Me-Now Immortality

Immortality would be a great help for my distant future selves – they’d get to exist. But it wouldn’t do so much for me now. As my future mind evolved away from who I am now, who I am now will get more and more forgotten and irrelevant. Me now would basically be dead.

Is there a better option? Imagine a copy of my current mental state is saved, and then revived for brief periods on special occasions, like major ceremonies, consultations, and votes. These revivals might decline in frequency with time, but spread over hundreds or even billions of years. When the accumulated effects of these revivals threatened to cause too much divergence from the original me-now, that original could be revived instead, to start another cycle.

That seems to about as much life as is feasible for me-now to have. And this sort of me-now immortality seems cheaper that the usual sort. That is, the (likely future) cost to give this sort of immortality to a me-now seems substantially less that the cost to ensure that a mind continues to evolve at something like its current rate and capacity for trillions of years. Of course this cost is still high, too high to offer to all me-nows. But neither is it ridiculous.

Yes, there is an ambiguity in how big a mental difference would count to create a different me-now. But the ordinary concept of immortality is also ambiguous when minds can be copied and run in parallel — how many of parallel copies need to last forever (or a very long time) for “me” to be “immortal”?

I expect a few future ems to be “immortal” in the sense of a single copy that continues on for a very long time. But I expect far more me-now-immortality, archived minds brought back with declining frequencies for rare ceremonies and consultations. This approach is cheaper, better serves the needs of others, and may even offer more of a reward to ems who identify more with me-now than their distant changed descendants.

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  • Anonymous

    It’s nice how Prof. Hanson appreciates that survival is a copying process. That simple insight is way underappreciated.

    • Preferred Anonymous

      Underappreciated? Yes, perhaps.

      Simply because its damn obvious. (And the subject of a great number of good films and literary works, for those less endowed)

      With the disturbing conclusion that immortality is in fact impossible to fake.

      “Me-now” immortality is simply a ridiculous notion spouted by someone confusing emotional history with the concept of immortality.

      A slightly more enterprising mind might like to indulge the possibility of a constantly un-changing, constantly morphing mind. A notion the Greeks understood as core to the tennants of the Universe. Yes, that immortality might be…difficult to obtain. Something the absurd me-now descendants might have some difficulty accepting.

      • Faul_Sname

        “A slightly more enterprising mind might like to indulge the possibility of a constantly un-changing, constantly morphing mind.”

        While it sounds like a thing, that is much like saying “You are simply not allowing your mind to think of a constantly angular, constantly smooth curve”. Just because you can formulate a sentence doesn’t mean that sentence has any meaning.

      • roystgnr

        A mind which indulges the possibility of “p-and-not-p” is not “slightly more enterprising”, it is (hopefully only slightly) defective.

  • Karl Hallowell

    It also ignores the desire for self-improvement. For example, Hanson, I, and many other people have gone through great efforts to eliminate a past self (well, that and pick up a shiny credential) by undergoing an arduous formal education. It might be interesting, for example, to save a copy of Hanson at five years old, but how much worth is there to such a thing aside from the modest value of just seeing how far you’ve gone?

    • David C

      I agree with the above. I prefer me-now to me-back-then, and I’m guessing me-back-then would prefer me-now to me-back-then too. I’d further guess that I will prefer me-soon to me-now. It’s hard to predict what me-now would think of me-distant-future, but if I always prefer me-soon to me-now, there’s never a time when I would want to archive me-now for later recall rather than just wait for me-soon other than for novelty purposes.

      • Anonymous

        I would love selective memory deletion though. You could establish a selection of great narratives with surprising plot twists and experience them over and over again.

      • John

        Isn’t recreational selective memory deletion just cognitive masturbation, though? You’re talking about taking the thrill of learning and divorcing it from any actual improvement.

      • Anonymous

        Yes. Provided you can afford it, cognitive masturbation is very worthwhile.

        I have a small number of digital games, movies and TV shows that are so brilliant that I would want to experience them over and over again. But knowing the plot precisely causes diminishing returns in pleasure. Selective memory deletion would prevent that.

        In a perfect world, I guess everyone would experience maximum pleasure and zero suffering in any activity that happens to be maximally productive or adaptive. You would have maximum fun doing just the right kind of work, fleeing from the right kind of threat, reproducing at just the right ratio between effort and reproductive success etc. But this isn’t a perfect world, and alas, we’re not wired like that (yet?).

      • I think that can already be done via implanted electrodes stimulating the pleasure center of the brain. My understanding is that this produces all the pleasure of pleasurable experiences without any of the other effect.

        It is in effect a Platonic ideal of pleasure.

  • Scott Messick

    To me, it seems a serious drawback that me-now is rather attached to my current situation. If copies of me-now are revived in the future, they will probably be far removed from the people, hobbies, issues, etc., that I care a lot about right now, which will make life a lot less fun for them.

    To be clear, this has no impact on the argument that this type of immortality will be more common for ems.

  • Claudia Sahm

    This has to take the cake for the most bizarre New Year’s resolution post 😉 As usual some thought provoking ideas…uncorrelated with the rest of my RSS reader. Personally, I find the idea of immortality depressing in the “normal” sense or the “me-now” sense. All good things have to end.

  • Estarlio

    If you think change kills Me-now, then why are you running a process that would sufficiently diverge you from Me-now anyway? Wouldn’t you just pick a section of time that didn’t have sufficient changes from Me-now to render it a different thing and run that in a loop?

  • Jeffrey Soreff

    Are the two options really all that different?
    I have a lot of long term memories that I only very rarely revisit.
    Having a rarely-revived archived copy of me-now seem mostly
    a difference in granularity. Also, why would there be a cost difference
    at all? Aren’t we storing the same number of bits over the same time span?

  • Robert Koslover

    A world of multiple Robin Hansons somehow, indirectly, reminded me of this amusing scene (from A Nightmare Before Christmas):

    [to his new creation, as he inserts part of his own brain]
    Dr. Finkelstein: What a joy to think of all *we’ll* have in common. *We’ll* have conversations *worth* having.

    I presume y’all can see the relevance of that (at least, you should, if you saw the movie).

    Happy new year. 🙂

    • Dave

      Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between brilliance and flatulence as both are so difficult to grasp.Smiles and Happy New Year.

  • I have imagined a stack of snapshots of a living brain, perhaps one taken each night; in the stack, each neuron is wired not to others in the same ‘layer’ but to the corresponding neurons in the adjacent ‘layers’. The most obvious conceptual difficulty is: where to attach the i/o?

  • Here I was thinking I’d much prefer a constantly changing self, because I make it a goal to better myself over time, forever.

    It’s already happened, in my case. The Grognor from two years ago is a completely different person from Grognor today, and I’m okay with that because I’m better than him. I expect Grognor of two years from now to be better than me, so I’m okay with being replaced by him.

    This post got me thinking, though, it would be cool to hang out with a bunch of my past selves from different times. “Party of one” indeed.

    It could even be useful, as various objective measures of person-worth are developed, so that I could actually be sure that I’m accomplishing my goals and not stagnating.

    But in the long run, I don’t care about my now-self. He has a long way to go.

  • fburnaby

    All my planning and toil is for future me. I’m not actually sure that I was ever designed to care about present-me. Dr. Hanson, “me-now immortality” is not something that I want now (or that me-now wants!), but I still don’t see why it might be something I would want under reflective equilibrium.

  • Philo

    Though we have been designed by natural selection to attempt to survive, there is no rational basis for attributing intrinsic value to one’s own survival. The different possibilities available in Hanson’s imagined science-fictional world–so different from our past circumstances–might well lead people to appreciate this, and not waste resources on the pursuit of “immortality” (of any sort).

    • Wix

      You seem to be under the illusion that desires/values are in some way “rational”. After all ”
      Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” – Hume

      Rationality is the art by which we achieve our goals, not ultimate   justify them. 

  • steve

    Running your em only slowly or infrequently doesn’t solve your problem at all. Immortality means inifinite. One one miliionth of that is still more then enough time to leave your old self in the dust.

    I forget the name of the book, but it reminds me of the Solopsist nation. Basically, extremely poor ems who could only get small amounts of computer time when it was very cheap. Essentially, they ran in slow time. But to them, it didn’t matter at all when compared to forever.

  • steve

    Another interesting theme in the same book was the ability of ems to self tweek their personalities. If you had the hooks, would you tweek yourself to be happier. In the book, some set a schedule to tweek all permutations they could think of. The idea being given forever, they wanted to experience everything.

  • Khoth

    The book was Greg Egan’s Permutation City.

  • Antsan

    Why would I want me-now to persist when there is a me-then? I totally do not understand.