Volume 3, Issue 2
2nd Quarter, 2008

A Proactive-Pragmatic Approach to the Legal Status of Cyberminds

Max More, Ph.D.

Page 2 of 3

Ideal identity, or your values, what you aspire to, not just how you actually behave right now but what are you striving towards, certainly may be considered important elements of who you are. Then there are what we can call projects, essentially complexes of these things, long-term projects which may involve your desires, your intentions, your goals, even your memories, and so on. You may wake up from cryosuspension or from reconstruction and say, now I can get back to my project of building my literary collection, or going into space, or whatever it is. Those are things that give you shape over time.

There was an article which came out a few months ago by George Dvorsky on Martine's mindfiles [1] in which he critiques Dr. Rothblatt’s view about mind reconstruction. I think it is a classic mistake he is making—the mistake of not only taking memories as a criteria of personal identity as you say, but of taking memories to be all that matters.

If we do take this view of a person as being comprised of these elements, we can see some implications. It implies that we can improve our odds of long-term survival by preserving enough self-data or bemes to reconstruct those elements. That implication really flows out of a view which I think is quite popular in transhuman and transbeman circles—even among some philosophers—that informational continuity is what matters, not structural or even functional continuity.

In the case of the Ship of Theseus, [2] for instance, structural continuity, even material continuity might be considered very important, since we are talking about a static material object. But must you be made of the same matter for it to be you? If you come to be made out of different stuff, would it not really be you? Most of us realize that is a silly view because we are being materially replaced all the time at various different rates, at various different levels. You are not really there anymore if that was the real criteria. It does not seem very helpful.

On a structural criterion, maybe you have the same structure, you're just made out of different stuff. Even that does not seem that important. We are more interested in what we can do with that stuff and that structure, and what we can express and behave and accomplish rather than our exact structure. For instance, you can replace my heart with some kind of mechanical pump, which may not be at all structurally similar to my original heart, but as long as it does the job, I am quite happy. Actually, they are rather cool; I think I would like to have one of those little turbines in there. You would have no pulse; which, of course, is a criterion for being alive. It would be very cool not to have a pulse. This view, The Diachronic Self, [3] is the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation.

Derek Parfit [4] did a great deal of really looking into these matters in a great detail. He discussed the Ship of Theseus and many of the other similar conundrums. There are all sorts of fun thought experiments in personal identity. He would agree also, as I do, with information continuity or psychological connective-ness; the overlapping of memories, desires, goals, and so on. As long as there is a continuity of a sufficient kind the thought doesn't have to be one hundred percent, then you can survive, whether your mind was transported to another body or uploaded or teleported or put back into suspension. It fits the criteria. It is not stuck on the level of the matter or structure on those limitations.

In an article I wrote for Cryonics magazine, [5] a rewrite from about 15 years ago, I also make this argument: That if you reconstruct somebody from information left behind, if we just take the memories for instance, then that would be just as good as the original; especially in the case of memories. Memories aren't really photographs, they're not really internal photographs as some people conceive of them. You cannot look at them objectively. We actually reconstruct them from traces through inference. If they were accurate I think it would be just as good if there was a relation to other parts of ourselves that were the same.

There are a couple of practical projects that are underway. LifeNaut, [6] a web-based storage system that is funded by Terasem Movement Foundation. MyLifeBits, [7] which is by Microsoft Research, and I believe is inspired by one of Bush's idea of the memex, which covers all of this information and organizes it and aims to develop a storage system and a software research effort to actually be able to search through all this stuff. It would be marvelous for those of us who do not remember various things about ourselves and want to find some more information about our past. My mind has been notoriously bad at recalling the past; I do not remember much about things so I tend to keep obsessive amounts of records, so I'd like to have some good software to search through it. I am also suggesting that a good motto for all these projects might be 'Beme Me up, Scotty' and have it spelled that way.

Image 5: Reconstructing the Self

I have been talking about personhood as being important. The elements of the person would have to be fully understood if you are going to say whether somebody has them on or not, depending on what they are. You should not go on the old criteria of biology or structure or anything like that.

Given this sort of understanding, how do we decide whether to bestow rights, obligations? Rights-bearing status does not necessarily follow immediately from a given list of factual traits. The fact of possessing those traits is not sufficient for us to bestow personhood or any particular set of rights. That kind of ethical or normative move is something in addition to factual study, so we need to have other considerations. How do we make that choice? How do we decide who gets these rights and which kind of rights? Traditionally we have had a number of approaches, most of them being religious. God gave you a soul, so you have rights. In the case of Descartes, God gave you a mind so you have rights. But animals don't have that many rights because they don't have minds or souls, they're just machines or mechanical beings, according to Descartes.

Next Page


1. Dvorsky, George P. “Martine’s mindfiles” - Transhumanist and Buddhist perspectives on science, philosophy, ethics, and the future of intelligent life. Sentient Developments. 02 August 2007.
http://sentientdevelopments.blogspot.com/ April 23, 2008 11:05AM EST

2. Ship of Theseus - also known as the Theseus' paradox, is a paradox which raises the question of whether an object which has had all its component parts replaced remains fundamentally the same object.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus April 23, 2008 11:36AM EST

3. The Diachronic Self: Identity, Continuity, Transformation – Max More’s, Ph.D. dissertation, available in full on his website. http://www.maxmore.com/disscont.htm April 23, 2008 2:39PM EST

4. Derek Parfit - (born December 11, 1942) is a British philosopher who specializes in problems of personal identity, rationality and ethics, and the relations between them. His 1984 book, Reasons and Persons (described by Alan Ryan in The Sunday Times as "something close to a work of genius") has been very influential in the field. He is a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford and a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at New York University, Harvard University, and Rutgers University.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Parfit April 23, 2008 2:43PM EST

5. Cryonics magazine – a quarterly magazine published by the Alcor Foundation of Scottsdale, AZ.
http://www.alcor.org/CryonicsMagazine/index.html April 30, 2008 9:05AM EST

6. LifeNaut - a web-based storage space for organizing and preserving critical information about one’s unique and essential characteristics. The purpose in creating this ex-vivo consciousness storage is to preserve one’s individual consciousness so that it remains viable for possible uploading with consciousness software into a cellular regenerated or bionanotechnological body by future medicine and technology. This technology may develop within the next 20 to 30 years. Lifenaut.com is funded by the Terasem Movement Foundation, Inc.
http://www.lifenaut.com/about.html April 29, 2008 9:49AM EST

7. MyLifeBits - a lifetime store of everything. It is the fulfillment of Vannevar Bush's 1945 Memex vision including full-text search, text & audio annotations, and hyperlinks. There are two parts to MyLifeBits: an experiment in lifetime storage, and a software research effort.
http://research.microsoft.com/barc/... April 29, 2008 9:54AM EST

1 2 3 next page>