Lifespan1[1]Audience for this essay: You can save yourself from wasting some of your finite and far too short lifespan by totally ignoring this essay if you fall into any of the following three categories:

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  1. You don’t accept the possibility, even in principle, of a future wherein it will be possible via a “whole brain emulation” to upload the ENTIRETY of a human being’s consciousness to a non-biological substrate/processing-medium, whether it is because you think that this process will not be able to capture some special x-factor or soul-like essence or for ANY OTHER reason.
  2. You totally accept, in principle, that we will one day be able to achieve a “whole brain emulation” and by uploading that emulation into a non-biological substrate we can achieve a full “continuity of consciousness.” Further, you have no problem accepting that multiple copies of the same consciousness would be full and completely valid instantiations of the “original” consciousness and not “mere copies” that are somehow less-than the original.
  3. You choose to direct your energies toward near-term solutions to ACTUAL problems and regard this kind of conjecture as just so much “chin music” and premature, speculative, philosophical jibber-jabber.


Now, for those of you still with me, here we go…

Thought Experiment:

You are living in a future time, around 2045, when mind-uploading has just recently become a routine, safe, and successful way to copy one’s consciousness to a “platform” other than the biological one in which it was born. You are accompanying a friend to a mind-uploading center so she can undergo this procedure. This is a very new thing and people are still trying to comprehend all the implications involved. You have some doubts and questions about it yourself and don’t fully understand the whole procedure, but you are there to support your friend in her decision and not to debate the issues.

Your friend goes in and you, along with other friends and family, watch as she lies motionless while her brain is scanned. After this is finished, there is a long period of processing that needs to be done. A MONSTROUS amount of scanned brain data about your friend’s “connectome,” all the levels of neurotransmitter concentrations at each synapse, and all relevant neuronal micro-structures, the combination of which comprises your friend’s unique “consciousness-pattern,” is instantiated in the new non-biological substrate. A technician comes in and tells everyone that they may want to go have lunch and do some shopping or something and come back in the afternoon.

When you come back, the first-phase is completed. Your friend’s consciousness has been uploaded into its new platform and has been connected to visual, auditory and speech interfaces. All of you are there, crowded around a prosthetic head, waiting to greet the newly uploaded consciousness…your friend. The switch is thrown and the head, that will later be put on a “whole body prosthesis,” comes to “life,” looks around, gets a huge smile and says, “It WORKED!” and everyone’s tensions and anxieties are melted away as they all begin laughing, crying, clapping and cheering.

After they finally quiet down, they ask a thousand questions about what it feels like and if it hurt…all the typical stuff…and then finally, your friend’s skeptical uncle moves forward and begins something akin to a deposition or cross-examination: firing fact-oriented questions in rapid succession as a sort of test to see if this disembodied head really seems to be your friend, his niece. After several successful answers to what seem to her to be silly and obvious questions, your friend says, “Come on uncle, it’s ME!”

After a while, a technician comes in and begins talking with your friend about some details of the last thing they talked about just before the brain scanning began. It was a story about a mythical and magical origami crane that bestows eternal life and good luck on all those who bring it into existence via the intricate origami folding ritual. All the friends and family were there when the technician told this story before the brain scan as well. Soon, the technician says, “Yep, that’s about it. See you after the next phase,” and he leaves. “Why does that guy keep talking about some freaky paper crane?,” someone asks.

mousebrainslice_0[1]Your friend explains, “That’s kind of a tradition that has evolved, mostly for the benefit of friends and family, so they can see something immediate that reassures them that I’m the same person who he told that story to earlier. They tell each person who will be uploading a short story that was uniquely created just for them so the person would have no way of knowing such a story except through this conversation just before uploading.”

“It’s also just a quick check for the people running the uploading process, because if I didn’t recognize the person who told me the story or couldn’t recall the prior conversation at all, they would know immediately that something went seriously wrong with the process. But, for the most part, they depend on these interactions with friends and family, like we’re having right now, for feedback about the authenticity of the uploaded consciousness, relative to the ‘original’ one.”

“They told me that philosophers are still very busy debating all kinds of arcane issues surrounding identity, dualism, soul, and such, but as far as these technicians and doctors are concerned, if everyone who knows me says I’m exactly the same person as before I uploaded, that’s good enough for them. They don’t worry too much about the philosophers and their ‘busy-work.’ They figure, at least it keeps them off the streets.”

After a few more hours of visiting with your friend, a technician comes in and tells everyone that they have a lot to do to get your friend’s new brain connected up to the “whole body prosthetic” and all of its enhanced sensory apparatus and you can come back in about 24 hours to see the finished “product.” As you walk out, you can see through a glass window your friend’s biological body in a medically induced coma and you get a very odd and jarring feeling of cognitive dissonance since you were, only seconds before, talking with your friend…or were you? This question haunts you through the night and into the next day.

Before you leave the uploading center, you are all asked to meet with several specialists who interview each of you to get your impressions of your interactions with your friend and whether anything seemed amiss or if there was no difference between this uploaded consciousness and your biological friend.

The next afternoon you all reconvene at the uploading center. You are brought into a room and there stands your friend in her new prosthetic body. Everyone rushes over to her and hugs her and the tears and laughs begin to flow again. Everyone, that is, except for that same curmudgeonly uncle who remains standoffish for a while. Eventually, your friend notices his hesitance and yells to him, “Come over here and give your favorite niece a hug, you crusty old Luddite!” Somewhat embarrassed, he shuffles over and hugs this “thing” that he’s now supposed to accept as his niece. She hugs him tightly and whispers something in his ear that makes him laugh and cry at the same time. He’s beginning to see that this “thing” is seeming more and more niece-like and he is starting to feel that he might eventually accept “her” as such.

Your friend begins showing off her new body’s capabilities, a bit carefully at first since she’s still getting used to the different feel of it and how to coordinate it all. She tells you that she can already feel greatly enhanced potential in this body that she hasn’t even fully explored yet. Not to mention, how incredibly sturdy it is and practically impervious to physical destruction. She talks about her plans to eventually try out other body configurations. The recommended first step is to upload into a humanoid biped body, since one’s brain already knows how to operate that kind of configuration. Eventually people learn how to thrive in many kinds of body-styles or may even, at times, choose no body at all, preferring to exist for a time in an idealized virtual world of their own design.

After being challenged to the obligatory arm-wrestling matches by several large males and even a couple females, which she wins “hands-down,” a technician comes in to go over a few final points and mentions that, according to protocol and your friend’s wishes, her bio-body will be kept alive and in a coma for 30 days, after which time, it will be terminated. When you hear this, you are STUNNED. You hadn’t thought about what would happen to her old body. Maybe you assumed that it would be kept alive or maybe even woken up or who knows what you thought, but you blurt out, “What? Their gonna KILL you? All that will be left is this COPY of you? What will happen to YOU?” The room goes silent. People look a bit shocked. The uncle has a faint look of yeah-what-about-THAT? on his face.

Your friend breaks the silence, “What do you mean what will happen to ME? I’m RIGHT HERE! That’s just my old body in that room over there. I have 30 days to change my mind, but as of right now, I would NEVER choose to go back and “live” in that failing old ‘flesh coffin.’” The technician adds, “She has chosen this option. Some people DO choose to live along side their bio-bodies, or copy their consciousness-pattern into multiple synth-bodies.”

You interrupt, “But which one would be HER?” “They all would be her/me,” the technician and your friend answer in near-perfect unison. Undeterred, you say, “But, if her body dies, which one is the REAL her and not just a COPY? Where will her true self live?” The uncle chimes in, “What they’re trying to get us to swallow is that they’re ALL her true self. None of them are more “true” than any other.” Your friend interjects, “By George, I think he’s getting it” and gives her dear uncle a quick wink.

“Ok you two, I admit that I had some doubts as well, but after I was put into my new synth-body and before you all came back to see the unveiling, I availed myself of an option that all uploaded people have open to them. I asked that my old body be awakened so that we could have bit of a chat. And let me tell you, it’s a SERIOUSLY surreal experience to have a chat with YOURSELF…talk about finishing each other’s sentences…wow! Anyway, I had decided beforehand that I might want to do this, so it wasn’t a total shock to, well, EITHER of me.

The reason I did this was to get confirmation from the world’s number one expert on me…ME…that my uploaded, synth-self, was truly me in every discernible way. After we both got a bit more used to our initial “identity disorientation,” the bio-me grilled me for a couple of hours about my future plans, my deeply held principles and most private thoughts, fears, and secrets…everything she could think of to determine whether she was me and I was her. We were both a little surprised at how quickly we were able to accept each other as…each other, or us, or WE…I guess we need to expand the range of pronouns available for these kinds of situations.

So, bottom line: We both agreed that for us, in spite of some remaining instinctual qualms to the contrary, there was no point in the bio-me remaining active in the world, now that a synth-me was here to take “our” life to the next level. We both accepted that there was no important difference between each other and the bio-me accepted that “she” would REALLY be living on as a synth-her/me. And I accepted that all that was “her” was REALLY me as well.”

You and the uncle are silent for a while and then slowly begin to speak…the discussion goes on, but with a much less contentious tone…minds are blown…lives are changed…


Humans have evolved on this planet as mono-beings: We have only one version of our consciousness, and it is located in our biological body in which “we” were born and live, until that body wears out or is destroyed. That’s how it has always been for all(?) living things on this planet and of course it’s hard for us to imagine it being any other way. But once we can truly have multiple selves, the ONE-TRUE-SELF paradigm becomes inoperative and obsolete, or at least, merely one “historical” paradigm among newer ones.

At present, we have a fundamental difficulty, an aversion really, to accepting the idea that there could be multiple, and fully “valid” versions of ourselves existing SIMULTANEOUSLY: poly-beings. I’ve had many discussions with people about this and almost no one can break free from the, quite natural and instinctual feeling that, regarding their sense of self, as in the movie, Highlander, “there can be only ONE.”

It’s totally understandable. It feels natural to me too, since I have only known mono-being-ness. It feels like something as natural as breathing—an existential axiom—that we have a singular identity. We’ve never had any experience other than that, at least not in our “normal” (“neuro-typical”) existence, apart from the realm of chemically induced psychedelic or otherwise “altered-state” experiences.

We say things like: “I am the REAL me and all uploaded versions are obviously only copies.” Some people hold on to the “only one” intuition so strongly that they assume that all of the copies would be “in sync” somehow and be experiencing exactly the same things in unison…because OBVIOUSLY there can be only one version of their consciousness existing and experiencing the world at one time.

Some think that the “mere copies” will be somewhat zombie-esque: conscious to some degree but lacking some special human quality that only THEY, the original, possess. And these are not only religious people who reject the idea of mind-uploading outright because they believe it cannot capture the “soul.” Often, these are people who THINK they’ve accepted the idea, in principle, that a brain can be copied, uploaded, and could be a COMPLETE consciousness.

Even people who are not arguing that the copies will not be accurate enough in a physical/functional way are often unable to think of the copies as TRUE versions of themselves. They still feel that SOMETHING must be missing and/or their original bio-version can be the only real “them”…for some reason. They are still holding on to their inherent mono-being bias when thinking about the idea of multiple-selves.

A Pragmatic Proposal

No, I am not contending that I have discovered some groundbreaking property of consciousness or a new paradigm of identity. I am proposing that we adopt this point of view as a useful tool, until we have reason to believe that the reality is otherwise.

The proposition is this:

A sufficiently detailed copy of a person’s brain—not a rough approximation, simulation, or software engineer’s conception—is, in EVERY sense YOU. If you make 1,000 ACCURATE copies, every one of them is REALLY YOU, just as much as the original bio-version of you is you.

They will all feel and believe, just as strongly as the bio-original does, that THEY are the true you. They may even have doubts about the validity of the other 999 copies AND the bio-original. They will ALL have the same ego-centered sense of self as the bio-original has. They will ALL naturally balk at the idea that it’s no big deal to be “killed” because “they” will live on through the copies. They will resist this idea unless they can come to some philosophical acceptance of the validity and PARALLEL SAMENESS of ALL the copies: The same philosophical struggle you may be going through right now.

The uploaded selves are not “clones” or the same as identical twins. Neither of those kinds of entities have an exact copy of someone else’s life experiences, memories, personality, etc. They are DISTINCT individuals. An uploaded consciousness is not “merely a copy” that is somewhat less-than the original, it is an EXACT duplicate of the original individual.

An uploaded consciousness will be EXACTLY as happy as the original was to be alive and to be interacting with his/her loved ones (gender will become an irrelevant/fluid/optional property of an uploaded being) and every bit of your consciousness that you consider to be YOU will be there, planning your future, making your same dumb jokes, suffering the same insecurities and displaying your same strengths. This upload that you may be tempted to think of as a mere clone or copy, but not YOU, will express his/her/its happiness over the success of the upload process and the opportunity it will have to live on, in a non-biological and more durable form.

Embracing the Poly-Being Opportunities

In order to embrace the full range of implications of mind-uploading, we need to abandon our either/or intuition in favor of a both/and view. Asking which one is the REAL you is akin to asking a gay couple: “Which one of you is the man/woman?” You’re trying to shoehorn something completely new into an old model. What is needed is a recognition of the new model and a conceptual adjustment that is necessary in order to integrate this newness into one’s worldview.

In order to determine if you are taking this idea 100% seriously…TOTALLY buying into it…ask yourself if you would be fine with letting your original bio-body die and believe that you, the REAL and ACTUAL you, in EVERY sense, would live on as the uploaded duplicate. The duplicate would feel that it was you and all the behavioral evidence it exhibits would lead people to accept that it truly IS you. It, YOU, will carry on with your life without missing a BEAT, because there is no BEAT to miss. It IS you.

A Multiplicity of Possibilities

We can imagine all kinds of sci-fi variations on this theme. We could, perhaps, network all versions together and each could take in all the experiences of the others and choose which memories collected through all the versions’ experiences to integrate into their own version. That is, until they each start becoming different enough that they may want to break away from this network and go off on their own. And if they are not linked, we have to accept the idea that, yes, they BEGAN as many duplicates of one-self, but if they travel off somewhere and have different experiences, learn different things, and make new relationships with other consciousnesses, they will begin to diverge and become more and more different from the original and become truly autonomous variations on the original theme.

a78b254c00b2ee5cafe901e34fb81501d5e42177_largeSeveral consciousnesses may be able to merge into a collective entity for a while and then go back to being individuals again. Or imagine merging with your lover on such a fundamental level. You won’t have to imagine what they’re feeling or guess at their perspective. You will be THEM and they will be YOU, while in that merged-state.

And, of course, one of the most valuable aspects of mind-uploading will be the ability to back-up your mind-file and keep it in one or more safe and “off site” locations.

These kinds of possibilities are what we MUST consider if we are to fully accept the idea of mind-uploading as conceived of by Transhumanists.

Hypothesize and Test

Of course, this all rests upon the assumption that the copy is of sufficient resolution/detail to faithfully capture the true functionality of the brain. And that rests further on the reductionist/materialist hypothesis that the totality of our consciousness is an emergent property of the complexity of the brain; that “Minds are what brains do.”—AI pioneer, Marvin Minsky

On the other hand, for dualists, who believe that consciousness exists outside/independently of the physical brain (and to some, beyond the fathomability or scope of science), no amount of cleverly engineered brain-like artifacts will be sufficient to allow consciousness to emerge therefrom or reside therein (unless maybe the consciousness “wants” to reside there for some reason or is PUT there by a god). In this view, “Looking for consciousness in the brain is like looking inside a radio for the announcer.”—speculative physicist, Nassim Haramein.

Yes, both sides are functioning from positions of hypothesis rather than solidly demonstrated and completely settled FACT, but the big difference between these two positions is: At least the transhumanists are planning to RUN THE EXPERIMENT…to put their hypothesis to the test by working toward mind-uploading to see if we can achieve a “continuity of consciousness”—across bio and non-bio “platforms”—through science rather than just believing and hoping that our consciousness AUTOMATICALLY lives on without the brain, in the form of an immortal soul, as most religions contend.

To sum up:

We are currently mono-beings by default; no choice in the matter; dictated by evolution.

Mind-uploading technologies will enable us to become poly-beings by choice; multiple instantiations of THE SAME consciousness functioning simultaneously, but independently.

At the time they are created, they are all equivalently YOU, but immediately begin having their own experiences and developing their own new histories unless a choice is made to keep them all IN SYNCH and “the same” by updating all of them (including non-operational backups) periodically with the experiences of only ONE of them.

If asked, all selves will demonstrate the same will to live and the same stubborn, ego-driven insistence that they are YOU as much as YOU will.

Regardless of how many paradox-laden feelings and intuitions we may have to the contrary, at the time of SUCCESSFUL uploading, the original and ALL copies, all posses equivalent YOU-NESS. There is no logical basis for considering the bio-self to have more PERSONHOOD-STATUS than the uploads. Only a preexisting bias against poly-being-ness would cause you to hold that view.

New conceptions of “individual” and property rights and many other legal and social “entanglements” will need to be resolved in order to deal with the novel implications of this “expanded identity-matrix.”

Instead of the motto on the Seal of The United States: E Pluribus Unum – “Out of many, one.”

The motto of the mind-uploading era could be: E Unum Pluribus – “Out of one, many.”