Why Mind Uploading is Impossible

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Mind uploading is the process of converting a person’s memories and consciousness into digital form, allowing them to prolong their existence and experience reality for a longer period of time. This is an attractive future prospect for humanity, but would be impossible to achieve in practice.

In order to successfully carry out a mind upload, we would need to perfectly simulate all brain processes. 

The human brain is composed of billions of neurons, which transmit information via electrical impulses. Memories are encoded in neural pathways; thoughts are the result of multiple neurons interacting; feelings are the result of a chemical alteration to neuronal activity. Most of the brain’s activities can be explained through the well-documented electrical interactions of neurons; however it appears that quantum vibrations within neuronal microtubules may also contribute to some brain phenomena such as consciousness.

In order to simulate the human brain, we would need to replicate every brain component, down to the smallest relevant unit. In the case of the human brain, the smallest relevant unit is the electrons within microtubules that contribute to quantum vibration; however according to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, there is a theoretical limit on how precisely we can measure the properties of electrons. This limit is tiny, but would still cause a compounding discrepancy between a simulated brain and its corresponding physical brain.

twisted bastard
The concept of mind uploading was explored in Season 4 Episode 1 of science fiction series Black Mirror (‘USS Callister’ ). The main character (centre) is a twisted, socially reclusive programmer who creates digital clones of coworkers who have wronged him. He then enters a virtual, Star Trek-esque environment and subjects the digital clones to physical and psychological torture.

This means that it is physically impossible to perfectly simulate the human brain, so we cannot create an identical digital form of ourselves.

However, for argument’s sake, let’s say that we somehow manage to bypass the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and create a perfect digital replica of a brain. This would be an impressive feat, but would not help us; digital replication does not constitute a mind upload, as outlined by the following thought experiment.

The Digital Mike Conundrum

  • A person called Mike is put in an induced coma.
  • Mike’s brain is thoroughly scanned and a perfect digital replica of his brain is created. Digital Mike has exactly the same memories to and is indistinguishable from Human Mike.
  • We allow Digital Mike to roam around in a virtual environment for a week. From Digital Mike’s perspective, he is Human Mike who has woken up in a virtual environment. He has a lifetime of memories, but has only existed for a week.
  • We then delete Digital Mike and awaken Human Mike from his coma.
  • Human Mike has no recollection of the past week. From Human Mike’s perspective, his mind was never ‘uploaded’; a digital clone of him was created.

Mind uploading would not transfer your consciousness to the digital realm, it would create a separate, identical entity: a digital clone. It is therefore impossible to prolong your existence via a mind upload.

 

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