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

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Fri Jun 10 11:26:22 UTC 2011

On Thu, Jun 09, 2011 at 08:30:29PM +0200, Charles Holland wrote:

> Hello all,
> I am writing a paper that tries to relate transhumanism (posthumanism) to the ideas expressed in Ernest Becker's Denial of Death. My question is how technological changes/enhancements to our body might affect our 'anality' (as Becker puts it). Taking this to the theoretical extreme, suppose a large part of society is uploaded and living in a virtual environment. Suppose a child is uploaded immediately after birth and grows up in this virtual environment.

Such a society would immediately start drifting away from the
original state, and produce diversification to the point of
splitting into multiple mutually incomprehensible clades.
> 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.

People are pretty adaptive as is.
> Taking a 'Second Life' approach to such a virtual world may conjure up an image where people can perhaps dress a little funny and choose to have athletic bodies, but still be embodied. People would still be able to walk should they want to, be able to place one foot in front of the other, and feel the sensory feedback as their feet touch the pavement. We would still feel as being embodied in a certain location in space. This still holds if we should choose to embody ourself in some more exotic forms, such as a bird or a fish (be they androgynous or not). To what degree will we still experience the Oedipal complex in this situation?

You're already embodied as an information pattern in some
hardware slab at the physical layer. You probably mean the
internal world representation. In order to manipulate you
must have a sensorium and motorics. How exactly they look
like is not particularly important.

Er, did you just say Oedipal complex? Really?
> 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. However, supposing that such a form of existence will eventually be made possible, will this finally and completely abolish the dualism between our symbolic and physical selves?

What does 'unembodied existence' even mean? No self symbol,
direct manipulation of objects, but there are still objects.
This is all discrete patterns signalling back and forth at
the physical layer, rearranging represented state. 

So I'm a bit at loss at what you mean.
> The technology that might one day allow this kind of virtual existence, according to Becker, has come about precisely due to the burden of our bodies, and the ensuing heroism projects. 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?

Burden? Heroism? You're obviously coming from a humanities
angle, am I right?
> I would very much appreciate discussion on the points raised in the previous paragraphs. Of course I don't mean to insinuate that I have the answers to any of the above questions, or even after (a hopefully fruitful!) discussion on this list. However, I feel that talking about these issues is quite essential to a transhuman philosophy, so they warrant our attention.

You don't have to be a philosopher to walk the dog. (Wait, I take that back).
> With regards,Charles

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