Futurist projects are often criticized for leading to absurd outcomes. For example, if we scan and upload our minds to the cloud, we could make multiple copies of ourselves. Which one would be the real you? Or, if we scan your brain at age 50 and then you die at age 60, would a resurrected copy of your 50-year-old brain really be you? Are you the same person if you lost 10 years of memories? Or, let’s say we develop teleportation where every atom in your body is scanned, destroyed, and recreated instantaneously at another location. Are you really the same person if your original form was destroyed? And what if your original form didn’t want to be destroyed? Would that be murder?
There are endless iterations of these conundrums. Essentially, there is no way to upload, teleport, or reanimate human consciousness without encountering issues with identity. Skeptics, such as Michael Shermer, present these issues gleefully, as if futurist and transhumanist projects are doomed to fail because of them. But I don’t find these issues to be all that concerning. Biological life as we know it is already amazingly absurd. In order to fully enjoy the benefits of post-biological life, we should lean into the absurdity, not shy away from it.
Imagine if our situation was reversed, so that we were already digital life forms, and our technology was leading us to recreate our conscious experience in biology. In that world, skeptics would have no shortage of issues to raise. For instance, what if, in the womb, the fertilized egg split, causing two (or more!) identical babies to be born at the same time? That would be absurd! Or what if the slightest malfunction occurred in an embryo’s genetic code? The child could be born with any number of genetic disorders, many of them painful or life-threatening. And what about threats to the biological system, like germs and viruses? And then what if any given person were to be hit by a truck or shot by a bullet? Would they simply die with no copy surviving? Their consciousness would just end? How could that be acceptable?
These issues are only scratching the surface of the absurdities of biological life. The human body itself is fundamentally absurd, as it is not simply a conglomerate of human cells with DNA as the blueprint. We’re also made up of several trillion microbial cells. And these non-human cells (bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms) have a profound impact on a person’s physical health as well as their mood.
Even more absurd is the fact that the human brain contains not one, but two identities. When the brain is severed down the middle through surgery, each hemisphere begins operating independently to a startling degree. For example, a split-brain patient’s verbal response to a question will often be different than their written response, as language is processed in the left hemisphere. In some studies, it has been shown that the two hemispheres sometimes disagree on very basic questions, such as a person’s favorite color.
Ultimately, human identity is convoluted and fragile. We can scarcely define it, let alone safeguard it from the myriad of ways it can be corrupted or destroyed. But if we want to ever preserve some essence of a person for longer than the upper limits allowed by our biological meat suits, we have to lean into futurist projects. Perhaps someday an uploaded, replicated, reanimated, or teleported brain will seem entirely commonplace, and the only thing absurd about life will be the distant memory of how we clung to the shortcomings of our former biology.