“No – you’re a dualist! No you!” Don’t panic, spelling nazis – the title is not mistaken. It’s just a stupid descripto-pun of the battle taking place between proponents of uploadable consciousness and their critics: a fight to the internet-log-off-and-sulk over who’s being the dualist.

Acknowledging any kind of mysterious division between mind and matter is credibility suicide nowadays amongst the inner circle of super sciencey people. Mention soul and unless you’re talking about an out-of-date, Transhumanist Duelism funky music genre or making a dyslexic attempt at communicating that-thing-on-the-bottom-of-a-shoe, your opinion will automatically be dismissed as fast as the disappointingly slow carbon-based computational circuitry in their brains will allow.

No-one in their right proud-to-be-scientific mind wants to be caught indulging (even accidentally) in what is considered by both sides of the ongoing debate to be nothing but wishful thinking; nothing more than a weak and embarrassingly human throwback to religion-like reverence for our own conscious experience and its magical specialness.

Transhumanist Dualism

Both sides agree that mind is matter, and matter is mind. Everyone involved believes that the continuity of experience we refer to as the mind arises inexorably according to physical laws out of a particular configuration of what we refer to as matter. In our case, this configuration just so happens to be body-brain-shaped.

The handbags start flying, however, when it comes to the idea of ‘uploading’ the mind – transferring a person’s continuity of experience from their body-brain onto (into?) a computer, or some other non-body-brain-shaped material substrate, or platform.

Transhumanist Dualism

Some transhumanism enthusiasts believe uploading will work and that when it does, we will pretty much insta-solve all the world’s problems and live forever (read: happily ever after) in a digital paradise of our making. Basically a virtual reality Garden of Eden.

To these dudes, their mind is but an illusory byproduct of the brain’s mechanical operation. In other words, they believe that the mind is the complex pattern of information processing activity produced by its neurons. And (they would argue) what’s to say that this selfsame pattern couldn’t emerge identically within the information processing activity of something other than neurons?

For these guys, then, it only makes sense to believe that, given the appropriate computational architecture for precisely reproducing and carrying on this functional pattern, their feeling-of-the-continuity-of-experience will transfer smoothly onto much more efficient and non-degradable hardware – heading off into the future free from the speed limit and death sentence of the biological body in which it originated.

Hooray.

That is some weird and interesting shit. And if you disagree with this weird and interesting shit, you can expect to be accused of naive dualism.

Transhumanist Dualism

But there are other interested parties who don’t believe that uploading will work, and that when it doesn’t, they will laugh, and there will be flutes playing and trombones, and flowers, and garlands of fresh… herbs. And the children will dance until the sun rises. And transhumanists won’t, be, invited.

Ok so that last bit is a quote from Anchorman, but the first bit in bold is still accurate. Unlike the uploadists, these guys don’t believe that their consciousness can ‘jump’ to a virtual reality of ones and zeros, however atomically detailed a copy of reality those ones and zeros represent. They accuse uploadists of dualism because, whichever way you look at it, that-which-is-being-transferred is a “soul”.

… So who’s right?

I would give my opinion the correct answer, except it turns out I have approximately the same amount of experience in transhumanism as Steven Hawking does in dancing the Rumba. Probably not enough to continue with confidence.

Transhumanist Dualism

Actually, bollocks, I’m going for it anyway. And so should Static Steve. Well maybe not…. So er, anyway – it’s hard to find fault with the thought experiment which considers artificial-cell-for-biological-cell replacement, one-by-one until the whole body is composed of artificial cells. And I’ve come across no satisfactory argument which undermines it. But having said that, I haven’t seen categorical proof of the fundamental suppositions on which the thought experiment is based either. Like, for one thing, that neurons operate like computers do.

The image of the world as computation is a persuasive one.

But is it really surprising to find that the prevailing belief amongst neuroscientists – people whose profession requires them to treat the brain as nothing-but-a-mechanical-object – is that the brain IS, in fact, nothing-but-a-mechanical-object?

And similarly, is it surprising to find that, based on the information we continue to gather from this exclusive method of research, the human brain seems increasingly explainable in terms of simple information processing mechanisms?

Is it ok to extrapolate all the way out from this accelerating sophistication – this rapid growth in partial understanding – and expect it to deliver a complete, finished operational understanding of the human condition?

Currently it’s the most successful map we’ve got, for sure. Under its guidance, we’ve made some sick progress, which is by no means to be overlooked. And yet, for all its undeniable utilitarian strength, when it comes to actual proof definitively linking this brilliant map to reality, it does not unmistakably connect brains, neurons and consciousness. Their relationship is still a mystery.

The question remains: is our current map – this computational model by which we make sense of the world – the final, true depiction of the territory, and is it only the fine-tuned proof which is lacking? Or will we need, as we have so many times throughout history, to look again, reevaluate and further develop our map-making technique?

Is the situation we find ourselves in today more along the lines of every one of the previous paradigm shifts humanity has experienced, during each of which we undoubtedly felt a similar sense of being on the edge of knowing the most incredibly perfect knowledge knowable by a knowing-thing?

Or is this really the first case in Earth’s history where a human being’s map is the territory?

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