Terasem is a “transreligion for technological times” that believes in “personal cyberconsciousness,” mind uploading, and radical life extension. It’s a religion for transhumanists, but I wonder if the world is not full of people who are followers of Terasem even if they have never heard of the religion. I might be one myself. Let me try to explain.
One of the central practices of Terasem is “mind-filing,” which should be undertaken daily and seems to me close to prayer or meditation. This is how Mark O’Connell describes the practice in his book To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death: “[each day] you upload some measure of data about yourself—a video, a memory, an impression, a photograph—to one of Terasem’s cloud servers, where it will be stored until such time as an unspecified future technology will be capable of reconstructing, from this accumulated data, a version of you, of your very soul, which can in turn be uploaded to an artificial body, that you might live eternally, blissfully, unencumbered by your mortal flesh.”
Isn’t this what devotees of social media like me are doing? Facebook has more members than China. People are glued to their smart phones. Why do we feel the need to post pictures of holidays, describe our experiences, share what we read? People less prone to self-publicity look at us with scorn and pity, but many of those people keep a diary, write letters to friends, share photographs of their grandchildren. I know so much about Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, Virginia Woolf, and Bertrand Russell because I have read their letters and diaries. I turn my eyes from my computer and I can see the 15 paper diaries I began when I was 14, some 40 years before Facebook was invented; I can see as well rows of photograph albums, and there is a box filled with old photos. My mother’s diaries are in a plastic bag in the corner, and my father’s memoirs are one of my most precious possessions.
What is this about? It surely relates to death. The followers of Terasem are literal about it: they will achieve immortality once technology is sufficiently developed to recreate/resurrect them from the data they have dutifully posted day after day. But aren’t we all trying in some way to cheat death? The psychologists who write the Worm at the Core insist that all human activity–religion, culture, literature, the way we behave every day–is driven by our consciousness/fear of death.
I may like to think that I’m “cool about death,” adjusted to the idea, “booted, spurred, and ready to go.” But perhaps this manic posting of mine shows that I’m more terrified of death than most.
I’ve never thought of myself being reconstructed from my words, posts, articles, pictures, and blogs, but I do think of “all of this stuff” surviving. I imagine distant descendants sorting through it and creating an image of me–just as I have done this morning of Bertrand Russell. (Actually, I’m more pragmatic: most, if not all of it, will disappear, and who will care anyway? My descendants will have their own lives.)
The followers of Terasem presumably believe that it will be possible to construct them “as they are” from the data they upload. But I wonder what sort of “me” would be reconstructed from all my data? It wouldn’t be the “me” that sits here typing and listening to Glenn Gould play Bach, but then I’m not sure how this “me” relates to the “me” that began my diary 51 year ago. The data/words/pictures I upload are edited: they are a “me” created by the “real me.” Just as an autobiography is fiction so the “me” that can be retrieved from all the data I’ve shared is a creation, part conscious and part unconscious.
Just like O‘Connell I don’t like the idea of being uploaded into a machine, but I must confess that I’d be interested to see and meet the “me” that would be recreated from my data. He would, I fear, be ghastly, even more ghastly than the “me” sat here now.