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

Charles Holland neuro_chemical_engineering at hotmail.co.uk
Tue Jun 14 13:11:47 UTC 2011

Hello everyone, and thanks to all for their responses.

Natasha, you suggest that existence in a certain substrate implies embodiment in the environment offered by the substrate. My suggestion instead was a complete mind-upload, i.e. existence in silico, in a simulation. Then, as Eugen says, we must still have a 'sensorium and motorics'. As Rodney Books (director of the MIT AI lab) more or less predicts in Flesh and Machines, we will by that time have robot implementations of a human body that can serve as the ultimate telepresence device for us. So we will have the option of being instantiated by a robot in real life (as in the movie Avatar). An alternative is to opt for instantiation in what Eugen calls the internal world representation. This would be akin to Second Life, where I can for instance fly or teleport from A to B.

Andy Clark, in the final chapter of Natural-Born Cyborgs, also dismisses the possibility of a disembodied existence, stating that our senses have to be hooked up to *something*. (Andy also comes to the possibility of multiple embodiment, but still in somewhat familiar forms, like experiencing the world from the point-of-view of a bird.)

Still, these bodies, on the basis of being virtual, are qualitatively different from our real physical incarnations. They are not bound by the laws of physics. My question is how this would affect the trauma that every man has to deal with as he learns to cope with his existence. The denial of death complex might be mitigated by two mechanisms. The first is the (almost complete) control over your body, which is expressed for example (to brush on a repeated topic in The Denial of Death) as the abolition of our dependence on food. Anders mentioned the examples of the expansion of one's egocentric space to include a picked-up staff. Andy Clark also returns to the subject of enlarging your egocentric space by wearable devices or prosthetics. This makes it plausible that our brain is very capable of adapting to this new environment. 

The fact that our bodies are mere avatars (be it in a simulated environment or in the real world) also implies that we could, as far as we can currently tell, be able to live forever. In a simulated environment there would have to be no risk of dying in a car accident or plane crash. Even if our embodiment is in an avatar that exists in the real, physical world, destruction of the avatar does not mean that the person dies because it can be controlled wirelessly from a safe location. 

The combination of these factors is hypothesised to fundamentally upset the formation of our Oedipus complex as we grow up. 

I want to be clear on the Oedipus complex. Becker can say it better than me: 

'We mentioned earlier that in his [Freud's] later work he moved away from narrow sexual formulations of the Oedipus complex and turned more to the nature of life itself, to the general problems of human existence. We might say that he moved from a father-fear theory of culture to a nature-terror one.'

Anders, I suppose you are right about other drives to keep us busy. But as Andy Clark says it, we are the sum of our parts. If we take the drive for a heroism project away, it could be said that the associated part of our humanity would be abolished for good (as Henry predicts). What implications, if any, will this abolishment have for our 'humanness', the extent to which we are that what makes us human? How much is our character and culture shaped by the complexes resulting from having to deal with death and (sexual) reproduction?

With regards,

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