My Name is Hannibal

Yahoo says a petition in change.org asking the International Olympic Committee to take back the gold medal Caitlyn Jenner won in the decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games has raised the issue of "how to differentiate men and women".  The petition reads:

It has recently come to light that gold medalist Bruce Jenner is in fact transgender, and therefore, identifies as a woman. We congratulate Ms. Jenner on these new developments and wish her the best. However, this creates somewhat of a problem as Ms. Jenner (as talented as she is) claims that she has always believed herself to be truly female, and therefore, was in violation of committee rules regarding women competing in men's sports and vice versa. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that we must ask whether or not it is proper that Ms. Jenner should retain her olympic records in light of this, as we must now either claim that Bruce Jenner and Caitlyn Jenner are two entirely different people (which we know is not true), or that Bruce Jenner was, in fact, a woman participating in a men's event.

But it's worse than that.  The problem it raises is whether we can draw a correspondence between what a person is and the body he/she/it inhabits.  Now it used to be worrisome when one found oneself in earnest discussion with group pretending to consist of Napoleon, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. To join in was itself a sign that you had lost a few marbles recently.  But assuming that both the Yahoo article and petition were written in sober seriousness, then society is now seriously talking on Jenner's terms.  After all, Jenner's on the the cover of Vanity Fair and on the headlines of all the major news outlets so it must be serious.

It's not crazy talk unless the whole world is an asylum.  Of course it can' be, so Caesar, Napoleon or Alexander, move over and make some room for Hannibal.  Allow me to sit down.

As a society it seems we have pretty much come to the consensus that the Greek bipartite doctrine of body and soul must be true.  Bruce Jenner was tired of being a woman trapped in a man's body so he's transplanted himself, insofar as medical science allows, to a new container.  Caitlin is where she wants to be. Then there's a new category of individuals who wish to be disabled by choice: people who "feel like impostors in their fully working bodies".  It's part of a growing movement called body modification.  They've even managed to quote scripture.

If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

They too want a rebuild. Oh-kay. Even in mundane situations the public has grown accustomed to the argument that you are who identify as.  For example, Barack Obama wasn't the first black president -- that distinction belongs to Bill Clinton.  Obama is the first Jewish president. David Axelrod relates that the president once told him, "you know, I think I am the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office".  If Jenner is a woman, why can't Obama be a Jew?

The primary idea in all this is that the essence of a man is distinct from his body and is transferable.  You can be a white man trapped in a black body -- like Clarence Thomas. And if that isn't the doctrine of body and soul then it's pretty close.  One of the proposed technological implementations of the concept of "body and soul" is mind uploading.  "Whole brain emulation (WBE) or mind uploading (sometimes called "mind copying" or "mind transfer") is the hypothetical process of copying mental content (including long-term memory and "self") from a particular brain substrate and copying it to a computational device, such as a digital, analog, quantum-based or software-based artificial neural network. The computational device could then run a simulation model of the brain information processing, such that it responds in essentially the same way as the original brain (i.e., indistinguishable from the brain for all relevant purposes) and experiences having a conscious mind."

That the process isn't available yet does not detract from the fact that it is a serious practical possibility. Why should you remain trapped in a decaying meat body when it's possible to upgrade you to better hardware?  Better yet, why stay in a dead body.  Back up your mind and keep a log file.  Then if the biological hardware goes down, failover into the new build.

Imagine a supercomputer so advanced that it could hold the contents of a human brain. The Google engineer Ray Kurzweil famously believes that this will be possible by 2045. Organized technologists are seeking to transfer human personalities to non-biological carriers, “extending life, including to the point of immortality.” My gut says that they’ll never get there. But say I’m wrong. Were it possible, would you upload the contents of your brain to a computer before death, extending your conscious moments on this earth indefinitely? Or would you die as your ancestors did, passing into nothingness or an unknown beyond human comprehension?

Those who argue that artificial consciousness is impossible would have to contend with the objection that, in classic atheist doctrine, man is already a machine, albeit a biological one. Julien Offray de La Mettrie thought that materialism proved that the soul did not exist by arguing in his work L'homme Machine that man is his body, and therefore there is no soul. But if the L'homme Machine actually has consciousness, then it actually proves the contrary. Because that machine has consciousness, and once that possiblity is established then artificial consciousness is proved. Only the implementation details of transfer remains. The body is as important as an Amazon cloud instance. The instance is entirely disposable if the information is preserved.  Displaying  a dead body in a coffin is as meaningful as putting flowers on a stopped and pickled virtual machine.

If a biological machine can have consciousness, then it is a quantity potentially separable from the underlying hardware in the same way that your computer files are distinct from your hard disk.

From here the mind fairly reels at the possibilities. If it is possible to preserve intelligence and consciousness in a laboratory arrangement of physical objects as AI must do, then given the possibility that the universe may be isomorphic to a computer, it's hard to maintain to maintain that creation is totally dumb. It becomes highly probable that the universe is in fact alive.  More than that it is probably conscious. If human beings are intelligent and extensible machines the possibility that we live in universe of angels and demons -- properly understood -- cannot be dismissed.

Readers who have been following the argument may now be thinking: has Richard Fernandez gone crazy? The peculiar nature of the discussion comes from the fact that we live in a most singular reality, with transgender people, Jewish black presidents, holographic cosmologies and various other things that we accept without demur. In that menagerie my name is Hannibal and I say, "if that, why not this?"  If you want to join the group, you can sit right here next to Julius, over by where Alex is.

"The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine," but it is peculiar only because some strangenesses are regarded as conventional wisdom while equally astonishing concepts are dismissed as mere bigotry.


Recently purchased by readers:

Defense of Japan 1945 (Fortress), Steven Zaloga

Beautiful Maria of My Soul, Hardcover – June 1, 2010 by Oscar Hijuelos

Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms (Expanded Edition), Paperback – August 19, 2012 by Arthur T. Bradley

Forgotten Holocaust, Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-44 Hardcover – March, 1986, by Richard C. Lukas

Forgotten Warriors, The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, the Corps Ethos, and the Korean War (Modern War Studies) Hardcover – September 1, 2010 by T. X. Hammes

LBJ, The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination Paperback – July 1, 2013 by Phillip F. Nelson

The Next Decade, Empire and Republic in a Changing World Paperback – January 10, 2012 by George Friedman

Possibly worth buying:

Japanese Pacific Island Defenses 1941-45, (Fortress) Paperback – February 19, 2003 by Gordon Rottman

Leica 8 x 20 Waterproof Monovid Monocular

Poweradd™ Apollo 7200mAh Solar Panel Charger

Olive Drab Army Issue Foam Sleeping Pad Mat - 24 x 72 x 3/8, Survival/Camping


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific

Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the Belmont Club