Category Archives: Philosophy

A compass to guide your actions.

Another Way To Look At It

Have you ever wondered why cars stop running when they run out of gasoline?  “Because cars use gasoline as fuel,” I heard someone say.  Certainly, this is the conventional wisdom, but people who say that are just sheep, parroting what they learned in liberal elite engineering school.  I figured out the truth because I am not burdened by education.

Everyone’s car is built with a demon inside it, and the demon’s job is to stop the car from running.  The demon either can’t or won’t do this in the presence of gasoline, however.  Anyone who has ever run out of gasoline knows this to be true: The car was running fine until the last of the gasoline ran out, and they experienced sputtering, loss of power, and finally a full stop.  While this seems plausible on its own, it does not explain where the gasoline goes, and why it only goes away when the car is in use.  There is some speculation that the demon gets motion sick while the car is moving, and drinking the gasoline makes it feel better.  Another idea is that the demon’s attempts to stop the motion of the car are counteracted by a proportional amount of gasoline, thereby consuming it as a side-effect of the demon’s work.

Now that it seems obvious that demons are used in cars, let’s all agree that it makes no sense to invest in more fuel-efficient cars.  The engines have nothing to do with how much fuel is used.  What we need to do is get rid of the demons, or at least use more efficient demons.  And it should be clear now that the future of cars is not electrical; if you’ve ever wondered why electric cars are so slow, it’s because they have no gasoline in them to stop the demons.  The only reason they move at all is because car demons are forbidden from stopping golf carts but required to stop cars.  Because electric cars lie somewhere in the middle, the demons slow the electric cars halfway “just in case.”  Won’t we be in for a nasty surprise when they figure things out!

Conferring Immortality?


Authors, philosophers, and scientists have explored these concepts in detail, and it’s my hope to introduce them to you, not to claim them as my own.

Feasible Immortality

There is a recent notion that some people alive today may achieve biological or technological immortality.  Biological immortality focuses on things like prevention and repair of cellular damage, immortality of cell lines, replacing aged organs with newly-grown ones, and removal of what I can best call “crud” that accumulates in your body as you age.  Technological immortality involves replacing failing biological components with artificial ones, replication of your personality, in essence porting it from wetware to hardware or software.  We do much of this now under the umbrella of general medicine, achieving longer and healthier lives.

What I want to explore is the philosophical question of whether or not immortality can be conferred on an individual, or if the conversion to immortality conceptually kills the original and produces an immortal copy.

Biological Immortality

While our structure remains relatively constant over time, the atoms that comprise us change regularly as cells replace themselves.  On average, you are made from completely different atoms every seven years.  If you define yourself based on the atoms that are in your body, or specifically your brain, then you’ve already been replaced Y/7 times if you’re Y years old.  Any memory you have from eight years ago was stored in cells that have died and left copies.  You can still access those old memories because cell replacement doesn’t change structure, assuming everything goes well.

If medicine did allow us to extend our cell lines indefinitely, avoid replication errors, fix or prevent inherited genetic diseases, and remove accumulated “crud,” we could live forever if we avoid the same things that can kill us prematurely now.  We’d still be ourselves – at least as much as we are ourselves now, with our atoms changing every seven years.

Technological Immortality

An immortality solution that emphasizes technology could eventually replace each part of your biological body with a piece of technology.  To jump ahead slightly, let’s assume every organ, including the brain, can be replaced with a modular piece of technology that performs like the original.

What if your biological brain were put in a technological body?  Simply doing this would significantly extend life, since a lot of things that damage the brain are caused by the rest of the body.  In conjunction with biological brain immortality, it could confer full immortality.

Would your real brain in a technological body still be you?  If you think of our brains as piloting our bodies anyway, then you’d probably say yes.  To me, this seems reasonable.

What if, instead of using your biological brain, some process scans your biological brain and produces an exact copy of it in hardware and/or software?  Does that confer immortality to you, or does it merely copy you?  What if the scanning process is destructive, resulting in some time when the pattern in your brain that is you isn’t complete?  Would that murder you and create a copy?  To me, I’d consider it murder for a scanner to tear my brain to bits as it studied the structure.

Those are the edge cases.  It gets trickier when you think of the middle ground.

What if there were a way to slowly replace the biological structures in your brain with technological ones?  Your brain already replaces cells on its own, and we don’t generally think of this as killing us, so how is it different for a technological process to take over?  One by one, neurons, axons, dendrites, would be replaced by functionally-equivalent nanotechnological components.  If we set the timescale for the conversion to be seven years, then we ensure that it happens no faster than nature.  Are you still you when one of your neurons is technological?  What about 100?  What about 10 billion (roughly 10%)?  One thing is assured: by the end of the seven-year process, your biological brain will be gone.

Wait, it gets creepier.

Let’s say you’ve made the switch to a nanotech brain, as above.  Assuming you still think you’re you, and not the murderer of your identical twin, what would happen if you converted your nanotech hardware brain into a software brain?  Is there a difference between two things if they behave the same?  As before, the conversion could be done gradually, over a seven-year period, slowly deactivating pieces of the hardware brain and activating equivalent software representations in a computer brain.  Would you still be you?  If the answer is yes, then what exactly are you now?  Are you the structure that the software represents?

It gets stranger, too.

One of the authors I’ve read suggests that if you’re ok with neurons being replaced by functional equivalents, then the physical geometry of these neurons in relation to the others doesn’t matter much.  Instead of direct physical connections, why not go wireless?  You could store parts of your brain in your house and keep just a small portion of it in your body for tasks like reflexes where latency is an issue.

Closing Thoughts

To me, the edge cases seem clear: I’ve had biological immortality conferred upon me if my brain is able to maintain its normal biological process indefinitely;  I’ve had an immortal copy made if someone reads and copies my brain in a single step, and I’m murdered if the read was destructive.  What bothers me is that I don’t know how I feel about something that slowly destructively copies my brain in place.  The continuity seems to be what throws me, because it would offer the same continuity as biological brain immortality, but the end result is that my biological brain will have slowly been destroyed.  Of course, if continuity problems bother me, I should stop sleeping.

Be Consistent About Science Disbelief

Science tells us how old the planet is and allows us to make increasingly-accurate estimates of when past events occurred. That same science can predict future events on the same time scale. For example, if you date asteroid/comet impact craters, you start to get a sense that major impacts happen happen regularly which gives you some ability to blindly guess if the next major impact is due next week, next year, or several million years from now. The same thing can be done with volcano eruptions. The megavolcano underneath Yellowstone National Park (the overkill engine that runs the Old Faithful Geyser) last erupted 640,000 years ago, and experts estimate that we have between 10,000 and 20,000 years before it erupts next. Similarly, estimates of the remaining life of our sun (~4.5 billion years) are intertwined with the data that tells us how old it is (also 4.5 billion years).

Now that we’ve established that, how should you interpret data that suggests the earth is also about 4.5 billion years old, if your religious interpretation compels you to believe that the planet is only about 6,000 years old? Given that science, which is internally consistent on its backward and forward projections of timescales, contradicts your belief, would it be logical to accept that science has the relative ordering of things right and just has the magnitude wrong? To address this issue, I would like to present the science->fundamentalism year converter algorithm.

In principle, this is like converting between Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures, or converting human years to dog years, and it’s not quite as straightforward as converting between currencies. Let’s start with the age of the planet. Science says 4.5 billion years. Fundamentalism says 6,000 years. So a function to convert from SCI years to FDN years could just divide the science year by 750,000 to get the fundamentalism year. This is an oversimplified model, and here’s why: Using this conversion function, the impact that killed off the dinosaurs 65,000,000 years ago would seem to a fundamentalist to be 86 years ago, and everyone agrees that no impact that large happened 86 years ago. The issue is that scientists and fundamentalists actually tend to agree about the last few thousand years which coincide with the timeline of the Old Testament.

We need an OVERLAP value that is somewhere around 5,000 years, roughly corresponding to the rise of the early Egyptian civilization. If a year is less than or equal to OVERLAP years before today, the science years and fundamentalism years are the same. Otherwise, we deduct OVERLAP years from the absolute value of the year, with “now” being year 0, then do the division, then add back OVERLAP. Unfortunately, this does horrible things to our divisor, since the implication is that somewhere in those (6,000 – OVERLAP) years, the earth formed and became habitable. This means that 4,499,995,000 science years convert to 1,000 fundamentalism years, making our new divisor a whopping 4,499,995 years. On this scale, the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs happened 5014.44 years ago. Now that’s more manageable, and it fits the viewpoint many fundamentalists have that people walked alongside dinosaurs and even rode them.

The implication of this, however, is disturbing. Projecting forward, we still use the new divisor. So when science says that our sun will burn out in 4.5 billion years, fundamentalism says this is really 1000 years from now! Certainly plenty of time for the rapture to take all the good people into heaven, but what about the smaller timescales like the next supervolcano eruption in North America? 10,000 – 20,000 science years becomes between 19.5 and 39 hours. I hope I post this in time for people to escape the imminent eruption.

The algorithm (and pseudoc0de, if you’d like to write it up):

OVERLAP=5000 # must be < $FND_EARTH_AGE

YearsAgo_SCI2FND(years)  {

if (year < OVERLAP) {
return years ;
}  else {
return ((years – OVERLAP) / DIVISOR) + OVERLAP);

YearsFromNow_SCI2FND(years) {
return years / DIVISOR

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to define YearsFromNow_FND2SCI and YearsAgo_FND2SCI.

Stigmata and Demonic Possession

My understanding of the phenomena is that they only seem to happen to Catholics.  If they do happen to other Christians, they do not happen in nearly the same frequency as with Catholics.  They also seem to not happen to non-Christians at all, as far as I know.  So what does this mean?

If the phenomena are real, it implies that Catholics are uniquely vulnerable to demonic possession and more likely to be given Jesus-like wounds.  What would let demons more easily possess Catholics?  Why would Catholics be chosen to receive stigmata?  Why don’t all Catholics realize they’re in such danger?  Why do the same things not happen to everyone, or at least to non-Catholic Christians?

If the phenomena are fake, it implies that some elements within Catholic culture are more likely to believe in things like demonic possession and stigmata, otherwise the phenomena would be classified as mental illness and/or self-mutilation and/or Munchausen syndrome, be treated, and never be talked about as supernatural.  Why would some Catholics tend to believe supernatural explanations for these phenomena?

I  don’t have an answer, so I’m curious to know what the rest of you think.

Warranty Madness

I got a deep fryer for Festivus and just hooked it up on Sunday, upon which it immediately made a loud “pop!” noise and blew the breaker it was on.  After much troubleshooting, I determined that the electronics module had sacrificed itself in the name of some unknown cause.  This particular model is modular, and the electronics module is a small part of the overall unit.  I called the manufacturer, T-Fal, to return the defective bit under warranty, and I was told that the warranty “only covers the entire unit, not individual components.”  I asked if the rep realized the absurdity of that, since warranties are usually restrictive in the opposite direction.  I was told, though, that if I wanted to replace just the failed component, I could always just buy one.  Nice!

The reason I was given for the whole “all or nothing” stance is that they’d be doing what amounts to integration testing on the whole unit before sending it back, and if they couldn’t fix the problem, they’d send me a new unit.  Thanks, but I think the mechanical components are fine, based on my previous assembly, and all I need is a replacement electronics module.  My end result will be the same: a working unit.  The bottom line is that I just don’t want to pay more than I have to for shipping to get it.

I’ve been on the other end of this warranty issue, too, and I use the same philosophy.  On rare occasions when there have been component failures with computer systems that I sell, I’ve always complied with customer requests to just send back individual components.  If I know full well that one stick of RAM is bad, why in the world should I make the customer send a 35-pound computer back just so I can swap it for them?  It’s only when the problems couldn’t be remotely diagnosed or addressed that I’ve needed the entire system back.

A supervisor is supposed to call me back in 1-2 days to either try to convince me why I should pay extra for shipping, or to listen to what I want and make it happen.  In the meantime, let’s all think about what’d happen if your aftermarket car stereo’s warranty required that you send them your entire car so that they could do proper integration testing on a replacement unit, or if your rechargeable battery warranty required you to send them any and all devices you used with the batteries so they could test the replacement batteries.

What Will be the Last Physical Technology Created?

Excluding software, what do you predict will be our culture’s last technological creation? This has to be something that, once made, means “game over” for our culture. It’ll break the world, but we’ll want it anyway.

When I asked this once before, a friend of mine replied, “A really good sex robot.” It should be obvious why that might make half the planet reprioritize their lives and stop showing up to work on time.

My personal view is that it’d be a replicator. While I think a culture could recover from that, it’d be tricky. You can bet that most everyone on the planet would want a replicator, and it’d literally spread virally, since your neighbor could replicate a replicator for you. People could make food, replacement parts, even larger replicators that could build bigger things like cars and houses. The replicator could make whatever you needed to stay clothed, fed, and sheltered. All you’d need is material to feed it, and we have plenty of garbage even today. In such a scenario, the most important job would quickly become that of replicator programmer (yes, I’m biased in thinking that) but finding them would be hard, since everyone’s basic needs would be met, reducing the motivation to work.

What do you think?