The Central Dogma Of Transhumanism
Olson (Eric)
Source: Boran Berčić (Editor) - Perspectives on the Self, July 2017, pp. 35-58.
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction: The Central Dogma

  1. Transhumanism is a movement aimed at enhancing and lengthening our lives by means of futuristic technology. The name derives from the ultimate goal of freeing us from the limitations imposed by our humanity. Human beings are subject to many ills: disability, exhaustion, hunger, injury, disease, ageing, and death, among others. They set a limit to the length and quality of our lives. There’s only so much you can do to make a human being better off, simply because of what it is to be human. But if we could cease to be human in the biological sense – better yet, if we could cease to be biological at all – these limitations could be overcome. An inorganic person would not be subject to exhaustion, disease, ageing, or death. The length and quality of her life could be extended more or less indefinitely. So it would be a great benefit, transhumanists say, if we could make ourselves inorganic.
  2. They hope to achieve this by a process they call “uploading.” The information in your brain is to be transferred to an electronic digital computer. The process does not merely store the information on the computer, as when you upload a letter of reference to a distant server, but uses it to create a person there: a being psychologically just like you, or at any rate a great deal like you. This person may be psychologically human, but not biologically. He or she would not be made of flesh and blood.
    The aim is not merely to create new people in computers, but for us to move from our human bodies to the digital realm. The thinking is that the person created by the uploading process would be psychologically continuous with you: her mental properties would resemble and be caused by yours in much the same way that the mental properties you have now resemble and are caused by those you had yesterday. Given the widely held assumption that this is what it is for a person to continue existing – that personal identity over time consists in psychological continuity – the person in the computer would be you.
  3. And once you are in or on a computer, you needn’t worry about disease or injury or ageing or death. If the computer hardware that houses you is damaged, you need only move electronically to another piece of hardware. Travel would be as easy as emailing. You would not need food or shelter or furniture. The limitations imposed by human biology, or indeed any biology, would be a thing of the past. Your intelligence, patience, capacity for pleasure, and physical strength and stamina (if you are given a robotic body) could be enhanced indefinitely.
  4. These hopes are founded on the extravagant assumption that the technology of tomorrow will literally make it possible to transfer a person from a human organism to a computer. Call this the central dogma of transhumanism. (The name is not meant to be pejorative; think of the central dogma of molecular biology.) The leading transhumanist Nick Bostrom puts it like this:
      If we could scan the synaptic matrix of a human brain and simulate it on a computer then it would be possible for us to migrate from our biological embodiments to a purely digital substrate (given certain philosophical assumptions about the nature of consciousness and personal identity). (Bostrom 2001)
    Bostrom and others are confident that that we could “scan the synaptic matrix of a human brain and simulate it on a computer,” and thus that such “migration” is possible.
  5. The central dogma is of more than merely theoretical importance. If it really were possible for us to move from our human bodies to electronic computers, subject only to limitations of technology, it would mean that we are not doomed to wither and die. We are at least potentially immortal.
  6. The central dogma raises many large questions. One is whether a “post-human” life would be as attractive and worthwhile as transhumanists imagine. Another is whether any of this is likely ever to happen. This paper is about the worries Bostrom puts in parentheses: whether it is metaphysically possible.

  1. The Central Dogma
  2. The Dogma’s Presuppositions
  3. The Branching Problem
  4. The Duplication Problem
  5. Why the Problems are Superficial
  6. Material Continuity
  7. The Pattern View
  8. The Constitution View
  9. The Temporal-Parts View

  1. "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View" (2000).
  2. "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Death and the Afterlife" (2005).
  3. Nick Bostrom (2001): Nick Bostrom: Transhumanism.
  4. Nick Bostrom, et al. (2016) HumanityPlus: Transhumanist FAQs1.
  5. "Chalmers (David) - The Singularity: A philosophical analysis" (2010).
  6. "Corabi (Joseph) & Schneider (Susan) - The Metaphysics of Uploading" (2012).
  7. "Dennett (Daniel) - Where Am I?" (1978).
  8. "Dennett (Daniel) - Consciousness Explained" (1991).
  9. Ray Kurzweil. (2006). The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Duckworth.
  10. "Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity" (1976).
  11. "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology" (2007).
  12. "Olson (Eric) - Immanent Causation and Life After Death" (2010).
  13. "Olson (Eric) - Life After Death and the Devastation of the Grave". (2015).
  14. "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons" (1984).
  15. "Parfit (Derek) - We Are Not Human Beings" (2012).
  16. "Quine (W.V.) - Word & Object" (1960).
  17. "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self, Body, and Coincidence" (1999).
  18. "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity: a Materialist Account" (1984).
  19. "Sider (Ted) - All the World's a Stage" (1996).
  20. "Van Inwagen (Peter) - The Possibility of Resurrection" (1978).


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2023
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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