taking a ride on the ship of theseus

I'm reading Jeff Hawkins' "A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence". I really appreciated his earlier book "On Intelligence" that introduced me to the idea that most of our sensory process is test-and-verify (seeing if the incoming sensory signals match what we'd expect to see.) "A Thousand Brains" builds on that, focuses on the "cortical columns" of the neocortex - how they use "reference frames" to identify things from different angles and perspectives, and how active movement (running your fingers along a coffee cup, your eyes darting around to see different angles) is also key to this cognition. And in this model, the neocortex layout is pretty universal, like across species; humans mostly just have more of it.

Later in the book he touches on some of the tropes of where philosophy and neuroscience (and science fiction) overlap, like uploading our brains into a computer. He points out that, putting technical challenges (or maybe impossibilities) aside - your uploaded-self might wake up inside the computer, sure, but if the procedure was such that your biological-self was intact, staring at that computer, the uploaded-self would definitely feel like a mental copy and not a transfer. And if the transfer process was destructive (more likely, in my guesstimation) then at least the "computer you" would have no rival to the claim of being "the real you", but the earlier version of the thought experiment would still fill us with doubt as to if "computer you" was a new copy or a legitimate transfer.

(He also points out that it's probably false to think we could have a high fidelity copy of the mind without also emulating the body - taking phantom limbs as an example, our neocortex is really use to a very rich embodiment, and booting up a human mind copy in a sparse, abstracted environment would be unlikely to go well.)

I'm reminded that there's a "Ship of Theseus" solution to the copy/transfer problem - that if you were able to *gradually* merge with a set of computer hardware and software, first enjoying the increased sensory and cognitive possibilities of living in silicon, and then gradually replacing worn-out brain and bodily processes with virtual equivalents until finally the old body was discarded as a husk that was no longer carrying the loads, we might work away around the "is it a copy or a transfer" quandary - we could more easily see uploading a gradual transition of growth and change, much like childhood and puberty.

Of course much of this come back to what some Buddhists have known all along, that our sense of self is an illusion, that all we ever have is this moment, that the sense of continuity and being we enjoy - while useful and rewarding - are made-up nouns we use to glue together a bunch of verbs.

(We have a flashlight of awareness strapped to our head, and so everywhere we turn is lit, and we start to think that the whole landscape is full of this light. Whenever we pause to think about ourselves, we are there for the thinking, and we can piece together our history, recent and long-term. But I don't think we do that as often as most folks seem to assume.)

So yeah. I of course can't shake my own feeling of consciousness and continuity, I am bummed about the prospect of my own death the way all but believers convinced of a pleasant awaiting afterlife are (and even some of them.)

Actually that last note makes me wonder as well. I think American Folk Christianity used to be more in tune with the older idea of a bodily resurrection (I think most canonically at the end of the world, after a period somewhat akin to dreamless sleep.) But I feel like a kind of cartesian dualism has strongly returned, the more common view is potentially disembodied souls flitting around, making the body almost coincidental. I mean, cynically, that's a pragmatically utilitarian and soothing explanation for why cremation and other forms of corpse destruction aren't a barrier for eternal life.

So with the "soul is separable" model, there's the same question of identity and consciousness the uploaders wrestle with. Or it's different; like, in that model is it the "soul" or the meat brain that's doing the thinking and feeling - either the physical brain is extraneous, or it would be a vastly different experience being in a divine form than when we were mere humans.

I guess I have seen glimpses of art wrestling with this; like where the transferred soul doesn't really remember much of its previous life. I would say it feels like most Folk Christianity dwells on the conundrum much; you just figure God can do whatever He wants, and heavenly life is either a continuation of how we live now, but nicer, or so radically different that we have absolutely no comprehension of the matter, but still hold faith that what our church has taught us has been correctly revealed and interpreted.