Archive for the ‘death’ Category

Coed – episode 1

Monday, June 7th, 2010

“Coed” is a fictional exploration of fusion – two persons coming together to cohabit in a shared body.  Fusion cases are more complex than fission, involving greater discontinuities, botb physical and psychological.  You may find that contemplation of fusion cases fosters real doubt as to whether two persons are present, or one.

She knows he’s in there – she can see him brokenly through the office door’s bevelled glass, framed and backlit by the window, inert in his chair.  “It’s me, May,” she calls softly, not wanting to attract attention in the hallway.

The last thing Jerry wants now is to be bothered by students.  With time suddenly so precious to him, he is not prepared to squander it on their all-too-protean intellects.  The knob rattles, making him seethe.  Typical of students nowadays; they’ll barge in anywhere.  They hardly care which washrooms they use.  Even May startled him at the urinal, once.  They were both convulsed by giggles, meeting like that.  He scolded her, but she didn’t care.  Abruptly, it occurs to Jerry that it’s probably May now – she said she’d drop by this afternoon.

At last she sees the fragmented figure inside lurch to its feet, lean towards the door.

He was right – May stands there with her shining golden hair and the essay-in-progress which has been her excuse for visiting him during the entire term.  Playfully, she kicks the door closed behind her.

Instead of reaching out to her, Jerry stands listlessly, his arms limp.  She wonders what’s wrong.

He realizes he will lose this too.  In six months – a year at most – she will avoid his gaze.  Not only she, but all the other tantalizing female students.  And even the ones that aren’t tantalizing.  But now she is waiting for him, to say something.  “How much have you written since last time?”  His tone is collegial, only a little condescending.

“Nothing,” she admits without a trace of guilt.  She dares him with her eyes to reprimand her, but her playful invitation is rebuffed.

That’s how he feels about her too – absolutely guiltless.  It’s a wonderful relationship, even more so than his relationship with Carole, which he once thought wonderful enough to justify the unpleasantness and expense of a divorce.  And now when he has achieved this, and so much else – when his life has at last taken a finished shape, with full-professor status, four-month European vacations, and a conscience mature enough to allow him the things he really wants – now, at age forty, it’s over. (more…)

The Anatomy of Self-Concern

Friday, May 21st, 2010

 

Published in 1998, Raymond Martin’s Self-Concern set a new direction for the philosophical discussion of personal identity by shifting the focus from “the normative question of whether this or that should matter in survival to the largely descriptive question of what…actually does…matter.”  Martin questions the philosophical goal of trying to show that we all should (rationally) respond in the same way to the puzzle cases – a goal shared by Parfit and his opponents – calling the attempt “survival-value imperialism.”  In examining how people actually value their own survival, his book goes a long way towards characterizing the conditions that make it difficult or easy for people to self-identify across time.  It is largely about the psychology of self-concern. (more…)

Life Insurance as Game Changer

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Who would have predicted that boring old life insurance would become the ‘killer app’ that makes human replication technology truly transformational?  But that does seem to follow from the logic of the situation.

The arguments for information-based life insurance are even more compelling than the arguments for teleportation.  The advantages of travelling as information are speed, convenience, cost, and sustainability (in the form of lower carbon emissions).  The final product is the same as conventional travel – the customer is (to all intents and purposes) transported from place A to place B.  But in the case of life insurance, the product is radically transformed.  Whereas traditional insurance merely mitigates the damage of death by providing monetary support to surviving family, the new insurance warrants the life of the policyholder by – in the event of his death – restoring him from a backup file.   It changes our relationship to death, which is no small matter. (more…)

Phoenix – episode 3

Friday, March 26th, 2010

This is the third and final episode of “Phoenix,”  a short story about an improved kind of life insurance.  If you haven’t read episode 1, start here.

(video on – metallic cylindrical interior)

Frank here.  So here I am in the itravel pod on Olympus Station, Mars orbit, which is home, heading out to Prince Rupert BC.  Who the heck was Prince Rupert, anyhow?  This system’s running slower than ever.  I’ve been sitting doing dick for five minutes, bored out of my skull, listening to Eleanor Rigby on their crappy sound system.  Okay. here we go, I’m finally getting a tingle…a-a-a-and…must be there!

Welcome to Prince Rupert, Canada’s Pacific Rim deep-water port. (more…)

Phoenix – episode 2

Friday, March 19th, 2010

This is the second episode of “Phoenix,”  a short fiction about an improved kind of life insurance.  If you haven’t read episode 1, start here.

That was my first taste of problems involved with using my life insurance policy.  I didn’t think they were all that bad, considering the alternative.  It was only after I died a second time that I felt a tiny bit concerned, because it was so stupid.  Even now, now that the pattern is obvious, I have trouble understanding how I could have done it.  Back then, I couldn’t begin to understand.  My log entry after I saw the evidence is pure confusion – just screaming question marks.

I’d survived a year and a half since the volcano.  By that time I had lots of experience and was diving safely.  In fact I was getting bored, and looking at other sports.  Anyway, this is what happened, as well as I’ve been able to reconstruct it.  I needed the cruiser for a date with a girl on some other station so I asked Dad well in advance and he agreed.  Fine.  Eight o’clock Friday night I climbed in and the fuel-oxygen was down to zip.  Almost.  The spare tank was empty too.  How could Dad let that happen?  I was probably late, probably frustrated.  I drove that thing into a station and traded in the spare.  The attendant was pretty young – I saw him at the inquest later – didn’t know much.  He gave me a tank with the wrong fitting.  And I didn’t notice. (more…)

Phoenix – episode 1

Friday, March 12th, 2010

“Phoenix” is a short story about a young guy who found freedom in a life insurance policy.  Here is the first of three episodes.

This is Frank Forster speaking on January 7, 2092.  This is a confidential message for Frank Forster.

Frank…if anybody’s around, save this for another time.   You’re going to have to make a decision, and you don’t need anybody’s advice except your own.

You’re probably wondering why there’s no video.  I turned it off.  I’ll explain why later.  Just keep listening, Frank, I need you to hear this through to the end without any interruption.  Arrange that, okay?  I don’t want somebody like Georg dropping in for a cold one in the middle of this.  Not that Georg will, ‘cause he’s dead.  I assume you heard.  God, I hope you did – I’m not trying to be brutal.  Yeah, Georg’s dead, permanently…yeah, permanently…and that’s a lot of what this message is about, so pay attention, hamhead!   Oops, sorry, sorry, I, uh…Frank, I’m not trying to offend you.  I don’t want you to stop listening.  Don’t stop listening.  Understand that I have strong feelings.  You will understand, if you just listen to this.  So, if I start to get abusive, just go with it, okay?  Do that for me.  Shit, do it for yourself.  I don’t want to edit this, I’d mess it up.  So some parts may be a bit raw, so what?  I care about you, Frank, so no bullshit.  You’re my future – all the future I’ve got.

I’m going to ask you to do something you won’t like.  It’s about life insurance, Frank.  I’m going to ask you to cancel your policy. (more…)

What We Are

Friday, February 26th, 2010

What are we, if we are informational entities?

Like most people (and unlike some philosophers) I will stick to the view that we are persons.  In this post I will try to state clearly what persons are according to the theory of persons I recommend, which I call the Information Theory.  I will begin to flesh the theory out, by drawing out some of its consequences.

The Information Theory

Here are some claims of the Information Theory of Persons.

  1. Persons are entities that can be multiply instantiated, like tunes, dances, literary works, electronic files, computer programs, and genes.
  2. Like all those things, persons are entities that can be expressed as information.  A person can cross a spatio-temporal gap in the form of information carried by any convenient medium, such as electronic files.
  3. Persons are distinct from the living biological organisms they depend on, as software is distinct from the hardware it runs on. (more…)

What We Are Not

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

What We Are NotWe are not Cartesian egos.  We are not biological organisms either.

Not Cartesian egos

A Cartesian ego is a kind of mental or spiritual thing that is thought to inhabit a human body and give it life.  Many people believe we can exist independently of a human body – that we survive the death of our bodies, continuing to have experiences either without a body, or by being reborn in another body.

I hardly need to argue against Cartesian egos.  The idea is in widespread disrepute without any assistance from me.  It is hard to reconcile with a scientific view of the world.  We have no convincing evidence that such things exist.  Until we have, we should use Occam’s Razor for its intended purpose to prune them from our conceptual scheme.  Leaving them in creates clutter and awkward problems.

One problem comes from split brain research.  When the corpus callosum connecting a patient’s two cerebral hemispheres is cut, two centres of consciousness appear where there was one before.  Should we conclude that the surgeon’s knife divided a spiritual substance?   Instead of deepening our understanding, this multiplies mysteries.

Despite its academic unrespectability, the idea that we are Cartesian egos is embraced by billions of people.  It is deeply involved with emotion, as this passage from Umberto Eco’s novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana illustrates:

One evening the spiritual director stood in front of the altar balustrade, illuminated – like all of us, like the entire chapel – by that single candle that haloed him in light, leaving his face in darkness.  Before dismissing us, he told us a story.  One night, in a convent school, a girl died, a young, pious, beautiful girl.  The next morning, she was stretched out on a catafalque in the nave of the church, and the mourners were reciting their prayers for the deceased, when all of a sudden the corpse sat up, eyes wide and finger pointing at the celebrant, and said in a cavernous voice, “Father, do not pray for me!  Last night I had an impure thought, a single thought – and now I am damned!” (more…)

The Self Illusion

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Vase-faces2

To find the right answers, ask the right questions.  I have skated around the question, “Is there a rational justification for self concern?” without coming up with a solid argument that settles it one way or the other.  But there is a related question which can be answered.

Two Views of Teleportation

As we have seen, teleportation by means of information transfer can be viewed in two ways.  The facts of the case are: I am scanned in North Vancouver and my information is sent to Omaha, where it is used to construct a living replica of me.  Meanwhile, the original in North Vancouver is destroyed.  Two views of these events are:

SURVIVE: I am transported from North Vancouver to Omaha.

DIE: I am killed in North Vancouver, and someone else – my replica – is constructed in Omaha.

People who think about teleportation disagree about whether SURVIVE or DIE is an accurate description of the case.  How can it be settled which view is true – or whether neither is true?

People who disagree about SURVIVE and DIE do not disagree about the facts of the case.  The facts are not in question.  No scientific experiment can be devised to settle which of SURVIVE and DIE is an accurate description of the facts. (more…)

Gappy Things That Branch and Change

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

IdentityImagine, in the early days of books, a small library consisting entirely of original manuscripts.  Some of them are very old, and have been attacked by mice.  Some have deteriorated so much that their pages crumble to dust when the custodian of the library tries to read them.  He mourns the loss of these books, and contemplates the inevitable decay of the remaining books with sorrow.  To be sure, new manuscripts are occasionally added to the library, but they cannot replace the volumes that are lost forever.  This goes on until, one day, the young assistant librarian has an idea.  “This book will be unreadable in five years,” he tells his elder.  “But I can read it now.  If I copy the words of this book onto sheets of new vellum, and bind them in a strong new binding, we will be able to read it for many decades to come.”  The old librarian tenderly strokes the cracked spine of the crumbling volume, and shakes his head.  “What good is a copy?  It wouldn’t be the same book.”

In the previous post, I summarized one of Derek Parfit’s main arguments that personal identity – being the same person over time – is not what matters in survival.

Human fission – one person ‘splitting’ into two – is clearly imaginable.  It is physically possible, and is not far from being technically possible.  Parfit argues compellingly that fission would preserve what is important in survival.  Specifically, if Parfit knew that both of his cerebral hemispheres were about to be separately transplanted into two separate bodies, he would have the same rational justification for anticipating the experiences of both of the post-op survivors as each of us has for anticipating his or her own future experiences.  This, despite the fact that the original Derek Parfit ceased to exist when he was divided.  In this case, ceasing to exist is very unlike ordinary death.  Ceasing to exist just consists in the fact that the two post-op survivors are different persons from one another, and neither one is the same person as the pre-op Derek Parfit.  Loss of identity of this kind does not matter. (more…)