writing rengeek magpie mind

April 2014

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writing dust bible 'house of dust"

and its hand is like a stain upon you still.

While we're on the subject of the Doctor it occurs to me that Doctor Who is the only work of science fiction of which I am aware other than Justin Leiber's Beyond Rejection and (ahem) my own books that deals with the plain and medically evident fact that human cognition and identity and personality is based at least as much in the meat and its physical structures as it in in the electrical impulses imposed thereon.



Comments

I still want to see one of these stories where people start being uploaded acknowledge that very thing. Like, consciousness transfer is possible, but then their personality changes radically, because they no longer have a body or a body's influence. Maybe slowly, so that a lot of people get themselves uploaded before it becomes really apparent that that's what it is. Because the creators of the process might get that it's important at some level, but it's not something they can actually simulate accurately, although they've tried. The question being: Since we do know that personality, cognition, etc, are based in the meat, what happens when you take away the meat, and have just the electrical impulses? I want to read that book. If I were any good at fiction, I would write that book, just to read it.
So you haven't read my Jacob's Ladder books, then?
I read the first two, and then didn't have the money when the third one came out, and still haven't. Still haven't read the horse nomad books for much the same reason. :( I did know they were what you meant when you said your writing, though.

But I was thinking more the not-quite-so-distant-future, technological singularity sort of thing. Mostly because the pro-upload singularity fans I know get on my damn nerves by ignoring and denigrating the importance of the meat.

I seriously had one of them say to me once, when I said I would not want to be uploaded if it became possible in my lifetime, "Have fun decaying in a rotting meat suit, then." Supposedly a friend, even.

Yes, I totally want "so there" fiction.

I think the idea frames very differently when it starts from a culture that's closer to ours, and the individuals who get uploaded start out closer to who we are now, and the reader gets to see the progression of individuals who no longer have limbic systems and things.
Ah, yeah. I did talk about this a little in the Jenny books: it's personality modeling, really. The meat person it's still dead, honey.


Yes, exactly.

And we cannot simulate all the effects of a body on the modeled personality if we not only don't understand them, but don't even know that they're there. (Yes, that was a part of the "debate" with the guy who told me to have fun rotting in my meat suit.) The rate at which we figure out how much we don't know about bodies and consciousness is significantly higher than the rate at which we actually figure out new things. And they're both on exponential curves.
Yeah. I was just talking to a bunch of MIT people about this earlier this month.
Lucky you! I have very face-too-face social time lately, other than with Kate, and very few good conversational spaces online, and none with multiple MIT people, or indeed many sciency people at all.
I went to talk to a friend's SF and technology class. Professional hazard. *g*
Have you been reading Peter Watts or R. Scott Bakker? They seem to make it the greater part of their fiction, sometimes uncomfortably so. Well, actually, mostly uncomfortably so.
Peter's doing different stuff than what I'm talking about, though what he's doing is brilliant.
So you're not talking structural cognitive stuff, then. So what do you mean by "meat"?

Sorry, I just have to ask, it's one of my obsessions, this individual/identity/body thing, so I'm genuinely interested, not looking for a fight.
I'm talking about the SF trope of seamlessly moving a personality from body to body, or body to machine, with continuity of experience and no personality change.
Ah, thanks! No, not the same at all.
I seem to recall, though it's been many many years, that Lumley played with this in his Necroscope novels -- and had all the more fun given that some of his bodies were more, um, morphologically fluid than others.
Personally, the (related) sf-trope that bugs me is the lack of acknowledgment that while there's continuity of experience from the upload/new person's pov, the old person just dies and experiences dying and nothing else.

Peter Dickinson's Eva definitely deal with what you're talking about in depth.

In Jacob's Ladder we're told that a bunch of stuff is lost in the transition but in Grail at least I didn't really see it shown and was a bit frustrated. It did make me worry a bit when Rien comes back, though.

Re:Jacob's Ladder, I was fascinated by tidbits we got about Caithness, is there anything more about that backstory you can share?

Personally, the (related) sf-trope that bugs me is the lack of acknowledgment that while there's continuity of experience from the upload/new person's pov, the old person just dies and experiences dying and nothing else.

That's what I loved about the end of Ten's run on Who: when somebody says something to him about "but you'll do your regeneration thing, right?" he points out that from his perspective, he still dies.
That's great!

I think The Prestige (the film) did something with this, with a guy voluntarily and repeatedly dying that way, and I was totally grossed out.
Well, there was that entire long fragmented multipart conversation involving Tristen and Benedick and Arianrhod and Dust and Sparrow and Dorcas and really, just about everybody else... whether any of them could trust their memories, or whether their memories were even real, or who exactly people and angels were who were downloaded/uploaded/state-changed. Over the course of all three books , really. That's what that was supposed to be about, but if it didn't work for you, it didn't.

The text has to stand on its own, after all.
I'm sorry; I shouldn't have dumped "this is what about your books doesn't work for me" into this conversation. It was rude.

Text standing alone aside, I am absolutely fascinated by Caithness and was wondering what else you knew about her.
Yeah, that's always kind of bugged me, too, that idea that you could just up/download/decant yourself from one body to another. If they can trigger memories by touching parts of the brain with an electrical probe, that says to me that memories are stored in the meat, so to speak. It's our memories that make us who we are -- we're the integrated sum of our experiences to date. If you can't take some or all of the memories with you when you go, it knocks some of the underpinning out from under who you are. And without the memories your identity is integrated from, seems like your personality would just kind of unravel.

There's still *a* physical substrate

Personality-simulating electrical impulses have to be running on *something*, some extraordinarily `Chinese Room'. (We can't slip the Searle-y bonds of earth.) Me, I would bet - unlike Searle, I guess - that anything complicated enough to run a personality simulation would be complicated enough to have interesting side-effects and non-determinism; cosmic ray bit-flipping, crosstalk in the wires, lots of things even before we have to say `quantum'. And that might enliven and permeate uploaded electrical impulses the way all the meat-juices bubbling enliven mine.

I wonder if there's a detectable difference in extropian beliefs between hardware and software computer engineers.

This is embarassing, but I can't remember what the substrates are like in Dust/Chill/Grail, although I think I remember the differences of personality.

Re: There's still *a* physical substrate

Yep. There still has to be a substrate!

In the Jacob's Ladder books, they are Purest Handwavium. *g* God old computronium nanobot swarms, basically. *g*

Re: There's still *a* physical substrate

It's interesting and tricky to think across changes to my meat substrate -- epiphany, exhaustion, trauma, wevs -- but since it's possible, don't see why one couldn't handwave a as-good-as copy of memories onto a mechanical substrate and deal with that as an odder change. Actually, hasn't Charles Stross? Somewhere around the uplifted spacefaring lobster corporation?
Richard Morgan touches on it a bit in the Takashi Kovacs novels, but Kovacs psych is so blatantly fucked up that it's not as readily apparent as in your work