Thoughts on a transhumanist interpretation of the King Follett sermon
I am a member of the organization called the Mormon Transhumanist Association. The group is fortunate enough to have an articulate and highly intelligent founder and spokesperson, Lincoln Cannon.
I just read this excellent essay where Lincoln interprets Joseph Smith’s famous King Follett sermon. Through this literary device Lincoln reconciles the vital doctrine Joseph Smith taught on that occasion with both transhumanism and Lincoln’s adaptation of the simulation argument which he calls the New God Argument. Such a reconciliation is easy because, as he and I agree, Mormon doctrine mandates transhumanism.
I do want to comment on something he says at page 9.
“Imagine a posthuman child. Using the tools of quantum archeology, she traces backwards through time and space from effects to causes. Sampling a sufficiently large portion of her present, she rediscovers you. Attaining a desired probabilistic precision for a portion of her past, she recreates you. The future-you is distinguishable from the present-you, but only as the today-you is distinguishable from the yesterday-you. As if awaking from a night’s sleep, you are resurrected, and you learn to do the same for your parents. “
I commend and agree with his attempt to conceive of how we will play a role in the resurrection of the dead, which I have heard taught, will be a Priesthood ordinance for us to perform and so, obviously, will have some role to play. I think everything he says here is plausible and consistent with what has been revealed and accepted as doctrine. Not just not inconsistent, but consistent, as Lincoln does a great job of tying family history research, performing proxy ordinances for the dead, and the actual mechanics plausibly at play in the actual resurrection process.
However, as in most things God lets us do, I think that here too there is a part which only he can do. I think that a posthuman’s quantum archeology, no matter how impressive, could not discover all the nuances that constitute a human mind. To think it could suggests a deterministic view of how the world works which I believe we can avoid thanks to the inherent indeterminism of quantum mechanics. Also, to think that one could resurrect ancestors many generations removed at the end of a long series of resurrecting all those in between, one by one, and relying in part on their memories of their ancestors is wildly optimistic. The results could only bare a superficial likeness to the actual person.
I have trouble believing that a process like the one Lincoln describes would not be a part of the resurrection. Even as posthumans we will have much to learn and the best way to learn is by doing. As humans, and as posthumans, I don’t believe God will simply do for us anything we are capable of doing for ourselves, even after much trial and effort. It is in achieving results through trial and effort that we learn to become like Him.
However, being believers in God, we need not postulate a resurrection wherein He plays absolutely no part at all.
The New God Argument is an adaptation of the Simulation Argument for Mormons. I made this adaptation for myself long before I encountered Lincoln’s statement of it. I discuss it in another post so here I’ll skip to the conclusion. The reality we experience is actually a “virtual reality” just like we can envision ourselves creating in a not-too-much-more technologically sophisticated future. No doubt such virtual realities require powerful computational processing and impressively large storage capacity. In other words, vast intelligence and perfect memory. Initially we might think of the posthuman creator of our reality (virtual reality to Him) as sitting down at a powerful desktop and typing away. But surely a second’s contemplation of progressive miniaturization and improvements in brain/computer interfacing should prompt us to replace this image with one closer to the actual God whose omniscient mind produces the thoughts memories which represent the code upon which our reality relies for its existence.
Surely after the nascent posthuman’s ability to recreate her dead ancestor through quantum archaeology has been exhausted, He whose thoughts originally organized the information that became her ancestor could add the final touches and produce a perfect likeness.
I believe God’s continued contemplation of the dead’s consciousness, His awareness of precisely what it is like to be that person, is sufficient to maintain identity between the quantum bits that were the deceased and those constituting the newly resurrected person. According to Mormon doctrine, that consciousness is not even inactive between bodily death and resurrection, but remains engaged in a course of learning and growth toward godhood.
I find it extremely satisfying and intensely faith promoting that Mormon doctrine is so easily reconciled with these scenarios as they are not arbitrary science fictions but logical extrapolations from clearly discerned technological trends.