Nautilus has a fascinating interview with German philosopher Thomas Metzinger on the concept of self and consciousness. He explains, among other things, the impossibility of uploading our self into the virtual unless we are willing to lose a significant portion of what makes us who we are.
The problem—the technical problem—is that a large part of the human self-model is grounded in the body, in gut feelings, in inner organ perceptions, in the vestibular sense, and therefore you cannot really copy the human self-model out of the biological body unless you would at some point really cut it off, so to speak. And then you would maybe have a sense of self jumping into an avatar, but you would not have all that low-level embodiment, the gut feelings, the emotional self-model, the sense of weight and heaviness—all that would be gone.
Maybe we could create very different forms of selfhood and offer them for augmentation, but for a number of reasons I think that the whole idea of actually “jumping” out of the biological brain and into virtual reality completely has probably insurmountable technical problems. It also has a philosophical problem because the deeper question is, of course, what would jump over into the avatars if there is no self? It’s just like discussing reincarnation with Buddhists; what is it that would be reincarnated—your neuroses, your greed, your ugly childhood memories? If there is no substantial self in here right now, what is it that you would copy into an artificial medium?
Nevertheless, I think we’re going to see some dramatic changes in human self-awareness through these new technologies in the coming decades—no doubt about this. We may generate wildly different forms of self-experience.
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