beep beep


lately I have been reading the book Luminous by Greg Egan, as it was recommended to me. It is a collection of short (real-)science fiction stories.

I didn’t really understand the story ‘Transition Dreams’. It’s about an old man who wishes to transfer his consciousness into a robot (this is actually possible in the story). He is told that during the transition he will experience some dreams, and his fear of these dreams is the focus of the story. Towards the end he suffers a heart attack (or similar) and he ends up in a hospital and discovers his reality is suddenly different, he believes his memories prior to ending up in the hospital to be false. He requests to contact the robot-company to hurry things along and it turns out he never had an appointment with them and he seemingly imagined the whole thing. Then he seems to die although it’s a little bit fuzzy.

It’s a little confusing. I have an interpretation but I don’t know if it’s right: I may have missed it but I don’t think the story addressed the fact that the robot would merely be a copy of his consciousness; the robot would believe itself to be him, and indeed its mind (sh)would be indistinguishable from his at the point that the copying process completes, but from that point forward they are two separate beings and the human will continue to experience life through its biological sensors (eyes, ears, etc) and he is still going to die, at which point his consciousness will expire. His perception of his own existence will cease, but the robot will live on. As I understood it the biological human in the story had no future beyond being ‘transferred’ into the robot, as he was frozen in the process. Therefore it is likely that death (or at least some kind of ‘final shutdown’) will occur directly after the copying process.

I think the point at which he woke in the hospital was in fact his ‘transition dream’, because it’s set out in a slightly nightmareish fashion. The very final part of the story sees him apparently dying; I wonder if he did INDEED die, but there now exists a robot living his life. I don’t think this is correct because it was stated earlier in the story that the dreaming did not occur within the physical human brain, but I can’t make much sense of it otherwise.

Maybe I missed the point and it was more to do with knowing the existence of these dreams without anyone actually remembering experiencing them, it seems kind of analogous to the halting problem in the way it’s described. Or something to do with the fact he was terrified of them. Or maybe there wasn’t a point. Or maybe 2 seconds after the end of the story he wakes up in a robot and remembers nothing about the dream because it’s JUST A STORY. Who knows.

In any case this highlights why I am not at all enthusiastic about the idea of immortality by moving one’s mind into something more durable than our human bodies. If you told me I could be immortal then great, but if you told me you could spawn a clone of me which could be immortal, but I’ll still die, then … not so great; from my point of view it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s not even the old Trigger’s Broom problem because it wouldn’t be an incremental replacing of my parts, there’s only one that’s important to my consciousness and it would be replaced instantly.

But the bizarre thing is that to everyone around me, I would really exist in that other body/robot/whatever. Even worse, the robot would really think it was me! It would have all the same memories. Even after it awoke, it would look around in surprise and comment how different/surprisingly-similar these artificial hands are, as if it had ever experienced anything else.

In the (quite distant) future we could end up with an entire society of clones because people selflessly decide to sacrifice themselves so that a perfect copy may live on. It’ll start with parents who have terminal diseases allowing themselves to be copied so that the child will still have (what they see as) their parent, but then the (cloned) parent will far outlive their partner and child, so it will become something that the partner and child consider doing, by which time the child may have a partner and children of their own. And so on.

I suppose that soon after people reach this point that they probably won’t go down the biological route of reproduction and there would be some kind of baby-clones they could choose from to spawn; if the development was still similar to how humans develop now, the greatly varied experiences in childhood would prevent everyone from turning out the same. And eventually organic humans will die out entirely. MAYBE.

Of course what I assume with all this is that both consciousness and reality are continuous and that we are definitely the same person as we were last week, not just someone who exists RIGHT NOW who happens to have the same memories as the person who existed last week (plus a few since then). It’s hard to prove this and if it’s wrong the discontinuity between human and robot seems less relevant, and totally confusing.


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