Tag Archives: Science fiction

Aesthetic Masochsim

English: Double Stuf Oreos, by Nabisco.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like many philosophers, I am rather drawn to science-fiction movies. One of my colleagues, Stephen, deviates from this usual path-while he does not dislike science fiction, his experience with the genre was somewhat limited. After learning that I was “big into sci-fi” he asked me for some recommendations. While he did like some of the films I suggested, he regarded some as rather awful. As should come as no surprise, this got me thinking about the enjoyment (or lack thereof) of bad films.

As my colleague pointed out, one common approach to explaining the enjoyment of bad films is to appeal to the notion that something can be so bad that it is good. On the face of it, bad would seem to be, well, bad. As such, there is a need to sort out what it could mean for something to be so bad that it is good.

One possibility is what could be called accidental aesthetic success. This is when a work succeeds not at what it was intended to be, but rather in being an accidental parody or mockery of the genre. Using the example of science fiction, this commonly occurs when the work is so absurd that although it is horrible science-fiction, it succeeds as an unintentional comedy. Thus the work is a failure in one sense (to borrow from Aristotle, it fails to produce the  intended effect on the audience). But it succeeds in another sense, by producing an unintended but valuable aesthetic experience for the audience.

While this view is certainly tempting, it can also be disputed by contending that the work does not actually succeed. To be specific, while it does produce an effect on the audience, this is a matter of accident rather than intent and hence to credit the work with success would be an error. To use an analogy, if someone intends to defend himself with a devastating martial arts attack, but slips on a banana to great comic effect, then he has not succeeded. Rather, his failure has caused the sort of mocking amusement reserved for failures.

That said, I am willing to extend a certain sort of aesthetic success to works that are so accidentally bad that they are good. There are, of course, works that endeavor to be good at being bad (such as the film Black Dynamite). These works can be assessed at how well they succeed at being good at what is attempted. Intentionally making a work that is good at being bad does open the possibility that the work could fail at being bad in such a way that makes it good in another way. But perhaps in that way lies madness.

Another approach to good badness can be used by drawing an analogy to junk food. Junk food is, by its nature, bad food. At least, it is bad food in terms of its nutritional value. However, people do rather like junk food and regard it as good in regards to how it tastes. The reverse holds for other types of food. For example, as a runner I have tried a wide variety of food products designed for athletes. While such food is often rather good in terms of its nutritional content, the taste is often rather bad (leading to my bad jokes about junk food and anti-junk food).

Going with the food analogy, some works that are so bad they are good could be rather like junk food. That is, they are deficient in what might be regarded as aesthetic nutritional value, yet have a certain tastiness-at least while they are being experienced. As with junk food, the after effects can be rather less pleasant. For example: for me, watching True Blood is like eating a mix of Cheetos and Oreo Cookies washed down with Mountain Dew. Somehow it is enjoyable while it is happening, but after it is done I wonder why the hell I did that…and I feel vaguely sick.

In such cases, I am willing to grant that such works have some sort of aesthetic value, much as I am willing to grant that junk food has some sort of value. However, the value does often seem rather dubious.

One counter to this is to contend that valuing “junk food” aesthetic value is just as big a mistake as valuing actual junk food. While a person might enjoy such experiences, she is making an error. In the case of food, she is making a poor nutritional choice that is masked by a pleasant taste. In the case of art, she is making a poor aesthetic choice, masked by a superficially pleasant experience.

It could be responded that a work might seem to be junk, but that it is actually better than it seems (or sounds, to steal from Twain). Going back to the food analogy, this could have some appeal. After all, food could be bad in one area (taste) but excel in another (nutrition). So, a food could actually be much better than it tastes. However, this sort of approach only works when the thing in question does actually have the capacity to be better than it seems.

In the case of aesthetic experiences it would certainly seem that a work cannot be better than it seems. After all, the aesthetic experience would be the seeming and it is exactly what it is. For example, consider a song that sounds awful. To claim it is better than it sounds would seem to be an error. After all, the song is what it sounds like and if it sounds bad, it is bad. There is nothing beyond the sound that could be appealed to in order to claim that it is better than it sounds. After all, it sounds what it sounds like. This is, of course, in contrast with many other things. For example, it makes sense to say of a wound that it looks worse than it is-the appearance (lots of blood, for example) is distinct from the seriousness of the wound. As another example, it makes sense to say that a car is better than it looks-it  might look like a junker on the outside, but the engine might be brand new.  Naturally, if it can be shown that art has these multiple aspects, then this matter could be properly addressed.

Before moving on, I must note that I am aware that a work of art can be good or bad in various aspects. For example, a song could have great lyrics, but be sung poorly. As another example, a film could have terrible special effects, but a brilliant story. This is, however, a different matter-in the above I am considering the aesthetic experience as a whole. To use an analogy, while a hamburger might have good cheese but a crappy burger, what would be considered is the overall experience of eating the hamburger.

Like other folks I know, I will sometimes indulge in watching a bad sci-fi/horror/fantasy movie that I recognize as being awful and hence prevents any appeal to the idea of good badness. As might be suspected, my colleague asked me why I would waste my time on bad movies that I actually admitted were bad.

My initial response was a somewhat practical one: there are only a limited number of good movies in those genres and when I get a craving for a genre, sometimes the only option is something bad. To use an analogy, this is like getting a craving for a certain food late at night and the only place that is open is rather bad. So, the only options are going without or going bad. In some cases, just as a bad burger is better than no burger, a bad film is better than no film. However, in other cases nothing is better than something bad.

My second response arose from conversations that my colleague and I had about running. While we are both runners, my colleague is the sort of runner who runs for himself and has no real interest in training for or competing in races. I am, however, very much into training and competition. In addition to enjoying the competition, I must admit that I enjoy the painful experience of hard training and running. That is, I obviously have some mild sort of masochism going on in this area which my colleague lacks.

This difference seems to extend beyond running and into aesthetics-I can actually enjoy suffering through a bad movie. Since I know other folks who are the same way, I believe that there is a certain aesthetic masochism that some people possess. I have not worked out a full theory of this, but given the volume of bad films and shows, this does seem like a promising area.

Test your aesthetic masochism on My Amazon Author Page.

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The Optimistic Directive

Neal Stephenson talking at the Boulder Book St...

Neal Stephenson talking at the Boulder Book Store at his signing of Anathem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Noted writer Neal Stephenson has argued that contemporary science fiction is too focused on nihilism and apocalyptic scenarios. The current crop of such works, such as the Walking Dead,  are compared rather unfavorably to the hopeful view of the future that was supposed to be common theme in the mid twentieth century.

One obvious question is why this should be regarded as a problem. Stephenson, however, seems to see the current situation as rather problematic because he worries that the current crop science fiction lacks the optimism about the future needed to inspire scientists, engineers and others. To be more specific, if science fiction stories predict an apocalyptic world, then the readers will not be inspired to do things such as inventing space ships or solving the fossil fuel problem.

In support of his view, Stephenson points to an incident in which the president of Arizona State University and co-founder of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes  Michael Crow told him that science fiction writers have been “slacking off” and are thus (at least partially) responsible for the (allegedly) slow pace of innovation.  To address this problem, Stephenson created the Hieroglyph project which aims at getting science fiction writers to create inspirational works infused with optimism. The first work is supposed to be an anthology slated for a 2014 publication. As Stephenson puts it, “we have one rule: no hackers, no hyperspace and no holocaust.” Thus, there seem to be three main goals. First, to avoid “hacking”, which is just using old solutions as opposed to trying to create something new. Second, to provide optimistic inspiration (hence no holocaust). Third, to avoid any “impossible” or “magical” solutions to problems, presumably so that the inspiration will be focused on what is possible. As might be imagined, Stephenson raises some interesting matters for philosophical consideration.

One obvious point of concern is that dystopian science fiction is nothing new. A rather early work in this genre is Mary Shelley’s 1826 The Last Man.  In this book, humanity is beset by a terrible plague and the work ends in 2100 with one apparent survivor, the last man.  A somewhat later work is H.G. Well’s 1895 vision of the far future in the Time Machine. In this classic work, humanity is divided into the cannibalistic Morlocks and their beautiful (but ignorant) food, the Eloi. Jack London even wrote within the dystopian genre, producing a political  dystopia in his 1908  The Iron Heel (1908). Rather interestingly, London’s 1912 The Scarlet Plague is about a world wide pandemic which echoes the The Last Man. H.P. Lovecraft also presents a rather dystopian world during the early twentieth century-one in which humanity is supposed to ultimately be destroyed by Nyarlathotep. There are, of course, all the classic dystopian works such as 1984, Brave New World, and a Clockwork Orange.

Given that dystopian science fiction is a well established genre in science fiction, it seems somewhat odd to blame the alleged slowdown of innovation on the dystopian and nihilist science fiction of today. After all, if this sort of science fiction retards technological innovation due to its pessimism, then it would seem to follow that past dystopian science fiction should have been slowing down innovation all along. At the very least, it would seem to follow that it does not present a special problem now, given that it has been around so long.

One obvious counter is to claim that while dystopian science fiction has been around for a long time, it is only recently that it has come to dominate the fictional universe. To use an analogy, while there has been junk food for quite some time, it is only fairly recently that it has come to dominate the foodscape. Thus, just as obesity is now a serious problem in the United States, the retardation of inspiration is now a serious problem in science fiction.

As a science fiction fan (and a very, very minor writer), I am somewhat inclined to agree with this. In my own case, I find myself loading my Kindle with science fiction from the early to mid twentieth century and ignoring the new novels. In part, this is pure thrift-I can, for example, get H. Beam Piper’s works for free. However, part of it is because the new stuff seems to lack something possessed by the good old stuff. While I have thought about this for some time, I am beginning to suspect that my experience seems to match Stephenson’s: the new stuff generally seems to lack a certain thread of optimism that ran through the good old stuff-even the old dystopian stuff.

For example, consider Fritz Leiber’s 1960 story, “The Night of the Long Knives.” On the face of it, this story is dystopic and nihilist: the world has been devastated by a nuclear war, the survivors have divided into warring states, and the main characters are murderers. However, the story is oddly optimistic: some surviving scientists have created technological marvels and at the end the main characters struggle to free themselves of their need to murder. As another example, consider Asimov’s Foundation stories. While humanity builds a vast galactic empire, it falls into the long night and civilization all but dies.  The capital of the empire, Trantor, goes from being a metal encased super world, to a wrecked planet whose inhabitants subsist by selling the remains of the great civilization for scrap. However, there is still the Foundation (or, rather, two) that restores civilization and the original trilogy is thus ultimately optimistic. This is not to say that all the dystopian stories have optimistic aspects. In fact some of them are (or at least seem) unrelenting in their pessimism. There is, I think, nothing wrong with this. After all, not all good tales must have happy endings.

If, as a matter of empirical fact, the dystopian and the nihilistic dominates the current field of science fiction, then Stephenson could have a case. But, of course, making such a case requires drawing a connection between science fiction and technological innovation. Fortunately, this seems easy enough to do.

Many technological innovations can be traced back directly to science fiction stories and science fiction has been explicitly credited with inspiring many engineers and scientists. To use the obvious example, Star Trek has proven to be a major inspiration for technology as well as inspiring scientists, engineers and astronauts. A specific example is Well’s 1903 story “The Land Ironclads” in which he presents the tank. Naturally, there are also the contributions of Jules Verne. One could, in fact, fill a book (or more) with all the innovations that first appeared in science fiction (for good or for ill). In light of this, it would seem completely reasonable to accept a connection between science fiction and innovation. However, there is the question of whether or not the dystopian and nihilistic works would lack inspirational power.

On one hand, such works could provide ideas which would inspire later innovation. For example, a dystopian work could still include descriptions of interesting technologies or innovations that latter engineers of scientists might duplicate. There is also the possibility that such works could provide an inspiration in a negative way. That is, by portraying a horrific future a write could inspire people to try to avoid that possible future. To use the obvious example, the stories about nuclear war could plausibly be taken as motivating people to want to avoid such a way. Likewise, stories about pandemics could motivate people to develop the means to prevent them in ways that tales of a disease free future could perhaps not. After all, we can often be rather inspired by the threat of something awful. To use an analogy, a leader might inspire people by bringing to their attention the terrible consequences of failure.

On the other hand, works that lack optimism of the sort specified by Stephenson could very well fail to inspire, despite including interesting technology or providing a plausible threat. To use an obvious analogy, if a leader tries to inspire people by sharing an anecdote of failure (“and then everyone died a pointless death”), then this will hardly be motivational. That is, the bad can be inspiration, provided that there is a strong element of the possibility of the good. Works that lack this would, not surprisingly fail to inspire. One final point I will consider is whether science fiction writers have any obligation to write inspirational stories.

As might be imagined, it is easy enough to argue that writers are not obligated to create such optimistic novels. After all, it could be contended, writers should have the freedom to create works as they see fit and it is up to the writer whether or not they wish to present optimistic or nihilistic tales. Oscar Wilde, for example, would no doubt argue that writers should not be constrained by any such imposition.  This view is, of course, consistent with writers electing to produce optimistic tales and even working within the limits imposed by Stephenson in the 2014 book project. After all, if it is acceptable for writers to limit themselves to time travel stories for a time travel anthology, it seems equally acceptable for writers to limit themselves to the sort of stories required by Stephenson.

It is, of course, also easy to argue that writers should contribute to beneficial innovation. After all, being a writer does not seem to grant a person a moral exemption such that his or her actions no longer have moral consequences (including the consequences of the author’s writings). If a utilitarian approach to ethics is taken, then a fairly solid case could be made that authors should write such inspirational works. After all, if writing such works increases the likelihood of good consequences (such as developing clean energy or a means of replacing diseased or damaged organs), then it would seem that authors should write such books. After all, a failure to do so would result in a worse world.  Kant, given his view of the moral badness of letting one’s useful talent’s rust, would no doubt favor the writing of such positive fiction. This is not, of course, to say that writers should be compelled to write such works and the usual arguments for artistic liberty would have their normal weight here. Plato, of course, would be against the liberty of creating harmful works, but he might favor science fiction that yielded good results (after all, he did endorse the noble lie).

To close, writers should (obviously) be free to craft nihilistic dystopian hellscapes. But it would be nice to have a bit more optimism.

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Possession

Daemon
Image via Wikipedia

Since it is Halloween I am keeping up my tradition of writing about spooky stuff from a philosophical perspective. This year I am taking a look at possession.

Possession is a common theme in myth, fiction and religion. The general idea is that possession occurs when one mind displaces another for control of a body. Alternatively, possession can occur when a mind takes over a body that is unoccupied (a corpse, for example) or a body that never had a mind of its own (a vehicle, for example).

The most traditional form of possession is supernatural in character: a spirit, muse, god, demon, ghost, witch or other supernatural entity takes control of a body. In most cases this is supposed to be for evil purposes, such as when a demon possesses a victim. In other cases the possession is benign or even beneficial, such as Plato’s view that poets are possessed when they produced their poetical works.

From a philosophical perspective, this sort of possession is possible (but suspect). After all, it simply requires that metaphysical mental entities exist and that they can assume control over physical bodies. The famous Cartesian mind could, presumably, do such a thing. The immaterial mind supposedly controls its original body and could be supplanted by another mind. John Locke also explicitly discusses a case of possession in his example of the spirit and consciousness of a prince entering the body of a cobbler and taking over.

In addition to human (or animal) bodies being possessed by supernatural entities, there are also stories of physical objects such as statues and cars (most famously Christine) being possessed by supernatural entities. While these cases seem more odd than those of living (or dead) bodies being possessed, perhaps there is no more mystery in a non-material mind controlling a car than there is in one controlling a body. After all, once you accept that the ghost can drive the machine, it would not seem to matter whether this is a human body or a car.

Of course, immaterial minds are rather suspect in philosophy these days and demons, gods and such are regarded with (at best) little love. However, this sort of possession is not beyond the realm of philosophy as the above examples show.

Interestingly enough, there are also cases of material being (or at least non-supernatural being) taking possession of bodies. For example, Sturgeon’s classic story “Killdozer” features a bulldozer that is possessed by an energy being (not an alien-it is from earth) that can directly control machines. As another example, Heinlein’s puppet masters can control their victims by bypassing their brains and directly controlling their bodies (another example of this sort would be the Goa’uld of Stargate fame). As a third example, a nervous system from one being could be implanted in another (the classic brain transplant) and this would, technically speaking, be a form of possession. While these examples are from science fiction, they do make sense. After all, there are organisms on earth ( such as the infamous ant controlling fungus) that can take control of a victim. Also, brain transplants are at least theoretically possible since they are mainly a matter of perfecting surgical techniques.  All of these types of possession are perfectly compatible with physicalism and hence do not require any odd metaphysics. Just odd critters or odd science.

One final type of possession I will consider is “functionalism” possession.  Functionalism is the theory that mental states are defined in functional terms. Roughly put, a functional definition of a mental state defines that mental state in terms of its role or function in a mental system of inputs and outputs. To be a bit more specific, a mental state, such as being in pain,  is defined in terms of the causal relations that it holds to external influences on the body, other mental states, and the behavior of the body. A mind, then, would be a set of functions.

Presumably it would be at least possible for one set of functions to overwrite or overwhelm another set. To use an analogy, possession of this sort might be like installing a new (or another) operating system onto a computer. There are examples of this in science fiction, perhaps the best known being when the Agent took over one of the humans in the Matrix trilogy. Other science fiction examples include writing memories onto cloned bodies or reprogramming a person. Of course, there cases do leave open the question of whether the body is actually being possessed by a new mind or if the contents of the mind have merely been altered. Put another way, this would be a question of whether a new person is in charge of the body now or whether the person was merely changed.

In any case, Happy Halloween.

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God and Time Travel

stargate universe logo
Image via Wikipedia

Like most philosophers, I like science fiction and stories about time travel. Recently I watched the episode Time of the SyFy  seriesStargate Universe. This episode got me thinking about time travel and God, oddly enough.

Imagine, if you will, the following science fiction situation. Sally is working on a time travel project and during one experiment, her own smartphone appears in the lab. Startled, she checks her pocket and finds that her phone is there. Yet it also appears to be on the table. Picking it up, she finds that video has been recorded on it. Much to her horror and dismay, it seems to be a video of her saying that she has killed her husband for having an affair with her friend, only to find out after that she was wrong.  In the video, she can she the body of what seems to be her dead husband. The video closes with her future self saying that she is sending back the phone to tell her past self to not kill her husband; future Sally then shoots herself in the head as the phone is being sent into the past.

Being something of a skeptic, Sally checks the phones carefully and finds that (aside from some blood on the future phone that matches her husband’s blood type) the two are identical. This convinces Sally and she does not kill her husband.

Now, let God be brought into the picture, at least hypothetically. If one prefers to leave God out of this game, then an omniscient observer who judges people for their deeds and misdeeds can be used in His place.

In this scenario, what would God actually “see” and how would He judge?

On one hand, the future Sally did kill her husband and send the phone back. After all, without those events, then the phone would not have the video recorded on it and would not have been sent back As such, God would judge that Sally was guilty of suicide and murder, hence worthy of divine punishment. Also, both Sally and her husband would be dead and thus would have gone off to the relevant afterlife (assuming there is such a thing).

On the other hand, the time traveling phone prevented Sally from killing her husband and committing suicide. Thus, Sally would not be judged for these deeds. Also, neither Sally nor her husband would be dead. In effect, that future event never will be, although it must have been (otherwise there would be no phone).

One easy way out of the problem is to follow John Locke’s approach in his discussion of personal identity: since God is good, he would not allow such confusing events (in this case, time travel) to come to pass. Of course, this is not very satisfying as an answer.

Another easy way out is to deny the entire scenario and say that time travel is impossible because of exactly this sort of nonsense. But, where is the fun in that?

Another way out is to use the branching worlds approach: what seems to be time travel is actually travel between possible worlds. So, the phone did not come from Sally’s future. Rather, it is from a possible world in which Sally did kill her husband. So, the Sally of that world is a killer and a suicide; but her actions saved her counterpart Sally from her fate.  So, God takes care of the killer Sally and the lucky Sally avoids her fate. Hardly fair, but that is nothing new.

But, let us suppose that the scenario happens as described. From God’s perspective, it would seem that time travel would create all these loops and changes throughout time. Or perhaps not. One classic view of God and time is that God perceives all of time “at once.’ To use an analogy, God’s perspective is like being able to see the entire filmstrip of a movie at once. The past, present and future are just positions on the strip relative to a specific film cell. Hence, He does not see any changes in the past-He merely sees as the events that did occur, shall occur and are occurring all “at once.”  So, God would “see” the phone appear from a future that never was to save Sally from committing a murder that never will be.

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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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