The Biggest Problem with Resurrection

Say, you die. You close your eyes. It’s the end. Life goes out of your earthly body.

And then suddenly you wake up. Your first thought, probably, will be: “Am I in Heaven? And, if so, is it the Christian Heaven or, say, the Cherokee Heaven?”

At that moment, somebody (a person, an interface, a robot) approaches you and explains in soothing tones that you have been technologically resurrected. Your consciousness has been put together, and your body too: almost certaintly, it will be an improved, young-again version of that body.

Watching the first episode of Black Mirror’s fourth season, USS Callister, made me think of the possible downsides to such a resurrection.

In the Black Mirror episode, a deranged programmer has set up a bunch of clones of real people into a universe of his devising, which he controls and rules, a universe the clones cannot escape; he’s not a terrible man, but he still makes the clones’ lives miserable and they rebel against him. Watch the episode if you want to see what happens.

Potentially, such a Designer has absolute power over those living in the universe, god-like powers in fact. Wikipedia says the show was inspired by an old Twilight Zone episode about a kid who terrifies his town by using his own god-like powers, but I believe a more adept comparison would be with “BitPlayers,” a little-known science-fiction story written by Greg Egan, one of the greatest masters of the genre (available online here).

In that story, there’s a group of mysterious humans who live on a harsh mountain range, where they all arrived with only scraps of memories from the previous lives, who ocassionally come into contact with other humans who come and go after interacting with them only briefly.

Without giving too much away, it eventually becomes obvious to the reader that these inhabitants of the range are “software objects,” virtual clones from (deceased) humans who are living in a computer simulation, put there by a company that needed non-playing characters for its videogame and thus uses old, damaged DNA databases which it dumps on the software as a cost-saving device.

This resurrection as a “software object” may look terrifying, but we can give the screw yet another turn: in another of Greg Egan’s wonders, “The Extra,” (here) we have a real-life (not virtual-world) billionaire who has about a dozen young, healthy brain-damaged clones of himself running around his mansion until he’s so decrepit he goes for a full bain transplant: his conciousness is transplanted into one the clones, so he can go on living happily ever after, but the transplant is botched.

In reality, only a copy of himself goes into the clone, who takes over the mansion, while the billionaire is left in some sort of suspended state, his consciousness stuck within his old body. Because, if you are resurrected far, far in the future: how can you know it’s you who is being resurrected, and not some copy of yourself?


About David Roman

Communicator. I tweet @dromanber.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Sights and Sounds and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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