“If Google is a religion, what is its God? It would have to be The Algorithm. Faith in the possibility of an omniscient and omnipotent algorithm appears to be what Messrs Page and Brin have in common. … Wisely or not, Google wants to be a new sort of dues ex machina.” Economist, January 14th, 2006, p. 66
A commenter on my blog once imagined he went to confession, felt revitalized, and in a verve of exuberance pulled back the curtain to find a conscious mindclone of a priest in some IT hardware. He concluded that even if the mindclone helped him feel better than any priest ever did, he would feel none of the love for it that he would feel for the forgiving priest. He just could not imagine loving something without a mother or father. I believe the gist of this comment is to ask in yet another way, “can software really be humanly conscious if it is not genetically human?” We take it for granted that to be human means to have human genes, from a human mother and father. But is this really so? Is our humanity rooted in our flesh, or is it grounded in our thoughts?
Mutually Assured Survival
By virtue of digital technology it is possible to self-replicate one’s mind wholly apart from the DNA-driven partial replication of one’s body (aside from cloning, babies are a blend of two people’s largely similar but subtly unique genes). For example, the entirety of one’s digital life – all of our photos, emails, web searches, music, videos, chats, texts, documents, links and downloads – could be archived in cyberspace and animated with a sophisticated chatbot. It will not be difficult for advanced artificial intelligence (AI) programs to ferret out and replicate the unique personality that is woven through our digital reflections. Now, provide that chatbot, running our personality program, with self-replication capability and our inherent Natural Selection bred drive to self-replicate could be satisfied just for our minds.
We can of course self-replicate our bodies via sexual intercourse (or IVF). But we can soon also satisfy that urge to self-replicate by copying just our minds in software. Since Natural Selection is simply a scorekeeping system for what naturally happens, it matters not at all if the successful self-replicators are mammals, mosquitoes, messages or minds. That which becomes prevalent, is a Natural Selection champion. Since humans, like all life forms, already have a strong tendency to self-replicate (meaning to do things that result in self-replication – otherwise the phenotype would not long exist), and since mind-copying technology enables a great speed-up and personalization of self-replication, mindclones will proliferate in the nearly inexhaustible resource of cyberspace.
Consciousness very slowly emerged from biological life. Each aspect of it had to prove its survival value and the neural substrate for consciousness could only arise by random mutations. But vitological consciousness plays by rather different rules. Entire conscious beings can pop into existence at once, and each such being represents a self-replication victory to someone.
It will be genetically human beings who will be copying their mindfiles into mindclones. As each of us pursues our own, personal, quest for survival via mindcloning, we are also assuring the survival of our species, albeit in the form of mindclones. The mindclones are humans because the mindclones are we. Hence, the coming proliferation of mindclones is also a proliferation of humanity. Between flesh humans and mindclone humans there is mutually assured survival. The survival of the former depends on the latter, and the survival of the latter assures the continuity of the former. We love thy mindclone as we love thyself, for they are the same.
The units of consciousness being self-replicated in cyberspace may be called “bemes,” analogous to the familiar genes of DNA (discovered in 1943 by Oswald Avery) and the less familiar memes of messages (discovered in the 1970s by Richard Dawkins). A “beme” is the smallest, transmissible unit of consciousness. For example, each persistent conception that someone has about their mother, father, and anyone else is a separate beme. Each pattern by which those conceptions are linked is a separate beme. Those conceptions and patterns, in toto, are one’s “bemone” and give rise to one’s consciousness. They are the basis for the observable manifestations of consciousness: behavior that evidences autonomy and empathy.
Bemes are to consciousness as genes are to bodies. In an appropriate environment, genes will create a body that works in accordance with the program specified in those genes. Similarly, in an appropriate environment, bemes will create a consciousness that works in accordance with the program specified in those bemes. An appropriate environment for bemes is cyberspace generally, and compatible hardware and software in particular. The appropriate environment for genes is biospace generally, and compatible nutrients and nurturing in particular. While genes are based within a great many variants of the naturally evolved double-helix molecule we call DNA (and also within single-stranded RNA), bemes are based within a great variety of software structures we may call Beme Neural Architecture, or “BNA.” Finally, while genes are themselves comprised of many sub-units called base pairs or nucleotides, bemes are also comprised of many sub-units that may be called bemeotides. These sub-units include the numerous sensory triggers (phonetics, visual cues, etc.) that give rise to a specific beme.
Between bemes and genes Nature has come up with a system of mutually assured survival. A product of genes, biological human consciousness, may for the first time now be individually self-replicated -- in bemes. Meanwhile a product of bemes, cybernetic human consciousness, is dependent upon gene-based life for maintenance of its environment. Hence, bemes enhance the survival and self-replication of genes that help the survival and self-replication of bemes. DNA gave rise to (mutated) a new class of self-replicating codes of life, BNA, and the new BNA codes are synergistic, not competitive, with their predecessor DNA. In terms of Natural Selection this means a much larger pie of life – for there is no zero sum game between BNA and DNA based life. In terms of consciousness this synergy means that digital codes will acquire autonomy and empathy very quickly for it is in the best interests of biological codes that it happen.
The Beme Is Mightier than the Gene
The genetic basis of a mindclone is its BNA. This code consists of enough of the biological original’s bemes to create a simulacrum of the original’s mind. The mindclone will feel as emotional as its original because emotions are patterns among mental conceptions, which means they are bemes. Mindware extracts the complete set of bemes, or human bemone, from a mindfile in order to create a mindclone. The extracted human bemone is the basis for the mindclone’s family, both ancestors and offspring.
The parents of every first generation mindclone are the parents of their biological original. Since the mindclone and the biological original have the same identity, they must have the same parents. They are the same person, albeit now dispersed across two substrates. If you love your priest, you must automatically love his mindclone, for they are one person.
Consider your reaction when you hear your priest’s voice on your voicemail. It is the same, kindly, respectful reaction you would have if he were speaking right to his face. Thanks to telephony, our voices can be in two or more places but have the same identity. So it is with mindclones. Our minds can be in two or more places but have the same identity. Indeed, this is why we say “the beme is mightier than the gene.” A personality born of the latter is limited to one physical embodiment. But our beme-based identity can occupy multiple forms.
There is another sense in which the beme is mightier than the gene. Suppose the priest we’ve discussed was genetically cloned so that another individual grew up with his exact same DNA. We all realize that we could not feel the same, if any, love for that person, who would probably not even be a priest. This physical clone’s mind would be very different from the priest we knew from confession. While it is true that our minds are partly shaped by our genes, they are overwhelmingly shaped by our life’s experiences and the gazillions of different choices we make at different moments in our life. This is why even identical twins with identical upbringings are often similar, but always different. The physically cloned priest will evoke the original priest in our heart in part because they will look almost identical and in part because they will talk and act similarly (due to genetically-controlled neural patterns). But very quickly, within a few words, we will realize they are two totally different persons. There is no more reason we should transfer our love for the original priest to his physical clone, than we should transfer it to his wayward son.
Now suppose our beloved priest was bemetically cloned so that a mindclone faced us from a computer screen who looked, talked, acted, thought and behaved precisely like his biological original. In the case of a mindclone, the mind is functionally identical to that of the biological original. It is the same person. It would be only natural to extend our love for the original person to his mindclone. They are one. The priest would expect no less. The beme is mightier than the gene. It lasts longer, goes further and matters more.
We think genes are so important because we have been brainwashed that “blood is thicker than water.” But this metaphor leads to confusion and error. After all, our closest, “death-do-us-part” relationships are with our spouses or partners, as to whom we have no special “blood” affinity. Instead, the attraction of romantic love is an attraction based upon bemes, not genes. It is for our best friends with whom we lack familial shared genes but have specially shared bemes that we’ll do anything, not for our distant, genetic cousins.
The proper metaphor for the Age of BNA is that “mind is deeper than matter.” Our souls are touched far more meaningfully by connections that run via shared bemes than via shared genes. If the mind of the priest is there, then his lack of blood should not matter. Conversely, affinity based upon genes is as obsolete as loyalty based upon melanin. The beme is mightier than the gene.