Coded gray.

Freeday 11 May 2001

Computer corner

Pic of the day: Upgrading to new hardware. It's difficult enough with computers.

A veil-label

And when we fell together
all our flesh was like a veil
that I had to draw aside
to see the serpent eat its tail.

Leonard Cohen, Last Year's Man

I have suddenly more understanding for those who suffer from Parkinson's and other degenerative diseases. After lugging my new computer through town, my arms were rather weak; the right hand in particular was shaking so that I could barely hold on to the spoon when eating yoghurt. For me, this is an unusual experience, to have to take care to get the food into my mouth and nowhere else. I am not good at juggling and such at the best of times, but this was something else entirely.

So you have my sympathy and understanding, at lest until I forget all about it because I've been fine again for several days.

Reminds me of a statement that I previously wondered about in the christian Bible: That the people who get to live forever, will forget the troubles of this life and not remember them anymore. When I was younger, I sincerely believed that this life was so dramatic that one was bound to remember it unless some "surgery" cut the memories away. But life has shown me that a wide range of memories start to pale, given enough time away from them. I am sure that a few centuries under ideal conditions would make most of our bad memories fade, unless we somehow reinforced them ourselves. After a few more millenia, they would probably be gone completely, the way the first months are for most of us today.


Your viewpoint may be different, but in my opinion we are mostly software. The body is dear to us, but mostly because it is the only one we had. If we had the option to upload to a new body now and again, the way we buy new computers or cars or even homes ... I think we would do so. Gingerly at first, sticking to the original body as long as it was functioning reasonably well. But I doubt we would get similarly attached to the next body, and eventually we would probably upgrade fairly regularly.

Think about it - if you were to swap the software (memories, habits, skills etc) with your neighbor, who would be the real you after the swap? I dare say you agree with me, the one with the memories would be the real you. It would certainly be strange to see your old body walking around (indeed, it would be creepy) but you wouldn't think "there goes I". You would think "there goes my body". There is a difference, but in our current life it does not matter much.

But certainly this should tell us to not place too much importance on our skin color, our sex, our size and shape. While they can shore up our identity, they can also cloud it. If we identify too strongly with things that are happenstance, then we may forget the more important parts of our identity, they which we choose day by day. We build up or tear down parts of our identity with each choice we make. Our choices become habits, and our habits become character. (There is some poetic description of this somewhere, but that's basically it.) What we do with our lives becomes, in no small part, our lives.


If people like Ray Kurzweil are right, then we (or at least those of us who survive 2-3 more decades) will be able to upload our memories and our personality to a supercomputer just as powerful as a human brain, and later upgrade as technology progresses. If the colorful scientist is wrong - and I bet he is - then our best hope is a benevolent deity who may provide a new and better body sometime. Personally I hope for a resurrection, but I don't mind if the new body is a bit different. The body is not me, and people will just have to get used to it.

On the Net, I regularly get to know people I have never seen. Often I don't know their gender until after a while, and their color never or only by coincidence. It does not matter a lot to me, and probably not to them. (Otherwise my journal would be more frequented than it is ... there are only the most private of details about my body you can't find out from the archives.) If one day I were to get a new body, chances are most of them would never know. Sometime this may be the way with all of us.

As for reincarnation, though, I have to say that I am not impressed. If you are re-incarnated but you don't have your memories, not your skills, not your habits, not your hopes and your loves ... what's the point? Without your software, what are you really? So personally, I hope for the backup solution.

But even this is not unproblematic. I think of my mother during her later years. She had some big time brain surgery, and she was clearly reduced in her mental capabilities. But she did not lose her ability to learn, the way some elderly people do. Now if she is to be raised from the dead, which one of her? The one with the memories after the surgery, or the one with more memories from before? I think a simple drag & drop resurrection from some point in the past is not quite good enough. Perhaps you could pick from your past ... kind of like when you reinstall Windows on your computer, and you tick the little boxes for those parts you want to have and clear the boxes you want to do without. Now that would be cool.

But today I have bought a new computer and must necessarily go and try it. I ask you, please have me excused. ;)

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