[ExI] The denial of death, transhumanism, and the abolition of embodiment

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Thu Jun 9 22:39:06 UTC 2011

Charles Holland wrote:
> The first thing that would be different in such a virtual world is the 
> absence of some basic bodily functions: we would no longer require 
> eating (and thus defecating). This is not to say we could not still 
> enjoy it, but it's a constraint released, and thus something we no 
> longer have to find a place for in our worldview.

Uploads still require virtual bodies in order to function. These need 
only be adequate - whatever that means - but it seems likely that most 
people would want to have all features of their original bodies and then 
be free to choose what to ignore. This is especially important given the 
sometimes tight couplings between bodily states and brain states (c.f. 
Damasio's "Descartes' Error"). Exactly how much basic bodily functions 
can be left out is of course an individual matter, but I would suspect 
that people need and would  desire more embodiment than they might think 
when considering it theoretically, but also that some dimensions of 
embodiment may turn out to be far less important than they seem right now.

>  To what degree will we still experience the Oedipal complex in this 
> situation?

Do we even experience it in our current situation?

> Taking a step further, living in a virtual environment may permit an 
> unembodied existence, but this is hard to think about because none of 
> us can probably imagine such an existence.

No, it is hard to think about because it leaves out an explanation of 
how the neural network is interacting with the world. When I write this, 
my brain sends signals via the spinal cord to produce muscle movements 
that make fingers move over a keyboard. If there were no virtual body, 
an upload version of my brain would not be able to communicate. A smart 
interface might of course pick up words from my emulated Broca's area 
and convert them into characters in a text buffer, but would that not 
make the interface a part of my body?

I think bodies are best described as the interface between our minds and 
our surroundings, and are not necessarily very distinct or bounded 
objects. Picking up a staff changes the dimensions of egocentric space 
in the brain (as shown by neuroimaging); other studies also suggest that 
we can fairly easily extend our bodies to encompass tools or effigies if 
they are perceived as linked well enough to us.

> Supposing that the answer to the previous question is 'yes', would 
> this imply that, because this ultimate human drive has fallen away, 
> most if not all technological (or artistic) development will 
> essentially come to a halt?

This presupposes that there is one ultimate human drive, and that this 
drive is tied to overcoming the body. I don't think this sounds too 

People do a lot of things for social status, including art and 
technology. This motivation would remain. That it might originally have 
evolved because of the peculiarities of human reproduction, family 
formation and group interaction, doesn't mean the motivation would not 
remain even when the evolutionary pressure producing it disappears. We 
are still motivated by many drives which recent technological changes 
have made irrelevant or maladaptive, such as eating more than we need 
because of the high risk in the EEA for famine.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute 
James Martin 21st Century School 
Philosophy Faculty 
Oxford University 

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list