Great Question

Last night, Leigh and Eric came down from LA. I gotta say, it’s always so good to see them. (Eric asked about how the market for real estate is down here, and I think I’m going to try to make a few Chr checks and get them to live in the finer SoCal city.)

Leigh knows that my Primary Main Objective in life is to create an artificial person. However, she mentioned that she’d never heard why, and asked me. I was impressed.

Most people don’t bother to ask why. They usually either go “Wow, that’s neat,” and are impressed, or “You’re nuts,” and think I’m nuts. Sometimes there’s a “Do you think it can it really be done?” But Why is a great question that I’ve asked myself from time to time, and I usually try to attack the answer as fiercely as possible. After all, it’s a lot of work, and work without a good reason is a waste of time, a precious resource of which I never have enough.

One part raw ambition, one part the need to procreate, and a healthy dose of philosophical fervor.

My reasons, in more detail:
First, for the same reason that people climb mountains and swim the English Channel. Just because I know it can be done, and no one else does.
Second, for the same reason that people have kids. I want to design a mind and send it out into the world, to have a project that will grow beyond me and carry my influence beyond the span of my years on earth.
Third, I believe that an artificial person will be a concrete example of the fact that the mind-body dichotomy does not hold water. We are physical objects. All of the pain and injustice in the world inflicted on Man by Man stems from the idea that the mind and the body are split in two. In an artificial person, there will be no mystery. It is a physical object, bound by physical law, like the rest of reality, humans included.

It’s easy to look around, and see that humans are remarkably different from every other kind of thing in the world. There is a fundamental difference between living and nonliving matter. Living beings face a choice at all times: to be or not to be. Nonliving matter can change form, but living matter is unique in that, if the living being does not support its own life, it will turn into nonliving matter. Life must act to support itself.

Furthermore, there’s a fundamental difference between people (rational agents) and non-person life. A tomatoe or a cat doesn’t have the option to choose its own set of moral premises. Even if it posesses a sort of consciousness, as all animals do (and, to a certain extent, all life does,) it does not posess the sort of introspective, rational, “conscious” consciousness of humans. In that regard, humans are not only unique, we’re downright amazing.

Therefore, it’s tempting to conclude that the reason we’re so different is because we’re somehow supernatural. After all, there’s this sharp distinction between “nature” and “man.” Whether it’s a mountain, a tree, or a dog, nothing in nature is “quite like” a person. After concluding that we’re somehow separated from nature, however, we’re still stuck with the fact that we do exist in reality. We exist in physical bodies that must be maintained. And, it sometimes seems that our bodies and our minds don’t agree on all things. You may command your body to do something, and it simply doesn’t obey. Coupled with the observation that nothing in nature is like humans, the fact that we have to still deal with a physical body seems to imply that Man is split down the middle: a mind in the non-natural realm of the spirit, controlling a body inextricably tied into Nature’s whims.

In reality, however, we can see that this take on the facts is false. Our minds are unique, yes. But supernatural? There is no such thing. Advances in neuroscience and philosophy lead to the conclusion that Man is an object fully in reality, every bit as much as the mountain, the tree, and the dog. As Ayn Rand pointed out, a body without a mind is a corpse, and a mind without a body is a ghost; both are symbols of death. If Man is to live and be happy, He must do so here, in reality, as a being fully embracing His true metaphysical nature. A person isn’t a person because they have a tie to some supernatural realm; a person is a person because of specific attributes that the agent posesses. The most fundamental of these attributes is a rational, conceptual consciousness.

Though this seems obvious to me, most people, it seems, are still stuck in that mystical otherworldly paradigm. How do you convince them that they’re not supernatural? (Granted, I understand that this is not the proper way to approach the problem. Any allegations of something “outside” reality must be treated as suspect, and it’s their responsibility to show that we are supernatural. Nevertheless, I’d like to squash the error whenever I see it, whenever possible.) You can provide all the arguments in the world, but without a concrete, it falls on deaf ears. Plus, there are plenty of people who could be our allies on the mind-body front, if only they weren’t taken in by the arguments that Man is split.

The objections to artificial personhood usually stem from the idea that “The meat matters.” That is, you can’t possibly create an artificial person; it is fundamentally impossible on theoretical grounds. The only justification for this position is that there’s something “special” about the fact that a human is made of meat, and wasn’t specifically designed by another person, but created “randomly.” “A machine,” they say, “can only follow instruction. It will only do what it is programmed to do. Therefore, it cannot choose, and therefore, it is not a person. QED.”

What this argument asserts at the root is that Man cannot be conscious if he exists in reality. If you have a physical body, then you are not a person. It splits the mind from the body, and thus makes Man a disembodied ghost and a mindless corpse, united in unholy matrimony, much to the dismay of both.

How can such a being hope to survive on earth? Or act responsibly? How can such a being be respected? Thus Man is doomed to misery, stripped of rights, moral accountability, and pride.

An artificial person would greatly strengthen the argument that we do not get our “special status” from any supernatural realm, but rather by virtue of the sort of things that we are. (I.e., “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.”)

Plus, then I can take over the world with my robot armies. That’s cool, too.

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