initially identical) people – is hard to imagine. I think it is hard to imagine solely because we assume that there is only one ‘self’ for each individual. (A reasonable assumption, surely.) However, it seems to me that assumption is too limited. Like identical twins, you ‘wake up’ created equal with your duplicate on Mars or wherever, but from then on, your differing experiences (including differing viewpoint from inhabiting a separate body from your twins) makes you–whichever one you are!–a distinct individual.
This scenario is not as futuristic as it might seem. I contend that it accurately describes, in terms of our personal experience, how we live now!
We die every night and we are created anew every morning
When we sleep, we are unaware. Contrary to popular belief, we do not dream when we are asleep. Subconscious brain activity that goes on during sleep, and which is essential for the brain to function correctly when it wakes, doubtless gives rise to dreams. However, the evidence – that I have read – is conclusive that we remember nothing of when we are asleep. A dream is an artefact of the process of waking. We do not trust the content of our dreams, so why should we trust the ‘time stamp’ our fuzzy waking minds apply to those experiences?
For an illustration, see Water in the wheelhouse, which examines a dream.
Even the phenomenon of waking up in a different place is familiar to modern humans, especially if you sleep on a long haul airliner, but even a longish kip in a horse drawn wagon transiting a range of coastal hills would do.
We die every night and we are created anew every morning.
One possibility this raises is that of resurrection, although it does require a technology more advanced than we have at present, but I think it might be feasible not too many years hence. It is a Blade Runner scenario. You wake up with all your memories, as usual. Eight hours older, but rested, refreshed, and hopefully with a clearer mind. What you do not realise is that eight hours previously your experiences existed only in the bits and bytes in a data centre and your physical matter existed only in a storage tank of chemical soup. Those memories, in the movie, were constructed from the photo albums and other recordings of the chief scientist’s niece.
How realistic a proposition is that? Evidence, incomplete though it is, seems to point to it being thoroughly feasible. Our memories are already vague and subject to unconscious revision.
Die another day
It would be no good scanning the brain and body of somebody in utmost detail if they are long dead. (Even if they are deep frozen; the process of dying does too much damage.) However, by providing a newly made person – made in their likeness – with some generic ‘experiences’ and the specifics gleaned from the dead person’s photo albums, writings, e-mails, texts, movies, voice mails, and whatever media recordings are left by people in future, I reckon we are on solid ground for recreating the consciousness of those who are no longer alive.
Would such a recreated person truly be the resurrected original? That might seem a daft question, especially if you believe your memories are more reliable than photographs and other recordings. However, the evidence is the contrary. The principal stumbling block, it seems to me – apart from that we do not yet know how to construct even a simple animal, let alone a human – is that people of even only a few years ago left precious little recordings of their lives. However, in future, the quantity and quality of factual recordings must at some point exceed the quantity and quality of an individual’s memory. (Of course, we would want to build in that fallible memory too.)
Why restrict it to real people? As in Blade Runner, we could create people who never previously existed or who existed only as artistic renditions of one form or another.
Einstein a go go
In A Conversation with Einstein’s Brain, Douglas Hofstadter proposes a hypothetical book that documents, in utmost detail, the workings of Einstein’s brain. It enables you to look up any response Einstein would make to any mental input. (Really, to simulate Einstein the whole person, the book would need to also document his body, or at least the nervous system, but, as far as I recall, it does not go that far.) To ask Einstein a question, such as asking how he feels today, you would look up the appropriate indexes in the book that map the neural workings of his brain. (A gigantic and painstaking task, of course.)
The point of it was to demonstrate that this gigantic book combined with the pseudo-mechanical task of looking up the indexes is to some extent a re-creation of Einstein’s consciousness!
I mention this extraordinary idea here just to point out the possibility of circumvention the technical problem that we do not know how to construct a human being out of chemical soup. We know how to construct a book — and a library of books. We know how to construct a computer program too. In addition, while (as Daniel Dennett points out in later works) a simulation can never approach the complexity of reality, maybe we can provide real time sensory input of sorts so that the recreated person can experience new things.
Another you, or another me–copied from the original you (or me)–might exist on a far away alien planet. No, seriously!
Returning to Daniel Dennett’s person transmitter, what if an advanced civilisation somewhere out there already has the required technology? For this to work, incidentally, they must have had that technology for as many years as they are distant from us in light-years. In addition, they cannot be much more than about 75 light years away: Civilisations farther than that are yet to receive our first fuzzy black-and-white television images.
Taking Tau Ceti e as the example (because, at 12 light-years away, it is the closest potentially habitable planet discovered as of this writing) suppose they have been listening and watching our radio and television broadcasts with high-resolution antennae, much as the unseen master race must have done in Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 a Space Odyssey. (The finale of movie is debatable, but it seems to me that the masters stopped short of re-creating astronaut David Bowman in favour of modifying his original self.)
Anyone who has appeared on television, which I imagine applies to most adults in the western world at some time in their lives, is a candidate for being re-created by the Tau Cetans, perhaps as an advanced android zoo specimen or a plaything to amuse the youngsters of this advanced race (rather as we amuse ourselves with artificial bears and other furry animals). If enough of your life’s records have been transmitted into outer space, it could be an extremely advanced android. So advanced as to be a replicant you!