Point Blank Vs. Cobb Andersen II

William Peña

[A conversation with Cobb before he goes under the knife ...]

"Everyone talks about immortality but only humans would be blind, vain and weak enough to try it like this. You think you're going to squeeze out a few more years by entering a robotic body? You think you're going to be you? You won't even be a Homo-Sapien, you won't even be in the animal kingdom! I'll bracket for the moment all the ways I could talk about your brain, mind and body all being an inextricable whole, and I'll bracket any conversation on the idea of a soul, but let's just discuss this pragmatically for a moment.

"There are life changing experiences, and then there's this. Consider that Freud could see potty-training as a defining moment in one's life, or that most people's most traumatic and landmark experiences will involve a loved one dying, or a wedding. You are going to change the way you live in the world forever, stop being a flesh-and-blood being, completely reshape your psychological landscape on what it means to be human, what it means to be yourself, and you think you'll still be the same person?

"You may think there's some intrinsic soul-thing that just floats around and is stably "you" for a lifetime. I think you are a causally-related chain of momentary experiences, and I've got 3000 years of Eastern philosophy to back me up on it. Hell, I've got the last 80 years of western philosophy, and the last 40 years of psychology, too. It's called negation of self, or decentered subjectivity, or psychosocial development, by whatever name the idea is similar - whoever you are is a complex function of myriad forces. You're a computer scientist by trade, so your reflex is to reduce thought into procedural functions, but chaos is intrinsic in nature and humanity, and these things influence you not just over years of evolution, but also moments of experience or reflection.

"Not to mention that I'm hard-pressed to agree you want to live any longer. In effect, you just want a chance to find something better than what you've got now, but you haven't taken advantage of what you had during your life. Sure, you've got your achievements, and the Bopper Revolution is nothing to sneeze at, but let me ask you this. You you go to sleep at night, when you imagine yourself not waking up, do you have regrets? Do you find yourself afraid of what you don't know, of looking into Nothingness? That's exactly what you're looking for. You don't want to be immortal, you just want to be at peace.

"Look at it like this - if you were content with your life, if your conscience were clean, would you find yourself so eager to leap into another embodiment, encompassing the risk of losing memories, and the disorientation of a new physical interface with the world, and also make the leap in logic to believe that things would just be the same but better?.."

As I consider the idea of immortality in Software, achieved through technology and science, ie through human intellectual endeavours, I have to compare it with the immortality achieved in Tom Robbins' Jitterbug Perfume. The reason I went off on this conversation with Cobb is that the characters in Jitterbug Perfume find their immortality through holistic, personal, "natural" (using the devices contained within the human body rather than replacing it) means, live over a thousand years, come to terms with the idea of life and find themselves ready to die and releasing themselves of this compulsion that had driven them for a millenium. What I appreciate about this novel is how the characters each come to their desire for immortality; rather than just being a reflexive fear of death, they actually had to face death closely, recognized that they were unhappy with their lot in life, but also were given the opportunity to escape and make something new. Their search for immortality was a search for an expansive understanding of human experience, and a desire for union with their lover in an increasingly fulfilling relationship.

Immortality and death are cheap in Software. They are dialectical ideas, along with the mind and the body being treated as Information and Medium (see my project on this dialectic in the cyber- for an extended discussion). As Laura pointed out, "The new robot body houses this human software in a manner that does not preserve the former self but shadows it, even mocks it."

[To other discussions of Rudy Rucker's - Ware trilogy (Software, Wetware, and Freeware) by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]