Together in my timeline last week, two tweets on memory:
Vine star Ben Phillips: Jealous hackers deleted all my work days after Buzzfeed article about him earning £12 a clip http://t.co/8yyjQXAz35
— Jonathan Haynes (@JonathanHaynes) March 10, 2015
Ben Philips had all his creative work deleted by hackers.
Both these nuggets put me in mind of ‘The Machine’, the first entry on the wonderful Existential Comics site. The narrative deals with the nature of the mind: is the ‘self’ located in the particular body, or in the patterns we build in our mind over a lifetime?
I had previously assumed it was the former, and teleporting or a backup-restore of our brain was essentially to kill the individual and replace him with a copy who only thinks he is is the orginal (in popular culture, see The Sixth Day with Arnold Schwartzenegger, or China Mieville’s Kraken). The only reason to back up one’s brain, I wrote, was that it would be better to have an approximation of your clone wandering around rather than someone else’s.
But the comic in question has changed my mind. The revelation experienced by the central character was a revelation for me too… that it is the patterns that matter, not the substrate.
The ending of the comic is, I think, quite beautiful and comforting. But if you subscribe to that philosophy, then the thought of Alzheimers Disease or dementia is horrifying – the death of the Self before the death of the Body.
I suppose we should just comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we have, at least, existed, and that will always be a fact about the universe until the crack of doom.
For (a lot) more on this I recommend the sprawling Godel Escher Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. If that’s too much for you, then I touch upon these themes in The Good Shabti.