Resurrection & Immortality in the Flesh

When I first heard of Ray Kuzweil’s ideas, I assumed he was a science fiction writer. After all, the sort of transhuman future he envisioned is stock sci-fi fare. I was mildly surprised when it turns out that he is quite serious about (and well paid for expressing) his views. I was somewhat more surprised to learn that he has quite a following. Of course, I wasn’t too surprised-I’ve been around a while.

Oversimplifying things, Kuzweil envisions a future in which humans will be immortal and the dead will return to live. While these are common claims in religion, Kuzweil’s view is that technology will make this possible. While some describe his view as a religion, I’d prefer to use a made up word, “techion” to refer to this sort of phenomena. As I see it, a religion involves claims about supernatural entities. Kuzweil’s view is purely non-supernatural, but does have most of the stock elements of religion (the promise of a utopian future, immortality, and the raising of the dead). So, it is sort of a technological religion-hence “techion.” Yes, I like making up words. Try it yourself-it is free, fun and makes you look cool (your actual results might differ).

While the religion-like aspects of his views are interesting, I’ll be looking at the ideas of technological immortality and technological resurrection.

In the abstract, technological immortality is quite simple: just keep repairing and replacing parts.  In theory, this could be kept up until the end of time, thus granting immortality. Even with our current technology we can repair and replace parts. For example, my quadriceps tendon was recently repaired. I have friends with artificial hips and other friends who gotten tissue and organ transplants. It is easy to imagine technology progressing enough to replace or repair everything.

Technological resurrection is a bit trickier. While we can “jump start” people who have died, Kuzweil envisions something more radical. His view is that we might be able to take the DNA of dead people and rebuild them using nanobots. This, he claims, could create a new body that would be  “indistinguishable from the original person.” Of course, having a body that is indistinguishable form the original is hardly the same as having the original person back. It would, rather, be a case of having a twin. To recreate the person, his plan is that information about the original (such as things the person wrote and recollections of people who knew them) would be used to recreate the mind of the original.

Nanobot reconstruction from DNA seems possible. After all, each of our bodies assembled itself using DNA, so we have a natural model for that process. The challenge is, of course, to duplicate it with technology. We also know that the brain accepts external information that shapes the person, so such a “download” would (in theory) be possible. Of course, there is a big difference between the normal experiences that shape us and downloading information in an attempt to recreate a person.

One aspect of both immortality and resurrection that is of philosophical interest is the matter of personal identity. Immortality is only immortality if I keep on going as me. Replacing me with something that is like me does not give me personal immortality. Resurrection is only true resurrection if it is me who has returned from the dead. Recreating my body from my DNA and telling him stories about me does not bring me back to life.

Turning to immortality, the key question is this: would the identity of the person be preserved through the changes? Personal identity does seem to survive through fairly robust changes. For example, I’m confident that at 43 I am the same person as the very young kid who staggered down the aisle of church saying “I’m drunk” after drinking the communion wine. I’m larger now and a bit wiser, but surely still the same person. However, the changes required for technological immortality would be quite radical. After all, eventually the brain tissue will fail and thus will need to be replaced-perhaps by machinery.

This problem is, of course, like the classic ship of Theseus problem: how much of the original can be replaced before it is no longer the same entity? Of course, it is also complicated by the fact that a person is involved and the identity of persons is a bit more complex than that of objects.

Fortunately, there is an easy answer. If whatever it is that makes a person the person she is can keep on going in the increasingly strange flesh, then such immortality is possible. If not, then it would not be immortality, but a strange sort of death and succession. Since I don’t know what it is that makes a person the person she is, I lack a definite answer to this question. I am sure that it is quite a shock that no definite answer has been reached.

Of course, this does not diminish the importance of the concern. Assessing whether we should take the path that Kurzweil desires involves deciding whether this sort of immortality is real immortality or not. That is, determining whether we would go on as the same people or whether we would simply be dying a strange and prolonged death as we are being replaced.

Now, for resurrection. This matter has long been of interest to philosophers. Plato wrote about reincarnation (the difference is that resurrection is supposed to restore the same person and the same body while re-incarnation is supposed to restore the same person with a different body) and Locke explicitly wrote about resurrection. Naturally, philosophers who were also religious thinkers tended to write about this subject.

True resurrection, as noted above, has two key aspects. First, the original body has to be recreated. If you get a different sort of body, then you have been reincarnated (perhaps as a rather miffed squirrel). Second, the original person has to be restored. Locke’s view on this matter is that come judgment day, God will recreate our bodies (hopefully at their prime) and place the right consciousness into each body (for Locke, the person is his or her consciousness).

Recreating the original body seems possible. With DNA, raw material  and those hypothetical nanobots, it would just be a (re) construction project. It would also help to have images of the original body, plus as much other relevant data as possible. So, the first aspect is taken care of.

Getting the original person back in the recreated body is the real challenge. Kurzweil does seem to clearly recognize that the method he envisions will not restore the original person. He seems to be right about this. After all, the method he describes relies on “public” information. That is, it depends on what information the person provided before death and what other people remember of him. This obviously leaves out everything that was not recorded or known by others. As such, it will be a partial reconstruction-a new person who is force fed the scraps of another person’s life. This, obviously enough, raises some serious moral issues.

On the face of it, Kurzweil’s resurrection seems to be moral appalling. That this is so can be illustrated by the following analogy. Imagine that Sally and Ivan have a son, Ted. Ted dies at 18. Sally and Ivan go through all the adoption agencies until they find a baby, Joe,  that looks like Ted did. They rename Joe as Ted and then reconstruct Ted’s life as closely as possible-punishing the former Joe whenever he deviates from Ted’s life and rewarding him for doing what Ted did. Sally and Ivan would be robbing Joe of choice and using him as a means to an end-fulfilling their need to have Ted back. But, they have no right to do this to Joe-he is a person, not a thing to be used to recreate Ted.

The same certainly seems to hold in the situation Kurzweil envisions. To create a human being and force him to be a copy of a dead person is a horrible misuse of a person and a wicked act.

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25 Comments.

  1. As far as immortality goes, it seems to me that we can generally accept that we do/will have the technology to enable a complete recreation of the body.

    The only issue is that in recreating the body, where does the “self” come from. But, what is this “self” and how can we describe it? Is it the essence of personality? Is it the soul? If it is personality, then all it is is a compilation of chemical structures, functions, and complexes. The personality can be easily changed by changes in the chemical and/or physical structure of the brain. This happens all the time to drug abusers and to patients who have suffered brain damage. So then, if the self is personality, then the self is very much able to change. If the self is so able to change, then maybe there is too much importance placed upon the self. Maybe the self does not matter. On the other hand, if it does matter, then it is still only a compilation of aforementioned things. We may have, or at least develop in the future, ways of scanning the brain for chemical structure and electric functions. In other words, we may one day be able to scan the brain as a sort of program. If this were possible, then it would only be a matter of programming the body to act like the original. This takes care of personality as the self. By the way, I personally believe that there is no such thing as random, and that every act and action taken can be measured by a probability function. There is always a set of actions that a person may be willing to take; there would be a function that would describe the probability of each action that can be taken.

    If personality is not the true essence of self, then we must be referring to that ever elusive soul. Since this page is not necessarily religious, I will say that I personally do not believe in a “soul”, but rather in the processes listed above. However, I read an interesting article in Discover magazine about the relationship between quantum tunneling and the nature of the soul. If it can be accepted that we can find evidence of abstract nature in the physical nature of the body (love is a chemical reaction etc) then it can be said that there is a possibility of finding evidence of the soul somewhere in our bodies. Of course, the area of focus is the brain. Scientists had thought that if they could break down the processes of the brain into simpler and simpler components (like the particle physicists do) then we may find physical evidence of the soul. It was found that at the most basic level, our ability to be random (surely a major property of the soul, separating us from robots) is due to a subatomic process called quantum tunneling. Electrons quantum tunneling through atoms in our brains is given by a probabilistic function and is responsible for the actions of individual molecules which echoes up to the processes of the brain itself. In essence, the soul could just be the summation of active quantum processes. Again, if this is the case, then replacing the body suffers the same consequences as stated above.

    It is should be noted that even the original body is not a constant. Cells in our body live and die. Every cell in our bodies is replaced every seven years, including our brain cells. Since this is the case, the ship of Theseus problem is applicable to normal life. Then I ask, do you think that you are different person every seven years? I personally do not think so.

    In the case of immortality, then, I do not see any conflict as long as we have the technology.

    As far as resurrection goes, replicating the body has the same argument as above, so the issue again, is in recreating the self.

    I think there are two sides to this. The first is as said in the article; we would not have much information to go by in creating a personality. The other side is that maybe there is nothing that makes us individual, and that the self is nonexistent and/or nonconstant. If that is the case, the it does not matter who is created, just that it is possible to create someone.

    Then, there are the moral implications of this. I do not see any problems with recreating someone. The problem that I have with the Joe-Ted story is that Joe already exists as a person. In Kuzweil’s world, the humans are recreated from scratch. It is not as if they take a living person, wipe their mind clean and replace it with someone else’s. The way Kuzweil envisions it, it is literally like being reborn. In fact, it is better. Assuming there will be law enforcement, a person would have the ability to choose whether or not he wants to be reborn. This is unlike the first time, because no one choses to be born. It is something that happens to them because their parents had sex.

    Recreating a human is a two step process. The first is recreating flesh and blood. This, however, does nothing on its own. Pluggin it to a computer or a to a power outlet will do nothing. Aside from the immediate replication of the body, it needs the ability to replication itself. It needs DNA of the original person. Then, it is the original person reincarnate. The second processes is installing the soul. I think I stressed that point enough. The person created, being created from the blueprints of another, is in essence the same person as the other. There is not forcing of character that is in conflict with another self character because there is no other self character.

    It should be considered like this: I have a computer. I have backed up all files and everything that I have on my computer. I also have the code that programs the operating system that I use for my computer. I know the make and model of the desktop and monitor. One day my computer explodes. I now need a new computer, so I go a store and I either by all of the individual parts separately or just by the desktop whole. In this scenario the computer is my child. The information that I have including make and model we can consider DNA. Now I have a new computer, new child. However, this computer is blank. If I plugged it into the wall, it would not be able to do anything. I have to install the operating system and upload all of my files again. Now it is the same as my old computer. My child would have had his “soul” reinstalled. Without my doing this, it would have just been a body, a shell, nothing more. By installing the soul, I have recreated my child.

  2. The computer analogy has some appeal. However, there seems to be a crucial difference that I take as breaking the analogy. This difference is that the replacement computer is an object. It has no moral status. The recreated human is just that-a rebuilt human being. A “rezman”, if you will. While, as you point out, when the biological body is recreated, it will not have any mental content other than whatever is innate. It will be exactly like a new born infant in this case. As such, impressing the scraps of the life of the original person on it would be morally the same as doing that to an infant.

    The fact that the original and the newly created rezman have the same DNA does not change the ethics of the situation. As the case of twins show, having the same DNA does not entail sameness of person. The rezman would have the same DNA as the original, but would be a new person.

    Another way to prove this is to imagine a situation in which the original person is still alive and the same process is used to create a rezman. In this case, the original person is still around and the rezman cannot be him-he has to be someone else. This, of course, assumes that there is such a thing as personal identity. But, even if there is not, the two are clearly two different things. The rezman would also still have the same status as a newborn infant and hence it would seem wrong to force the rezman to be made into a crude mental copy of another.

  3. Ralph Sabella

    Mike,
    I agree with Miles, the Ted – Joe scenario doesn’t seem what Kuzwell had in mind.
    Miles discussed a number of things which are going to take some rereading, but in the mean time I have a couple of views on the morality of both the living forever and resurrection aspects of this post.
    In the case of living forever by trading parts in or whatever, it’s very expensive which means eternity will be only available to the rich, which in my mind is immoral especially since the rich all too often got what they have by very nasty means. Of course, this in a diminished form happens now. The rich can afford the best of whatever is necessary to keep them alive longer.
    As for the resurrection aspect of this post. What if the parents of Ted upon his death are able to bring him back to life. Who are they doing this for? Obviously themselves. Is it clear that Ted is benefiting from being reborn? Having gone through one life time, though admittedly very short, and a death already, is it fair to submit Ted to another go-around.
    Funny thought since this questions the morality of have having children at all.

  4. Ralph Sabella

    Miles and Mike,
    Mike’s comment above convinced me that the Ted – Joe scenario does fit with Kuzell’s work.
    Miles:
    As of yet we have no clear (or even fuzzy, unique) definition of what a soul is. If its this “abstract nature in the physical nature of the body,” I suggest we’re no closer to an understanding what the term means.
    Assuming there is such a thing as a soul, from what others have tried to describe, I wouldn’t necessarily look to the brain to find it or its source. Why not some emanation from all the cells of the body?
    “ . . . actions of individual molecules which echoes up to the processes of the brain itself . . . “
    Sounds a little like what I’m describing except without the brain involved.

    As to quantum electron tunneling, it sure sounds impressive, but I’ve learned that anything with “quantum” in it is almost always something on someone’s drawing board, and one shouldn’t hold ones breath waiting for something to come of it.

  5. Mike wrote:

    It will be exactly like a new born infant in this case. As such, impressing the scraps of the life of the original person on it would be morally the same as doing that to an infant.

    For me the question remains from the last topic. The question is: why do we give the infant (or rezman) a moral status at all? Because they have a FLO? Is the assertion that we can’t force a particular future on the “rezman?” If not then presumably we accept a framework which includes some kind of moral status due to “independent” potentiality. Or “the right to develop the capacity to make one’s own decisions.” But what is the basis for such a right? Can it be grounded “in” the infant or rezman? Or is it really grounded in a social system of justification?

  6. Ralph Sabella

    Faust,
    I’m particularly interested in this topic and would at least like to follow it, if not be a part of it. To those ends: what are “rez” and FLO?
    You ask why give an infant a moral status at all; I must have missed something. Don’t we allot a moral status to every human? As to forcing a particular future on an infant or anyone else you’re responsible for, isn’t that almost automatic? The reasons for doing so can be more complex, but, certainly, being a responsible party ties you into the person in question perhaps emotionally,or financially, or morally.

  7. Ralph,

    I’m carrying this over from the other thread about abortion an torture. Now I don’t want to carry over ALL of the material over here as that belongs in the other thread. Nevertheless, by reintroducing the concept that the infant is a “person” it brings over a substantial portion of what I was trying to figure out in the other thread.

    “Rezman” is a category that Mike introduces above:

    The recreated human is just that-a rebuilt human being. A “rezman”, if you will.

    FLO is a category developed by Don Marquis. He suggests that the reason that killing people is wrong is because they have futures, specifically “Futures Like Ours” and that depriving people of FLOs is wrong. He suggests that FLO deprivation is a sufficient condition for killing being wrong.

    My argument in the other thread was that IF we say that our criteria for having a “right to life” or some such category is “personhood” then it is very difficult to see why this would apply to infants since they are not “persons” in any ordinary sense. I would recommend the other thread for a full account of this assertion.

    Jean has noted that she is not happy with merely counting “personhood” as a crtieria for moral worth as it obviously excludes things we might like to see in a moral calculus such as animals.

    Anyway there was much denial of “potentiality” as a basis for moral worth in the other thread, but I remain intrigued by the fact that potentiality (categories such as FLO) seem to be one obvious basis for establishing at lest one dimension of “moral worth.” I would argue that Mike’s assertions above that turning Joe into “someone else” instead of letting him become who he might otherwise be are a clear example of this kind of thinking.

    But it becomes fairly easy to create reductio arguments against potentiality and this has led some thinkers such as Michael Tooley to suggest that infanticide is morally acceptable assuming one adopts a notion of “personhood” as one’s criteria for a “right to life.” If Tooley is right then clearly there is no difficulty imprinting the rezman with a personality insofar as the rezman itself is concerned. UNLESS there is something about creating a “fully formed” personality that is suspect in and of itself. For example, we might argue that we are “determining” a personality and depriving it of “free will” or some such.

  8. Mike

    I have to disagree with you when you say that the recreated human in my example is like an infant. An infant already has a personality, a self, its own DNA, et cetera. The recreated human is more like an empty computer than it is like an infant, in this sense. While it has all of the body parts, it does not have any personality or self. It is literally not even alive; it is just a mass of what amounts to dead tissue and bone. Only when the DNA/self/personality are placed into the body can it live. The infant is already alive. Forcing another persona onto an infant is wrong. Filling in the void of the recreated human’s mind is not because it is not a person yet, and could otherwise never be.

    This being the case, the FLO argument is moot.

    Ralph, there have been certain quantum phenomena that have been experimentally proven, this including quantum tunneling, quantum leaping, and quantum entanglement. However, you do bring up a valid point questioning the morality of having children. The right to have children is given to the parents. As individuals, we have had no choice in being born; that choice was made up by our parents. Since the morality of having kids relies on the right that the parents have to have children, it would again be up to the parents whether or not they want their son to be reborn. I don’t think anyone denies normal adults and parents the right to a child, so here I fail to see the difference.

    And just as an aside, not condoning that sort of behavior, but there already are parents who impose the personality and life of elder children on younger children, regardless of whether or not the elder children are dead. Again, I am not saying that this is right. I am just saying that it is nothing new.

  9. “To recreate the person, his plan is that information about the original (such as things the person wrote and recollections of people who knew them) would be used to recreate the mind of the original……..Of course, there is a big difference between the normal experiences that shape us and downloading information in an attempt to recreate a person.”

    I am unsure how that gap can be re-created. DNA is involved in the creation of memory through experience and helps shape the synaptic configurations in the cortex that constitute long term memories as opposed to short term in the Hippocampus. However, as you note this “experience” is declarative. I have recently lost my Mother and recall experiences with her as a child- like helping prepare the vegetables for Sunday lunch, or helping whisk the eggs for some pastry. These particular experiences are actions that she and I undertook and became memories that in some sense help sum up some of her qualities. Now this Nobody substitute, (sorry Nanorobot), is not going to have this experience. it may have the declarative knowledge and repeat on some cue. But that will be it, the complete experience will not be there. It will be, whatever the physical resemblance is, not even a simulation, because it is not following the experience/memory, but a story about it. To interact with this bodily simulacrum is no more to interact with a “resurrection “, than with a very well disguised actor. But not even that, because the actor has experiences in a real world to call upon to affect the simulation.
    One might argue that this is merely a technological problem – namely how experience becomes memory and how we can duplicate the neurone from the DNA. You might question me about all the memories I have of her and somehow program all those in, but this, of course, is not what she was, simply, my memories. If that were the case she would be a simulacrum of my memories of her ( and others who might know her), but where is she in this mirror?

  10. Susan Stanford

    Miles
    I must agree with Mike. Your Rezman would indeed be like an infant. Would you not have already sculpted a new body and brain with his dna? And would that brain not be in working condition to operate that body with all functions and capabilities of the original? Then surely, while all those neurons are firing, and that quantum tunneling is occurring, couldn’t it be receiving “… some emanation from all the cells of the body?” Those “…actions of individual molecules which echoes up to the processes of the brain itself . . . ” as Ralph said? Therefore it would not be a void, but a computer with it’s operating system already installed, to use your analogy. So you would, in fact, be an invader, a usurper of an infantile mind.

    Studies have shown that the heart, parts of the brain, and several other organs thought not capable of regeneration are, in fact, quite capable of repairing themselves if the stressors are removed. The continued research with stem cells has brought us much closer to immortality. What used to be the talk of mad scientists, growing organs in laboratories is the subject of research grants and a political hot potato.
    It’s been said that the Boomer Generation will be the longest lived in history, what with health care, vaccinations, nutritional info, etc. I keep thinking it’s in spite of DDT, Tobacco, Agent Orange, Three Mile Island, Digoxin, Saccharine, Lead paint, Polluted everything, no seatbelts, no helmets, how many wars or “Police Actions” now?, and let us not forget Cholesterol! It’s a miracle we’re alive at all. I can say that with a straight face because I have a terminal illnes, a rare orphan disease, as they label it.

    Personality or Selfhood changes over the years with schooling and experiences. Physical injury and illness, high fevers, alcohol, illegal drugs, and prescription medications affect chemical and structural changes to the body. Hormones have a profound effect on personality… think PMS and Menopause! I can say this, I’m female and have experienced both. Interpersonal relationships or lack thereof, physical, sexual and mental abuse… what part do these play? Where does mental illness fit into this picture? PTSD, depression and anxiety are the most common mental ailments of this new millenium. Most mental illness is categorized as either being psychotic, chemical imbalance-incurable; or neurotic, temporary-learned behavior-curable. Since anything that happens in the brain comes down to chemicals and electricity, all are at least treatable. But unless you affect the dna itself, you will not reverse psychopathy.
    I notice there is no discussion of Freud’s ego, id, and super-ego. Just curious…

  11. Excellent points, Faust.

    Let’s play a bit with intuitions (admittedly, a risky game not metaphorically unlike playing with a wood chipper). I would say that most of us would agree that taken child with a developed personality and overwriting it with a new personality because someone else wanted that personality back would be wrong. I would also say that we would agree that overwriting one computer with a disk image from another would be morally fine (laying aside doing that to destroy another person’s data).

    Not surprisingly, our intuitions would tend to start diverging as we move from the child to a baby and even more so with a rezman. After all, with a child we would obviously be wiping out their practical identity (perhaps as opposed to metaphysical identity). In the case of an infant or rezman, the being has no significant memories nor any developed personality. So, one might argue, they are not being robbed of anything. As such, writing the data to their blank (or mostly blank) brains does them no harm because no damage is being done.

    Or is there? As Faust points out, they are being denied their potential. To be even more precise, they are being denied freedom of choice. Since these beings are capable of choice (to some degree) to force them to be “someone else” would be to harm them in his manner. It is not destroying what they have, but robbing them of this choice. So, to continue the link with abortion that Faust began, the rezman could be cast in a role comparable to a woman. In the case of denying a woman the choice to have an abortion, she is forced to bring a potential person into existence against her will. In the case of the rezman, he is denied the choice of what sort of person he will be. With a bit of tweaking, I think that pro-choice arguments for woman’s reproductive rights could be made into pro-choice arguments for the rezmen (and rezwomen, of course).

  12. From what I read about his view of resurrection, the “rezman” will be a living human being. The body is recreated using the DNA of the original, effectively creating a clone of the original body. As such, it is a human being without any experiences. Unless, of course, it has experiences during its creation. It is not clear how the nanobots will work: will they just assemble a complete adult on the spot, or will it be more like a gestation process? That would impact the nature of the rezman.

    In any case, the completed body would be very much like an infant: a human being with a functional brain that is ready to start experiencing life in the world.

    The initial rezman would not, on some accounts, be a person. For example, if we require reason and reflection, the rezman would presumably not have that. Then again, if the brain is rebuilt at the adult level, there might be some unexpected results.

  13. Interesting points, Jonathan.

    I agree with you-even if we could do the sort of thing he envisions, what we would have is an odd sort of construct-a Frankenstein of stitched together memories.

    While this is just my psychology, I could never do such a thing with the memories of someone I loved. It would be, to me, a horrible thing to create such a being. It would also be creepy to be around the rezman. It would be like being haunted by a doppelganger: a being almost like the loved one, but not quite. And, I suspect that the “not quite” would manifest itself in disturbing ways.

    I would also feel sorry for the being created. After all, I would be using the being for my own selfish needs. The rezman would be like a slave-bought for my needs, with no respect for his/her rights and needs.

  14. Mike,

    You wrote:

    As Faust points out, they are being denied their potential. To be even more precise, they are being denied freedom of choice. Since these beings are capable of choice (to some degree) to force them to be “someone else” would be to harm them in his manner. It is not destroying what they have, but robbing them of this choice. So, to continue the link with abortion that Faust began, the rezman could be cast in a role comparable to a woman. In the case of denying a woman the choice to have an abortion, she is forced to bring a potential person into existence against her will. In the case of the rezman, he is denied the choice of what sort of person he will be. With a bit of tweaking, I think that pro-choice arguments for woman’s reproductive rights could be made into pro-choice arguments for the rezmen (and rezwomen, of course).

    It’s an interesting try at an analogy but does it go through? I don’t think so. You already specify in the preceeding paragraph that “In the case of an infant or rezman, the being has no significant memories nor any developed personality,” and it is difficult to see how we get from this non-state of personhood to beings that “are capable of choice (to some degree).” In what sense exactly are they capable of choice and to what degree? In the same sense that a newborn kitten is capbable of choice? What kind of capability IS that? There seems to be a pretty severe disanalogy between such non-persons as rezmen, infants, and animals and a woman contemplating her future.

    I think some of this could be connected to Jean’s discussion of McMahan and animal projects. An adult woman has all kinds of projects that she might be engaged in or planning to engage in. What possible projects could the rezman (or an infant) be engaged in?
    I do wonder a great deal about potentiality. When is it permissible to use it as the basis for a moral calculus and when is it acceptable to miss is it via reduction arguments ? (For every skin cell a happy home!). Consider this passage from a recent speech from Obama in the Middle East:

    Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential.

    This kind of potentiality assertion is pretty standard fare. But does it apply to “fully formed” persons in a way that is different from the way it applies to non-persons? Why do (some people) feel satisfied that they have “dealt with” (via reductio strategies) potentiality arguments when they are dealing with non-persons but find them perfectly palatable when discussing “full” persons or the ideals of society? Does it have to do with McMahan’s ideas about projects or Tooley’s idea of a self that is aware of itself? What is it that we are privileging about such entities?

    Whatever it is it is far from clear that it applies in any way to infants, rezmen, or animals.

  15. The analogy does have the obvious problem that you point out: the woman is a person and her choices are based in an established past. On many accounts of personhood, the rezman would not be a person. It is also clear that, as you point out, that a rezman’s capacity for choice would be limited-most likely on par with that of a newborn infant. I think a rezman would have much more capability than a kitten. After all, if a rezman is constructed as an adult human, then his/her brain would be much more capable than that of a kitten. Given what I have read about brain development, the new brain would most likely not be on par with an experienced adult brain (unless, of course, it was constructed to match a fully developed adult brain). So, I would say that the rezman would have significant mental capabilities, though lacking in experiences. To use the computer analogy, the rezman would have a good CPU but only the basic operating system (whatever is built into the brain/mind that allows it to function, process inputs and so on). If all this is correct, a rezman would have the hardware for making choices but not the experiences. This would put a rezman a bit ahead of a newborn in this regard.

    The discussion also takes us now into the matter of what is or is not built into the brain or mind. For folks who buy into innate ideas or innate mental content (either grounded in metaphysics or biology), the rezman would have a stock of ideas or mental content that the adult (or near adult) brain could work with. As such, the rezman could very well have a very significant capacity for choice.

    In regards to the project thing, I would have to concede that the new rezman would obviously not have any consciously established projects. Of course, if the rezman was not programmed then s/he would no doubt come up with projects of his/her own. Of course, much depends on what counts as a project. Does it have to be a conscious, picked and planned project? Or could some projects just start up by default? That is, could the rezman have projects simply by being an intelligent being with desires, needs and motivations?

    The potentiality arguments are a bit problematic. Intuitively, potential does seem important. But it, as your skin cell point shows, eventually dilutes out to the point of absurdity.

    While Obama’s speech is a political speech with, as you said, plenty of standard fare, it does seem to express support for potentiality in persons who are not fully formed. After all, he did not just focus on adult women.

    As far as why some people value the potentiality of persons more than that of non-persons, that is a good question.

    From a psychological standpoint, one plausible answer is this: a person has a strong view of the issue and this shapes what they accept or reject. So, for example, a person who feels strongly pro-choice will accept potentiality arguments for the woman’s right to chose while rejecting potentiality arguments for the fetus’ right to live. In the case of political views, this is fairly well established. For example, when a person favors one candidate and is against another, they tend to apply two different sets of standards when assessing the candidates. It hardly seems a stretch to say that the same mental processes would apply to views on moral issues as well.

    My own experience as a professor has been that people will tend to accept or reject arguments based mostly on whether they match their preconceived views or not.

    Then again, some people might hold the views they do based on what they think about the potentiality arguments.

  16. My own experience as a professor has been that people will tend to accept or reject arguments based mostly on whether they match their preconceived views or not.

    “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.”

    So said Hume.

    I don’t know if it ought to be, but it certainly seems that this is how reason functions–typically employed in the service of non-rational intuitions.

    I did have a thought about the FLO argument. It seems that when applying it to an entity that does not yet have self consciousness and has never had self consciousness then one would have to call it a FFLO. A future future like ours. Because OUR futures contain us ourselves. Whereas an entity which has not yet been or had a self only has a future that will contain a self. Hence not an FLO but a FFLO.

  17. Interesting point about the FFLO. This does raise some questions about identity. The FFLO has a future that contains (or potentially contains) a self, but what is the relation between the person of the future and the FFLO? How does the identity of a thing flow into the identity of a person?

  18. Dream on! It won’t happen…just wait until 2012. The changes that will take place then will make all these theories obsolete.
    Shall we retake this discussion say, in 2013?

  19. Updates | ducksanddrakes - pingback on June 6, 2009 at 11:26 am
  20. <>

    Are you sure about this? :)

    Here is an article by John McCrone that raises a lot of interesting ideas about personal identity.

    “How do you persist when your molecules don’t?

    Do you know the half-life of a microtubule, the protein filaments that form the internal scaffolding a cell? Just ten minutes. That’s an average of ten minutes between assembly and destruction.

    Now the brain is supposed to be some sort of computer. It is an intricate network of some 1,000 trillion synaptic connections, each of these synapses having been lovingly crafted by experience to have a particular shape, a particular neurochemistry. It is of course the information represented at these junctions that makes us who we are. But how the heck do these synapses retain a stable identity when the chemistry of cells is almost on the boil, with large molecules falling apart nearly as soon as they are made?”

    For the whole article go to:
    http://www.dichotomistic.com/mind_readings_molecular_turnover.html

  21. sergio santoyo

    i would like to say that i have been thinking about the same thing the last few months and the only problem would be in the mind if we can back up the fikes of the mind and then put them back in the newly reconstructed brain then it would be the same person the same soul

  22. CyberneticImmortality.com

    There’s a way. I even have a reasonably clear vision of the technology. It’s a true technological resurrection that restores you from the moment of death, but I haven’t published it yet.

    Check out CyberneticImmortality.com every now and then, I’ll try and get around to releasing some details.

  23. All memory is cellular, therefore, when the deceased human body is scanned for reproduction the resulting counterfeit clone body copy has the up to date memory of the original human person.

  24. :lol: what i can say is immortality is possible only if you have heard the word of God and believe in him why do i say this it because Jesus died for us so that we cannot die the problem that even christians died is because they don’t know that they should not die 1 corinthians 15 state that christ must rule on earth until he defeat all his enemies then after that he will hand the kingdom over to God so that God will be one in all so it state clearly that the last enemy to be destroyed is death so we are living in the end times.Jesus is the head of the church we christians we the body of christ so Jesus+church gives christ we should conquer death but it will happen only if we believe how do we believe we beilive by hearing the word of God then after getting the knowledge we are to apply it by faith we overcome and nothing is impossible to those who believe in your toungue there is power if you confess you will not die and believe what you confess you will not die i’m assuring but only if you believe because you can’t please God without faith do this if believe stop pronouncing death with your mouth always speak life to your body confess you will not die everyday then you will begin not to fear dead please

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