Altered Carbon is the most beautifully shot series in history, although the nudity may be a bit much for a family-friendly audience. Film noir meets cyberpunk meets a Raymond Chandler detective novel, Netflix’s production of Altered Carbon has me optimistic that Amazon, which purchased the film rights to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, will create something spectacular for cyberpunk fans.

  • Brian Tallerico has the best Altered Carbon episode summaries. Read those here.

Visually compelling, Altered Carbon carries on the myth of the mind-body dichotomy, as represented by cortical stacks (your self, memory, and consciousness) and sleevs (physical body). Characters fly freely through different sleeves, although less experienced users do develop a form of sea weariness (they get sleeve sick) when landing in a new body.

Is it true that one day we may become immortal, shifting our selves from one body to the next? That seems unlikely, based on what we know about consciousness.

Which are you more likely to hear people say, or to say yourself:

  • I have a body.
  • I am a body.

This has been studied, and the vast majority of people say they have a body. We think of ourselves as a mind within a body, even though we are also a body within a mind.

This is largely because we experience consciousness, or the sense we exist, and feel as if we are in a body. (Read more: A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain.)

You think of yourself a person because you’re in a physical body. Would you still be you if you were in another person’s body? You tastes, preferences, and even risk tolerance would change if you were put into a different physical body. Your physical body is having a conversation with your mind, and thus mind and body are not separate.

Your brains best guess of what you hear, your consciousness imposes meaning on the world, based on expectations formed through your sensory perceptions.

Your consciousness is a result of your body. You are a woman because of your biology, and this feminine identity is distinct from a male identity.

A woman whose consciousness was implanted into a hyper-masculine body would not be a “woman trapped in a man’s body.” She would become a man, in every sense of the world, as her body would rewire her consciousness.

Although Thomas Nagel explored these themes in “What is it like to be a bat?” Daniel Dennett prefers lions:

Dennett waited until the group talked itself into a muddle, then broke in. He speaks slowly, melodiously, in the confident tones of a man with answers. When he uses philosophical lingo, his voice goes deeper, as if he were distancing himself from it. “The big mistake we’re making,” he said, “is taking our congenial, shared understanding of what it’s like to be us, which we learn from novels and plays and talking to each other, and then applying it back down the animal kingdom. Wittgenstein”—he deepened his voice—“famously wrote, ‘If a lion could talk, we couldn’t understand him.’ But no! If a lion could talk, we’d understand him just fine. He just wouldn’t help us understand anything about lions.”

“Because he wouldn’t be a lion,” another researcher said.

“Right,” Dennett replied. “He would be so different from regular lions that he wouldn’t tell us what it’s like to be a lion. I think we should just get used to the fact that the human concepts we apply so comfortably in our everyday lives apply only sort of to animals.” He concluded, “The notorious zombie problem is just a philosopher’s fantasy. It’s not anything that we have to take seriously.”

Consider, too, how your consciousness influences what your body sees.

Your sense of self or “I” is a creation – or what Anil Seth calls a hallucination – of your perceptions.

The sensory information coming into the brain hasn’t changed at all. All that’s changed is your brain’s best guess at the causes of that sensory information, and that changes what you consciously hear….We don’t just passively perceive the world. We actively generate it.

The world as we experience comes as much from the inside-out as from the outside-in.

 

Will we ever be able to move from one sleeve to another, as in Altered Carbon? Perhaps we would, although you may not recognize yourself at the end of the journey.

P.S. If you find the mind-body problem interesting, you’ll love Gorilla Mindset, which solves it in a practical, life-improving way.

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