Monday, 7 September 2015

We Are Just Dust - Cyber-Souls and Sprained Ankles

Blogging more fitful and fretful than normal this last few days. I could blame it on pressure of work, or some holy thing like being too disorganised to make any spare time. But in fact it was because I sprained my ankle at the end-of-Not Greenbelt 15 fancy-dress bowling party.

Just a note to the organisers for next year - holding a "Black and White" party was trendy when ska was popular - a bit dated when I was a student - and absolutely ridiculous when half the invitees are Anglican priests. That was a lot of clerical wear for one small party. And I was far too busy pretending the pins each had a little face of Drayton Parslow, Burton Dasset etc on them to do any self-care on my size 6s. If I'd been allowed to wear the ankle-height Doctor Martins I requested, this might not have happened.

But it's a reminder of how fragile we are, and to what a degree we are each one body, mind and spirit. Because a sprained ankle, even given modern drugs and flunkies to bring grapes, is enough to put me off writing, or even thinking clearly. It gives me even greater respect for my hero, Dorothy Hodgkin, whose brilliant work in X-ray Crystallography was done despite terrible arthritis.

As a BBC report reminds us, CS Lewis, in "Abolition of Man", foresaw the future possibilities of "improving" the human race. And there are problems already in the history of this. For while I think that contraception is on the whole a good thing - the population of the world will become more and more a source of famine, war and refugees as time goes by - I can't forget that Marie Stopes made sure she set up her clinics in working-class parts of London, to try to stop the poor breeding. Like rabbits, they were, apparently.

And the idea that we could augment our minds by putting, in essence, USB ports in our heads - of itself might be handy. We could take off-line dumps of Wikipedia. But it would wreck the average pub quiz. If we had access to distributed processing, it would make a mockery of exams.

And then the idea that we could, when this earthly heart and fail, and human life cease, upload our consciousnesses into a Cloud and live forever in a virtual world. Well, first up, I suspect that won't technically be us at all. Just a backup. But even if we could transfer our consciousness - what then? If just one, then why not a miriad copies of ourselves? What does that mean for our individuality? Where is one's self?

People who aren't qualified scientists but write science articles tend to say this is immortality. But there's two issues. One is the apocalyptist's friend - the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. We cannot achieve immortality because the universe itself is dying. We are all, on a cosmic scale, dust.

And the other problem for anyone seeing a computer backup as immortality. This would put your soul under the control of the guys from the IT crowd, forever - or at least until the sun expands to swallow the computers. You will suffer extended outages, you will occasionally discover that you have been restored to a previous backup. You will be at the mercy of geeks who will think it's amusing to change your avatar. You could be hacked and die in a terrible cyber-war. And - if it's Apple who get to market first - beware of the upgrades. You could go into stasis for 24 hours and, when you are finally reinitialised, discover you have received a free upgrade to Dappy from N Dubz.

The future will be broken. We are just dust now. But at least we're human.


  1. You're only jealous about the Black and White party because you couldn't wear your woad.

  2. I already uploaded all my memories onto a 5.25 inch floppy disk, thank-you.

  3. My 11.5 inch disk which has more brain cells than I possess, taped in 1988 contains all anyone would need to know about me in 124 mb.

  4. So sorry that you have sprained your ankle! Do not, I beg of you, attempt to cut short the rest said ankle needs to heal itself, or you will only prolong the agony.

    Bodily infirmity is well known to cause cognitive dysfunction and disconnected thinking. I have often felt that this might explain, although it does not excuse, many of Professor Dawkins's wilder pronouncements.

  5. Have you ever read Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan, or Surface Detail by Iain M Banks? Either would persuade you that even if uploaded consciousness were possible, the possible abuses are too horrific to contemplate.


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